His 21 Jump Street crony, Johnny Depp, now headlines blockbusters and vies for Oscars, while his own body of work tends to bypass the multiplex altogether. But despite the fact that his smoldering stare and intense presence should have made him a matinee idol as well, Richard Grieco doesn't give a damn. "Even when the films I've done haven't been good, they've been good characters," he explains to TV Guide Online, "so I'll still take them."

In the Sci Fi thriller Phantom Force (a spin-off of the FX-citing Interceptor Force flicks, premiering Saturday night at 9 pm/ET), the early-'90s teen heartthrob has himself another doozy of a role: a G-man combatting demons of both the literal and figurative variety. "In a lot of ways, I relate to the darker characters," allows the frequent screen heavy, who plays a hit man opposite Burt Reynolds and Charles Durning in the upcoming comedy Forget About It. "Even my writing and painting are kinda dark, I guess."

Grieco himself isn't a downer, however. On the contrary, "I don't have a real pessimistic attitude toward the world as far as the whole doom-and-gloom thing; it's just a matter of being sensitive to my surroundings," says the sometime producer-director. "For example, clowns. I hate clowns, because they're always happy. But they're not! The same is true with a lot of people."

Perhaps it's this hard-won wisdom that has helped the New York native maintain his sanity in Hollywood, where a premium is placed on everything but. It has certainly allowed him to look back at his Booker days with a fond detachment. "I was 21 years old then, for crying out loud, and I came from a place where I only had $400 to my name!" he recalls. "Suddenly, you're known all over the world.

"For a couple of years, it was fun, but it was a very lonely time, too. You're surrounded by all these people, and you go back [home] a lot of times by yourself. If you start believing what's happening around you, then you're really screwed up. It's isolationist," he concludes, "in the sense of isolationist with a million arms [around you]."