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Some of Rob Lowe’s best ‘Stories’ lead back to Las Vegas

Updated April 11, 2019 - 2:12 pm

The way Rob Lowe’s one-man show is being talked about as his first time performing in Las Vegas, it’s as though everyone has forgotten about his roles in the 1984 movie “Oxford Blues” and the CBS series “Dr. Vegas.”

“By the way, they forgot about those things the minute they came out,” the actor jokes.

The hits and misses of his four-decade Hollywood career form the backbone of “Stories I Only Tell My Friends: Live,” which Lowe will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Planet Hollywood Resort.

Old Vegas memories

Following his big-screen debut the year before as Sodapop Curtis in “The Outsiders,” “Oxford Blues” marked Lowe’s first film as a leading man. His Nick, a valet parker at the Dunes, sleeps with an older guest and is rewarded with a sports car and enough cash to follow his dream of enrolling at Oxford and joining the rowing team to win the heart of one Lady Victoria Wingate.

This was the sort of logic that really only made sense in the ’80s.

“I do remember so much about Old Vegas,” Lowe says of filming the movie’s opening scenes here. “I don’t think one casino in that movie exists anymore. I actually feel really fortunate that I was able to experience that era of Vegas before it was gone forever.”

‘The right choice’

Twenty years later, Lowe had left “The West Wing” and was torn between two new medical dramas. One was on CBS, which was riding high thanks to “CSI,” “CSI: Miami,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Survivor,” all of which were in the top 10. The other was on ABC, which was dying a slow ratings death.

Lowe chose the perceived stability of CBS and the lead role as a casino physician in “Dr. Vegas.” It barely lasted a month in the fall of 2004. The role on that ABC drama, “Grey’s Anatomy,” ultimately went to Patrick Dempsey.

“If you can’t embrace your mistakes, it’s going to be a long, painful life,” Lowe says of the decision.

“In all seriousness, it was a huge financial mistake, but I’m not at all sure it was a creative mistake or a lifestyle mistake — at all,” he reasons. Being locked into that role — Dempsey left the series in 2015 after 11 seasons — would have prevented him from taking on one of the highlights of his career. “Removing ‘Parks and Rec’ from my filmography is not worth whatever amount of money in residuals I would still be making from playing ‘The Handsome Doctor.’ ”

“I use it as a big punch line, and people love it in the show. And it is a good story,” Lowe continues. “But I really remember when ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ came out, and they started calling that character ‘McDreamy.’ I was like, ‘Mm hmm, yep, OK. I made the right choice.’ ”

A different kind of doctor

One of Lowe’s proudest — and strangest — moments as an actor came in another Las Vegas-based project. His flight was landing at McCarran for a weekend getaway when he received a text that director Steven Soderbergh wanted him for a role in “Behind the Candelabra.”

Lowe had been following the development of the 2013 HBO movie, starring Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his much younger lover, Scott Thorson, just as a fan of Soderbergh. Once he was hired to portray plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz, Lowe worked with the film’s makeup and hair departments to develop the character’s bizarre, pulled-tight look that was part latter-day Michael Jackson, part every California-based “Real Housewife” thrown into a blender.

“Will I be able to close my eyes?” Liberace asks after his face-lift. “Not entirely,” Startz cautions. “But this way you’ll always be able to see people’s expressions when they see how fabulous you look.”

Lowe had long been attracted to misfits and oddballs. He grew up watching the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” and would perform bits for his parents the next morning. He won his middle school talent competition by performing Dan Aykroyd’s Bass-O-Matic sketch.

“Then,” he says, “I got sucked into the leading man vortex.”

With the passage of time, though, he’s been able to drag his inner character actor out of storage.

“I love when I get to do true character work,” Lowe reveals. “When you look at ‘Behind the Candelabra,’ that’s me in ecstasy. That’s the ultimate of the ultimate for me.”

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence @reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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