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Friday, March 12, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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For Jonathan Jackson, A Tough Teen Role In `Deep End Of The Ocean'

Seattle Times Movie Reviewer

Some teen roles are tougher than others. Much tougher.

Take Vincent, the deeply distressed and uncommunicative boy in Ulu Grosbard's new movie, "The Deep End of the Ocean," based on Jacquelyn Mitchard's best-seller.

For years, Vincent has been alienated from his parents, Beth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and Pat (Treat Williams). He's so guilty about having lost his younger brother, Ben (Ryan Merriman), in a crowded hotel lobby that he becomes an anti-social delinquent.

In the book, he's portrayed as virtually catatonic. Mitchard writes that Beth studies Vincent "like a tropical disease, trying to read the variation in his generally impassive expressions as if they were mutations in an exotic strain."

"As an actor you can't really play that," said Jonathan Jackson, who was 15 when he accepted the role. Nevertheless, he found himself going back to the book for guidance, underlining certain passages from nearly every chapter.

"I tried to move it toward what the character wants," he said. "Ever since his brother was lost, Vincent has not had much of a relationship with his mother or father. He's a tortured soul; he's full of self-loathing. He hides what he really feels."

Jackson said Vincent's troubles couldn't be more different from his own experiences.

"I have a great relationship with my parents and my family," he said. Indeed, he's co-starred with his older brother, Richard, in a Showtime movie ("Prisoner of Zenda Inc.") and an independently made

black comedy about Hollywood (the recently completed "True Rights").

"Playing Vincent was more about ideas and concepts: guilt and forgiveness and blame," he said. "It was more like empathy than having anything to do with my own life. Acting this role is kind of like what the audience does in the film - getting emotionally involved without becoming the character."

Vincent also couldn't be more different from the independent-minded Lucky Spencer, the character Jackson has played for years on "General Hospital." The role won him two Emmys for outstanding young actor.

"Lucky is street smart and passionate, a black-and-white personality," he said. "He either loves or hates people. He doesn't know about balance."

While Jackson was shooting "The Deep End of the Ocean," Lucky was written out of "General Hospital" for a couple of months. Now the actor has gone back to it full time.

Jackson got hooked on acting after going on a Universal City studio tour with his family in 1991.

"My brother and I got incredibly interested with the whole system, and we couldn't really get it out of our system," he said. Jackson landed several television commercials, then the leading role in a 1994 Christopher Lloyd movie, "Camp Nowhere" ("I was a computer geek at summer camp") and "General Hospital" in 1995.

Although filming on "The Deep End of the Ocean" was finished in the fall of 1997, the movie bounced around on Columbia Pictures' release schedules, partly because of editing and reshoots - neither of which changed the movie much, claims Jackson.

"About 10 or 12 pages got cut from the middle section, where I played Vincent at 13 or 14," he said. "They felt they needed to move the story along."

New scenes were written and filmed for the ending, but ultimately audiences preferred the original finale. Like most of Stephen Schiff's script, it's quite close to the book.

"I was called back for some reshoots that didn't end up in the final print," said Jackson. "The original version in the audience test screenings won out."

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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