Although David Chokachi calls his 1995-99 stint as bronze-skinned golden-boy Cody Madison on Baywatch the time of his life, he wryly admits to TVGuide.com that there is a down side to being a onetime hunk in trunks — and he isn't referring to the ribbing he takes from his weight-watching buddies, either.

"Once I was swimming in South Beach with my manager, and I thought this girl had recognized me from the show," he explains. "She was screaming kind of like she was having trouble in the water, but I was like, 'No way! This is BS!' I was sure she was going to make me swim out to her, then say, 'Ha ha! You idiot! You're from

Baywatch!' Well, it turned out she really was in trouble, so I felt like a jerk."

Luckily for the 37-year-old alumnus of TNT's Witchblade series, he is less likely to be called upon to reenact the feats of derring-do performed in his latest project: Sci Fi Channel's pre-War of the Worlds outer-space adventure, Crimson Force, premiering Saturday at 9 pm/ET. Perhaps that's why he's so eager to trade Hollywood for Mars.

"I would have no problem doing these kinds of movies for the rest of my career," he says happily. "Some of the stuff they come up with [in this genre] is obviously out there, and you have to suspend your belief system for a while, but I have a blast doing [these flicks]. For me, running around shooting guns and getting to save the day is a lot more fun than doing a three-page scene of dry monologue.

"It won't get me any Emmy nominations," he laughs, "but still...."

Indeed, it's hard to imagine the stuffy stars of Merchant-Ivory fare letting loose the way Chokachi and his Crimson Force cast mates apparently did.

"The hardest part [of filming] was just not laughing," he insists. "[E.T. and The Outsiders star] C. Thomas Howell, who plays the evil captain, was the ringleader of comedy. He wasn't afraid to [play at work].

"When you're on camera and he's off, like when we were crash-landing and were supposed to do our own jiggling [to simulate turbulence]," he continues, "[because of Howell's mugging,] literally, I would have to duck my head out of the frame because I was laughing so hard. I don't know when I've had such a good time."