Heather Locklear spun around in her chair and came face to face with John Dalton.
"Wait—I know you," she said, with that curvy, brilliant smile.
Dalton smiled back. Not a bad way to start your very first gig in Los Angeles. He was in the make-up room, on the set of Scrubs, and the director had just chosen him out of about 50 other actors to play a doctor in a scene with Locklear. She recognized him from when they worked together on the film, The First Wives Club.
He plopped down in the swivel chair beside her, flattered she remembered, facing the glow of the light bulbs and mirrors.
You may not know Dalton by name, but he probably looks familiar.
That's because he's everywhere. He's on that Wells Fargo ad of the dad barbecuing in Hawaiian-print shorts, he's on the Toyota maintenance reminder that came in the mail. He's smiling down proudly at a little daughter in the American Girl poster, and he's the poor guy with congestion on the Vicks ad. He’s the waiter in that soap opera, the graveyard caretaker in the horror flick, the N.E.S.T agent on 24 and the unsuspecting accomplice on Jericho.
Dalton fits the part of the wholesome guy next door. With a smile that travels with crinkly eyes and dimples, Dalton exudes a sincere, likable nature that makes him a believable fit for all those well-meaning characters on TV.
Maybe that's why he was recently cast as the comical, fashionably-challenged yet lovable father who transforms into a much cooler superhero in Disneyfamily.com’s CeReality.
Targeting a new cyberspace generation, CeReality is a string of webisodes (short episodes designed to be viewed only on the Internet) featuring five different families dealing with the morning mayhem while trying to squeeze in the most important meal of the day.
Dalton’s webisodes are about a family of superheroes whose mother (Caroline Rich) helps her husband and children regain their lost superpowers. The show gave Dalton a chance, not only to wear Rock Hudson’s superhero suit from 1964, but to bring out his comedic side and act on the green-screen.
A picture-perfect American dad, Dalton says he stole elements from some of the greatest dads in TV sitcom history, such as Ward Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) and Steven Douglas (My Three Sons), to create his character.
Dalton has come a long way since his days growing up in St. Louis, Missouri. When he was 12, he received an eight-page, handwritten letter from an actor from North Hollywood (Nicholas Worth), who encouraged the young Dalton to believe in his budding dream of acting.
Worth’s simple message: “You don’t choose this career, it chooses you,” resonates with Dalton even today. The letter—tucked away in his Studio City home—inspired Dalton to follow his path as an actor.
But Worth wasn’t the only one who saw something special in Dalton. After finishing graduate school in Connecticut, he moved to Florida to do some theater acting when Horton Foote, the Pulitzer Prize-winning screenwriter for To Kill A Mockingbird, pulled him aside at a rehearsal. He recommended that Dalton pursue acting further and study with Bill Esper, a famous acting coach in New York.
So Dalton packed up his bags and made his way to New York City where he refined his craft for the next nine years, while performing in off-Broadways musicals and soap operas, and doing some print-modeling on the side.
Dalton said what he loves most about acting and performing is that it is more than just entertainment.
“I think the reason people go to the theater is to escape their own reality,” said Dalton, who credits the same reason for making movies the top export of the United States. "It’s an easy way to spend $15 and get a vacation instead of spending $350 to ride a plane somewhere. I think that’s what I like about performing, that’s why I enjoy doing it.”
Nobody captures this escape better for Dalton than Rob Reiner, director of Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. He remembers watching Stand By Me at a young age and being instantly transported to a distant world, making Reiner top on his list of people he would most want to work with one day.
After moving to Los Angeles, he went from Scrubs to acting in other shows such as 24, Law and Order and the soap opera Passions.
He also produced some short films, including The Audition, which won Best Comedy and Best Screenplay at the 168 Hour Film Festival.
Although he enjoys anything related to acting, Dalton’s true love lies with television shows. Because a series takes longer to film than movies, he says television shows gives cast members both financial stability and the opportunity to build real relationships.
“It’s comforting,” Dalton said. “I’m a single guy, but I feel like whenever I work on television, I have a huge family.”
The single life is what gave birth to Dalton’s idea for a reality show called, Table for One—a cooking show geared for singles who often eat out at restaurants. Dalton pitched, produced and hosted the show himself, which was picked up by a station in his hometown of St. Louis.
What first made Dalton famous back at home was something a little more providential. Back in 1998, right when Mark McGwire hit his record-breaking homerun and millions of people’s eyes were glued to their TV sets in fevered celebration, the local station carrying the program had cut to commercial and the first image that popped up on the screen was Dalton’s face.
"Not only did I hear from all my Cardinal baseball fans that were friends, but just about everybody in St. Louis saw my face," Dalton laughed, remembering the impeccable timing of that Mercantile Bank commercial.
In 2005, Dalton worked on the set of Jericho for two seasons as a stand-in for just about every male character on the show. Ranked in TV Guide’s list of Top Cult Shows Ever, Jericho was canceled after two seasons much to the dismay of its die-hard fans, but talk of a feature film and a comic book series is in the works.
It was Jericho that brought Dalton to Studio City. Looking for a shorter commute from his apartment in Santa Monica to Jericho’s sound stage in the San Fernando Valley, Dalton heard about Studio City from his castmates—four of them lived in the area and loved it. He drove around the city, saw someone putting up a “For Rent” sign, and moved in right away.
"I love Studio City because it's walkable. That's what I look for in a place to live," said Dalton, who enjoys walking across the Los Angeles River, and up and down Ventura Boulevard. "There are places to eat, shop, get my coffee, read my newspaper and just enjoy my neighborhood.
Dalton likes to frequent on Sundays where he and his dog can bask and brunch in the sunshine. They often takes long walks in the peaceful seclusion of , or meet his cousins and their kids at the for breakfast and pony rides.
But there’s another place in Studio City where you can be sure to find him: The Par 3 course at. Dalton, born of a golf legacy that goes up several generations, has had a golf club in his hands since he was 3 years old. In fact, his parents, who met on a golf course, were inducted in the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame for golf and currently play in the senior golf Olympics. He jokes he is the black sheep, the weakest link among an extended family of avid golfers, but nonetheless enjoys spending his free time at Weddington’s.
"They have the best lunch and hit-a-bucket-of-balls deal, ever." Dalton added. “It wasn’t until I was living in New York and stuck in that cement jungle that I realized the joy I got from being on a golf course around the smells, and the colors. It still gives me that same escape,” said Dalton, about the parallels of acting and golfing.
“The two things are similar in many ways... the concentration, the commitment, and the balance of being able to listen and block out what is around you," he said.
In a way, Dalton feels Studio City also serves as a haven from the daunting world of show business. He always has a close network of friends and family around him, a healthy mix of people in and outside of entertainment, to keep him sane in a tough industry. Running into these people when he’s out and about in Studio City is one of his favorite things about living here.
Dalton, whose boyish smile is now framed with gray peppered hair, pushing back the boundaries of his broad forehead, looks back on his career as one that has been full of doubts, challenges and struggles, a reality that he knows all actors must face.
“I love what I do, but I do not love the business,” he said, sharing a wisdom accumulated over the years. “It is different to want to be a celebrity, than to be an actor. If you want to be a celebrity, go to the clubs in Hollywood. If you want to be an actor, learn the craft so that you know you will be able to perform when the director yells ‘action’ and you have 85 crew members on set standing around looking at you.”
Leading an actor’s life might entail some sacrifices, but after all these years, he remains optimistic.
“I always say, my best experience is going to be my next experience,” Dalton said.
In a business where familiar to famous can be an uncertain road, Dalton’s words prove the journey itself can be the ultimate destination.
(EDITOR'S NOTE: John Dalton also took some of the most dramatic coyote shots we have in Studio City, check out the ones in the Photo Gallery of the coyote along the white picket fence of Studio City...those are his, thanks!!)