ABC’s Brothers & Sisters’ lacklustre ratings just got a boost. Producers have injected some sizzle into the snooze-worthy story plots in the form of French eye candy Gilles Marini. According to Nielsen Media Research, in the last week of October, the show had the series’ highest ratings since March in the adult 18-49 category, with a total of 9.5 million American viewers, beating out its CBS competition. Marini, who plays Luc Laurent, the European love interest for no-nonsense food executive Sarah (Rachel Griffiths), has so far signed on for nine episodes. It’s the first major role for the 33-year-old L.A.-based actor since his breakout performance in last summer’s Sex and the City movie—his sideways “close-up” in that film became celluloid’s most infamous shower scene since Psycho.
Still revelling in his runner-up spot on last season’s Dancing With the Stars—his moves had even the judges swooning—Marini says he’s humbled by his sudden stardom. On a recent trip to Alberta for an appearance, he thought at first he was being “punked” after obliging a star-struck local woman and agreeing to join her and a throng of equally ebullient friends for dinner at Edmonton’s Japanese Village restaurant. Marini told Maclean’s he was astonished by the fan fervour, even tweeting about the event on his way to Toronto the next day. “Canadians are the nicest people I’ve ever met!” he exclaimed.
So what is it about this man that’s got women mesmerized? For starters, he’s one of the few Eurogods to crack Hollywood since Jean-Claude Van Damme kick-boxed his way into theatres back in the early 1990s, joining French thespians Jean Reno (La Femme Nikita) and Gérard Depardieu (Green Card), who got popular around the same time. Sure there are Antonio Banderas and Javier Bardem, but let’s face it, they didn’t doff it all in their breakout big-screen appearances.
These days, it seems, Marini is everywhere. At the 36th Daytime Entertainment Emmys, he and Vanessa Williams wowed the audience with a bang-up sultry dance number. And in mid-October, he wooed The View talk show ladies with accounts of his on-the-home-front chivalry. In the same vein, he described for Maclean’s his recent surprise house-buying birthday excursion for his wife of 11 years, Carole. “I gave her a letter and in it was a little poem with the picture of a house and an inscription saying, ‘It’s yours.’ ”
Marini worked in his father’s bakery in Cannes from the time he was seven until he did his military service as a 20-year-old firefighter. The following year he moved to Miami where he worked as a waiter. One of his customers was lawyer Philip Glatzer. Marini says he presented Glatzer with a piece of paper that read: “Hi. My name is Gilles Marini. I’m from France. I’m sorry I do not speak English. Can you please put your finger to the menu?” Recalls Marini: “He said, ‘Where are you from in France?’ And he spoke French! He thought it was the most beautiful story and he’s helped me since.”
Marini soon started a successful modelling career. For a while, he felt guilty raking in the catwalk dough for such scanty hours of work. His late father, who died when Marini was 19, had instilled in him a strict work ethic—“I was always thinking, ‘Oh my God, if my father saw me in that lifestyle he would kick my ass!’ ” The industry kept him flush for eight years until he was cast in the role of the aptly named Dante in the Sex and the City movie.
As for the Brothers & Sisters role, he says executive producer Ken Olin (Thirtysomething) took a big risk hiring him. “He had never really seen me act; he saw me perform on Dancing With the Stars and he took a chance. Some people like that in Hollywood still exist; they will look you in the eyes and say, ‘I’m going to give [you] a shot.’ ”
In his second episode on the show, Marini reprised his Dancing role and performed a heartwarming poolside waltz with a blushing Sally Field, the matriarch of Brothers & Sisters. “We had this very emotional scene where she explained to me she was very scared about her daughter’s health, about losing her. She’s a mom and I’m a father—how utterly natural the emotion would come to us.”
Currently donning suits in the November issue of Playboy and doing a two-spot guest appearance beginning Nov. 18 on Nip/Tuck, Marini also has a CD coming out. He eschews the notion that he’s maybe taking the Renaissance man shtick too far: “I never leave anything to the unknown and when I do something with my heart, with passion, trust me, it’s going to be unbelievable.”