Bringing a pop-culture icon to TV is full of so many pitfalls, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” star Thomas Dekker could be forgiven had he opted for something simpler. Like theoretical physics. Or explaining theoretical physics to Brooke Hogan.
Dekker had to capture the essence of someone who will grow up to inspire the world while not disappointing millions of fans or being overshadowed by the somewhat-more-iconic female he’s rarely seen without.
But enough about the TV movie in which he played a young Donny Osmond.
Dekker, who still calls Henderson home, has had the difficult task of playing John Connor as an awkward teenager while showing signs of becoming the man who, according to the show’s opening, “will lead mankind in a war against Skynet, the computer system programmed to destroy the world.” (The nine-episode first season is being rerun at 9 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays, beginning today, on KVVU-TV, Channel 5.)
It’s a role that’s as challenging as it is coveted — Connor is about to be played on the big screen by Batman himself, Christian Bale — but Dekker says he’s ready to leave some of the character’s uncertainties behind in season two.
“I’m more comfortable when he’s strong and coming from a place of maturity,” the actor says, sneaking a smoke on a terrace overlooking the pool at the Beverly Hilton. “I don’t really know why. I guess it’s just more interesting creatively as an actor. I’ve played the high school kid a lot.”
He’s not kidding.
In addition to his role as Zach, Claire’s best friend on “Heroes,” he had a recurring part on “7th Heaven” and guest-starred on “House,” “Shark,” “Boston Public” and “Reba.”
But it was the three seasons he spent on the TV version of “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” that put him on the map. Literally. He used the money he earned from the series to buy his Henderson home in 2000 at the ripe old age of 12.
Then again, Dekker’s life always has been a little unconventional.
He was born about three hours outside Reno in what he calls one of the few hippie communes left in the ’80s. His parents — Hilary, a concert pianist and actress who still gives private acting lessons, and David, an actor, theater director, painter and opera singer — moved him to Las Vegas at age 2.
Three years later during a vacation, he was discovered while singing with his parents in a friend’s L.A. coffee shop and was cast in his first commercial. He’s rarely stopped working since, including voice-over work as Fievel in two sequels to “An American Tail” and as Littlefoot in five “The Land Before Time” sequels.
“I don’t think my parents would have been happy if I’d have done anything outside of the arts,” Dekker says.
As a 6-year-old working with John Carpenter on “Village of the Damned,” he says he knew he wanted to direct, and he recently completed that goal with the upcoming feature film “Whore,” which he also wrote, produced and stars in.
But despite spending virtually his entire life acting — “I don’t have any memories before it,” he says — Dekker displays an almost eerie lack of Hollywooditis. He’s blissfully unaware of industry news and gossip to the point that he swears that while he was on “Heroes,” he never even knew the show was a hit.
“You don’t fall out of the car in front of the press line, and you don’t go to the Ivy every Saturday,” he says, explaining how he’s managed to isolate himself from the rest of young Hollywood. “I mean, it’s very easy. You stay at your house and you live your life. I think it’s funny when people think it’s a huge effort to not be sucked into Hollywood.”
But if he ever does find himself getting sucked in, Dekker always can escape to the relative anonymity the Las Vegas Valley offers.
“It’s funny. When I’m home, I see a lot of people when I’m out recognize me but just assume that there’s no way I would be in, like, the grocery store on Charleston,” he says, laughing. “So there’s like this thing where they look, but (say) ‘No, no, no. It mustn’t be him.’ “
Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. E-mail him at email@example.com.