Michael Nouri bristles at the suggestion that he is a hunk: "I appreciate having the looks I have. My nose has been broken, and I'm real glad. I don't think I am particularly handsome."
This no doubt comes as a surprise to anyone who has seen him as the factory supervisor who loves Jennifer Beals in "Flashdance," or as the team manager in the short-lived television series "Bay City Blues." He has recently wound up seven weeks in Washington filming "The Imagemaker," in which he plays a one-time presidential media adviser whose career has been sacrificed on the altar of greed and power. A very good-looking adviser, too, though he insists that other things are more important. Such as acting.
On the other hand, Nouri has not exactly made a career playing Quasimodo. "I played Frankenstein in sixth grade," he offers hopefully. He is 39, and with his dark, slightly exotic good looks, he seems not a particular age but rather a type, that of a rugged, accessible male. He reminds you of corduroy.
His role in "The Imagemaker," the first feature film financed by Washington investors and made here, intrigued him because it is about a man "who succumbs to ambition and loses what is nearest and dearest to him." Somehow, he says, roles have a way of finding him at the right time in his life.
In the interest of research, Nouri spent a day with Republican media adviser John Deardourff, watching him make a TV commercial. He also talked to media consultants Robert Squier and Gerald Rafshoon, looking for personality traits that would match his role. Nouri found "a creative sensibility, somebody who loves to control, who gets very excited about creating images, manipulating." Deardourff, he discovered, uses a video computer invented by the actor's younger brother.
Nouri got his break in 1970 by taking over the young lead opposite Julie Harris in "Forty Carats" on Broadway. Afterward, he says, he dropped out of show business for a voyage of self-discovery. He bought a Volkswagen bus, packed his guitar and rambled around singing in coffeehouses. "I had a great time. I had my ear pierced and wore an earring, I had shoulder-length hair, drank cappuccino, sang folk songs and smoked dope," he recalls with a fond grin.
He also studied meditation, which he still practices, and after three years wound up in California. "I finally understood that I didn't have to be a dropout to feel good." Nouri returned to acting and, with the TV series "The Gangster Chronicles" four years ago, began to be recognized. He became a regular on "Search for Tomorrow," and starred in a few things like "Nick and the Dobermans," a TV pilot.
"I've always wanted attention," he admits. "Fame is a lot of attention. Not that I'm famous, but inasmuch as I am, I enjoy it. I do enjoy it. But being famous per se is not what motivates me. I wouldn't want to be famous and not be good at what I'm doing."
Two and a half years ago, a period that some will date as "pre-Flashdance," Nouri played actor Edwin Booth in an off-Broadway production. "It taught me an important lesson," says Nouri, the realism of the journeyman actor shining through. "Just because you're on a stage in an artsy-craftsy play for $100 a week doesn't make it art."