Every time Luke Perry takes on a new project — like his Broadway debut in The Rocky Horror Show or doing hard time on HBO's Oz — bitter critics love to titter: "Oh, just look how hard he's trying to forget his years as broody Dylan on Beverly Hills, 90210! Tsk, tsk." Clearly over such snarking, the genial 34-year-old tells TV Guide Online he just wants to act.

"Can I honestly say? I just take roles one at a time," he shares. "If it feels good to me and it's something I can do, I'll play it. You can't really think about putting distance between yourself and other things, because it may or may not happen.

"When you're into what you're doing, it's easy," Perry adds. "But if you try to pick things that will make you [look different], then you're worried about your image — and that's never a good thing to do. I didn't worry about that image [on 90210], and I won't worry about any that come after it. I just play the parts."

Perry clearly has a healthy sense of humor about his career. In what must be a stroke of intentionally campy casting, he's been paired with fellow classic TV teen Malcolm Jamal-Warner (The Cosby Show) in Showtime's upcoming sci-fi series, Jeremiah. "I think people will love to see that," he says of the Dylan-meets-Theo buddy gimmick, "and at the same time, I think we're showing them something they haven't seen before."

Penned by acclaimed Babylon 5 scribe J. Michael Straczynski, Jeremiah — debuting March 3 — features Perry and Warner as two badass orphans stranded in a post-apocalyptic world. Explaining his Dylan-esque brooding and unshaven looks on the show, Perry shrugs playfully. "Well, it's just hard to keep up the hygiene in the world of Jeremiah," he chuckles. "There's no running water or soap. Occasionally, I get to shave with a straight razor. It's like Survivor, only nobody's getting voted off this thing."