Alex O’Loughlin, <EM>Moonlight</EM> Alex O’Loughlin, Moonlight

Meet Alex O'Loughlin, the vampire who's getting hearts pumping on Moonlight (Fridays, 9 pm/ET, CBS).

O'Loughlin loves the rush he gets from doing his own stunts. "I really feel like I'm participating in life when I'm strapped into a harness and hanging precariously above the ground," says the 31-year-old Australian actor (whose last name is pronounced "O-lock-lin"). As Moonlight's crime-fighting vampire/private detective Mick St. John, he gets plenty of chances to revel in those daredevil moments. His character often leaps from rooftops and catwalks in pursuit of both mortal and immortal lawbreakers.

On a fall afternoon on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, however, the actor finds himself earthbound, shooting an indoor scene where Mick is pondering the ongoing plot about whether or not the evil ex he killed is still alive. Between takes, he ducks out to an alley to puff a Cuban cigar. Costumed in trademark Mick garb — black jeans, boots, dark shirt — he apologizes repeatedly for the smoke, his gentlemanly concern something you'd expect from Mr. St. John.

But while Mick is smoldering and reserved, O'Loughlin is playful. "He's a bundle of energy," says costar Sophia Myles, who plays reporter Beth Turner, the woman Mick loves but can't have. "And he's funny — he makes me laugh all night long. With our schedule, 16 hours a day, six days a week, I couldn't have hoped for anyone more wonderful to work with."

The intense routine means that the actor doesn't get to see his girlfriend, Australian actress/singer Holly Valance, as much as he'd like, although she recently guest-starred as Lola, the gorgeous vamp Mick fought to the death. The two met while he was doing construction work for a mutual friend and have been dating for a year and a half. How's she handling his burgeoning status as a heartthrob? "She's a sex symbol," O'Loughlin says of her status Down Under, "so probably the same way that I do, which is just deal with it. To me, it's weird."

"What's great about Alex is he can turn on the sex for the job, but he never abuses his good looks," Myles says. "He knows his place in the universe." Right now that's a pretty sweet spot. Besides Moonlight, he's appearing in two films: In August Rush, he's a passionate musician, and in next year's Whiteout (with Kate Beckinsale), he's a rough-and-tumble pilot. "He's one of the baddies," O'Loughlin says. "But I mean, who is bad? You know?"

The actor understands all too well the complicated histories that drive people to do what they do. He was raised by his mom, a nurse, after she split with his dad, a teacher. Money was tight, his clothes were secondhand, and he rarely had anything new. "I didn't feel that engaged with the world as a kid," he says. "I wasn't the fastest learner. I didn't feel like I fit." When he did a comic turn in a school play and heard the audience's laughter, "it was one of the first times in my life I felt a connection with people."

His life began to come together at 19, when a friend shocked him with a harsh lecture about how he was wasting his natural ability to entertain people. "I realized that every time I'd gone to the movies, I'd walk away with this awful feeling," he says. "I don't know if it was envy or yearning, but I worked out that I was watching people do what I wanted to do." After graduating from Sydney's National Institute of Dramatic Art in 2002, he began making regular trips to Los Angeles for work, eventually landing Moonlight.

Now it's dusk and O'Loughlin slips into Mick's overcoat, turns up the collar and heads to an outdoor set for a night shoot that just might involve leaping from tall buildings. But even if O'Loughlin gets to do his stunts, it won't be enough. "They'll only drop me a certain amount of stories, and I want to go from the top," he says, and then adds with a laugh, "They're like 'Dude, you can't. If you die, we don't have a show.'"

Watch clips of Moonlight in our Online Video Guide.

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