Dennis Fecteau has been dreaming of acting ever since he was 13 and played the trumpet in a dance band at a summer resort in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.

That was 38 years ago. Meanwhile, Fecteau dropped out of high school, served in the Marine Corps for almost four years, worked as director of parks and recreation for Dover, N.H., and eventually built a $10 million space sciences company in Tysons Corner.

But he held onto the youthful fantasy, and tonight he moves closer to its realization. The Virginia businessman makes his television debut on "America's Most Wanted" as Tom Billman, the chairman of a Bethesda savings and loan institution who was found guilty of defrauding clients of $106 million and is believed to have fled the country with $22 million.

"I've seen the rough cut. I didn't think it was too bad. I saw some things in there I might have done better," Fecteau says. He's cautious, restrained by his business side that says less is better. But his reaction is one of fundamental delight, urged on by the artistic side that says you can squeal.

Fecteau, who has been acting occasionally in community theater for less than two years and steadily in industrial movies for the past year, got the part because someone on one of his films remembered his face. That person told him about the audition for the "Wanted" segment. The next morning Fecteau pinned his head shot to the door of the casting company, he recalls unabashedly as he sits amid the trappings of a CEO. He has the corner office and the great view, in his case the sprawl of high-rises and highways around Route 7.

Physically Fecteau does resemble Billman, at least the Billman of a newspaper photograph circa 1985. Then Billman, who is believed to have left the United States in December 1988, had a trim salt-and-pepper beard and a thick shock of dark hair around a balding spot. Fecteau's beard and hair are silvery with hints of shadowy black. Fecteau has the rugged, round profile of Pernell Roberts of "Trapper John M.D." fame and today's Sean Connery. Leaning across a polished desk, his aquamarine eyes twinkling, Fecteau admits he's partial to Connery.

Fecteau and Billman share other similarities. Fecteau is 51; Billman is 50. Both are from small communities -- Fecteau from Nashua, N.H.; Billman from Woodsfield, Ohio. Both are dapper. (On this day, Fecteau is wearing a dark blue Italian suit, monogrammed light blue shirt and 25-year-old white gold watch he discovered in an antiques store.) Fecteau founded his company, Interferometrics, with three scientists in 1982. That was the same year Billman purchased Community Savings and Loan. One of Billman's homes was a $2 million estate in McLean. Fecteau and his wife, Donna, an abstract expressionist artist, live in McLean.

The mismanagement of Billman's bank and other companies started the Maryland savings and loan upheaval and his civil trial was the longest and costliest in Montgomery County history.

Fecteau may be one person who benefits from the ruins Billman left.

"I vaguely, vaguely remember the story," says Fecteau. After studying a summary of the case, re-creating the settings of a board room, a chauffeured Mercedes, a romantic cabin, and shooting for four 12-hour days in Bethesda, Rosslyn and Potomac, Fecteau had a sense of the character.

"You start stacking up a clever guy, the obvious material trappings and what we perceive to be a legitimate love interest with a very attractive woman who was very bright ... that was about all I could gather," says Fecteau. But he ended up feeling some sympathy for Billman, who was last seen in Spain in October 1989. "I don't believe $22 million hides you on the face of this Earth. Above all I know it doesn't hide you when you put your head on the pillow at night," he says.

In this episode, "America's Most Wanted," which airs at 8 p.m. on WTTG-Channel 5, is tackling a white-collar crime for the first time. Marilyn Berry, the reporter, spent five months researching the public records of two trials and interviewed 100 people. The show combines dramatic reenactment, actual footage and "reality" interviews with law enforcement officials involved in the complex case. The episode ends with what the program calls its "call to action." Phil Lerman, the program's managing editor, says the show may have an overseas distribution.

Of the 317 fugitives the show has profiled, 202 have been captured and 138 of those arrests have been directly credited to the show.

So tonight, Fecteau will get his 15 minutes of fame, but it doesn't matter. The appearance already tops the one re'sume' he keeps -- his acting credits.

"It's been a real source of comfort for me," he says of acting. "There is such a dramatic difference between the business community and the arts. I am not sure which guy is in which body, to be frank with you," he says. On stage, he explains, he was "so excited about having to do this. My energy was concentrated on my contribution to the overall performance. The business job ... you have this broad reality of responsibility."

Five years ago, when he was living in Warrenton, he auditioned for a part at a community theater. The long-awaited career started with the role of the doctor in the play "Keep Your Spirits Up." He began to stack up a winning record. When he moved back to McLean, Fecteau auditioned for "School for Scandal" at the Alden Theatre. He remembers every detail -- the audition, how much like "A Chorus Line" it was; his first review. "As different and interesting as it was, I was quite comfortable," he recalls. Now he has 11 industrial films under his belt. "I've gotten an awful lot of experience in a very short period of time, at least at that level."

Before Billman, he says, his most interesting role was doing eight vignettes in various degrees of intoxication for a training film. "From falling down drunk, and they were all shot on locations in various hotels, to the office manager who sneaks a drink out of a bottle," says Fecteau. In one scene he was a drunk sitting in a chair at a Christmas party. He had no lines and loved it.

What binds together his two worlds is what he candidly admits is a lack of training in both acting and science. "Without the academic background, I developed other tools to get by and those tools had to do with learning from observation, studying people and trying to understand the energy that made something work," says Fecteau. He also says his age and the range of his experiences help him. "I am a great believer in keeping your hand off the wheel of life and just applying the positive energy," he says. He says all this juggling and redirecting isn't a midlife crisis. He gives a classical reference for his explanation: "We saw 'Cyrano' the other night and Roxane says, 'I breathe the perfume of the past,' and I thought that's wrong. {I believe} 'I breathe the perfume of the present.' "

Even with this philosophical outlook, Fecteau is attending classes, workshops and more auditions. He frets about technique. Watching Connery in "The Russia House," he says, "I thought he roughed that character up very nicely. One of the things I find I have to work with ... you develop a certain amount of poise when you go along and when you are asked to get off it a little bit it's a real challenge."

This evening Fecteau is not going to worry about style but sit back at a friend's house in Warrenton and watch what he hopes is the first of many starring moments. "What happens beyond here I don't have any idea. But I am very serious about this," he says.