His relation to America's sweetheart notwithstanding, Eric Roberts is best known for appearing in films like Final Analysis and The Specialist as hooligans who would sooner crack skulls than jokes. So you can understand his agents' incredulity when he asked them to get him a sitcom audition.

"They laughed at me," the tough guy recalls. "So I fired them. [Eventually] I got a new agency, and they laughed at me, too. So... I went away and made a bunch of action-adventure B movies about killing people."

Now, at long last, Roberts has won the chance to slay us in an altogether different fashion — and forever shed his rough-and-tumble image — by playing Will, an egomaniacal TV anchorman, on Popular grad Sara Rue's plus-sized-girl-makes-good sitcom, Less Than Perfect (debuting Oct. 1 on ABC).

"Will does not find himself amusing," says his portrayer. "He takes himself very seriously, so he's only funny from the outside in. He thinks he's very important, and when you're that important, it's not a laughing matter. That's how he looks at himself."

Roberts also treats his work on this silly series as a grave matter — and quite understandably, too. As jolly a time as he insists he had during his straight-to-video rampage — "You have, like, fake blood, and actresses and stuntmen all laughing at each other!" — he wants this job to last. So he's determined to make every episode of Less Than Perfect better than average.

"I go home to my [comedy] coach every night," he swears. "I never really believed [this] would ever happen."