Although he's appeared in a number of movies, including Tombstone and George of the Jungle, Thomas Haden Church is still best known as "That Guy from Wings." For five years, Church kept viewers in stitches as Nantucket Airport's resident eccentric, Lowell Mather. Now he's doing the same thing on the big screen in Sideways, the touching and hilarious road movie from director Alexander Payne (Election).

Church plays Jack, a self-absorbed, aging TV star whose career has been on the decline for some time. Hmm... did the role remind Church of anybody in particular? "I didn't really base my performance on anyone," the 43-year-old actor demurs, "but in 15 years of being in and out of Los Angeles, I certainly know a lot of guys like Jack.

"I remember when I moved to L.A. in 1989, I immediately got cast in a TV movie called To Protect and Surf," Church continues. "We were cops on the beach with cool hair and guns. I was the new guy in town and the other actors had been in L.A. for a while. The whole time we were shooting, they were like, 'You know, man, when I'm famous, I'm never going to lose touch with the little people.' They were so convinced that TV was just a platform to movie stardom.

"I still know all of their names and none of them had any real success beyond bad TV-movies," he adds. "But Jack is one of those guys who is so convinced of his imminent success, even though he's getting no closer to it."

Unlike his character, Church is enjoying an upswing in his career. He's winning rave reviews for his work in Sideways, and there's even Oscar buzz. His hardest scene in the movie? Having to make out with costar Sandra Oh, who happens to be the director's wife. "It can't be anything but a daunting experience," he groans. "There's a scene where we're kissing, and Alexander kept saying, 'More sensuous, more sensuous.'

"The same thing happened during our sex scene. Sandra and I, probably out of our own discomfort, immediately set upon trying to make it funny, and Alexander kept saying, 'Make it real.' He actually was starting to get a little frustrated. But I think we landed somewhere in the middle. It's a little unsettling, but if you're familiar with Alexander's movies, that's what he likes."