Where one person smells romance, another sniffs skunk. Keith Carradine, the actor-pop singer who passed through town recently, happens to be fed up with roles that, for a time, made his public life as hazardous as Mick Lagger's.

Two years back, Carradine portrayed the selfish, silent type - a groupie-seducing pop star named Tom Frank - in the film "Nashville." and his life threatened to be come art's carbon copy. Everyone he traveled afterward to advance the rock poryion of his career - by strumming "I'm Easy," his adolescent, Oscar-winning paean to hipdom - he found groupies waitinFor Tom. They lined up outside nightclud dressing rooms, pleaded for a ticket on the fast train, offered themselves up as ego salve. To Tom.

Keith freeted. He didn't feel like Tom at all, in fact had to come to "hate" what the character stood for in "Nashville." On Robert Altman's set, he had wrestled unhappily with evoking Tom Frank's callous. California ways, fearing he might discover the character's darker parts in himself. Which he did. Though most everyone keeps a few small demons in a cage, it was upsetting. Carradine had always considered himself - well, kind. Compassionate. Hardly the type to love and leave. And definitely attached, as he has been for the last seven years, to actress Cristina Raines. (She plays a small part as Carradine's wife in the lastest film, "The Duellist," which opened recently at area theaters.)

Still, self-image was miles from screen image, and nothing he could do could shake his shadow. For a time, Tom Frank followed Keith everywhere.

"You'd be surprised how many women out there were looking for shallow relationships," he said, posing for a hotel-room photograph with his guitar. "Up on stage, I was playing my songs, trying to prove I'm not the same guy as tom Frank. But I couldn't help feeling like I was dissapointing them. . .

"I'm always trying to get away from the character I've just done," says Carradine, who is sometimes confused with his older acting brother. David, the kung fu Carradine, who breifly took Keith in during his turbulent teens.

Keith had just dropped out of college in Colorado to work odds jobs. Penniless, he drifted, selling magazines door-to-door and cooking chicken for Col. Sanders. It was during this that period Keith "I'm Easy" for a girlfriend. David gave his brother a place to stay, paid for acting classes and voice lessons. And, voils, Keith secured a part in "Hair."

Always aware of the Carradine family mantle, Keith grew up a child of a actor John Carradine's ssecond marriage. "The parents of my playmates always made a fuss about how much they loved my father's work. So acting was always in the back of my mind . . . But I hesitated to express my feelings about acting. I was afraid I might be doing it only because my father did it."

After he appeared on TY to pick up his Academy Awards for "I'm Easy," the selfdoubt dropped away an d he fell into one pitfall of fame: People began to recognize him everywhere he went. "It lasted for about three weeks, and then it dropped off. A lot of people watch TV, but like everything else, it eventually fades from their conciousness."

As Armand d'Hubert in "The Duellists," Carradine sports the gold braid of a Napoleonic officer, a sort of Emperor's Green Beret, haunted by the strange furies of one Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel). Feraud is mentally off-key, a fellow officer who, imagining that D'Hubert has smirched his honor, draws him into a life-long series of grudgematch duels.

It's fight for fight's sake, a tale adapted from a Joseph Conrad short story, "The Duel," in the first feature film by young British dirctor Ridley Scott. An economicl narrative that focuses on the officers' chance encounters between 1801 and 1816, "The Duellists" uses that span of Napoleon's rise and fall as a backdrop.

"The Duellists" doesn't delve too deeply into character, relying instead on Frank Tidy's exquisite camera work to evoke the period's romanticism. It's a breathtaking visual experience that shimmers with the early morning fog of France's Perigord region, where the grudge is said to have been played out in real life.

And while some of Carradine's speech seems stiff and formal beside a mostly British cast trying to act French, it is, overall, a bloody good show. Behind Zorro-satisfying scenes of saber-rattling, Carradine as D'Hubert is a gentle warrior who prefers peace to war, a quietly proud Hussar officer in an era before macho was redefined.

"For a change, I play a sympathetic character," he says. "But I'm as different from D'Hubert as I was from Tom Frank. [Unlike D'Hubert] I'd do anything I could to avoid a fight. I'd never fight on the basis of being challenged. I've only had three fist-fights in my life."

After "The Duellists," his nixt appearance in local theaters - probably in April - is expected to be in director Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby," in which Carradine plays celebrated photographer E. J. Belocq, heralded after his death for sensitive photographs of hookers working New Orleans' red-light district in the early 1900s. In "Pretty Baby," Belocq marries a child prostitute, played by 12-year-old actress Brook Shields.