Had destiny not smiled upon Simon Rex during his late-1990s run as MTV eye candy, he easily could have suffered a fate worse than death — becoming the next Downtown Julie Brown. But before he fully committed himself to a career as a small-screen personality, he received a call that would forever alter the course of his life.

"Gus Van Sant requested to meet me for Good Will Hunting," the 28-year-old San Francisco native tells TV Guide Online. Although the onetime skin-flick star didn't get cast, he did get ideas. "I said to myself, 'Okay, I can stay [and keep introducing videos] or I could go down this [other] road, because this looks like it might happen. So I went down the other road."

In no time, thanks to roles on WB's Felicity and Jack & Jill, Rex became almost as widely known for his body of work as for his worked-out body. Even today, he gets pegged as the lothario who deflowered Keri Russell's virtuous character. "It was such a big deal to people," he marvels. "Right after [that episode] aired, girls would yell at me out of their car windows, 'It shouldn't have been you, it should've been [Felicity's other pursuer] Noel!' It was weird."

Odds are, the up-and-comer will receive more catcalls than jibes after WB debuts its new Jennie Garth sitcom, What I Like About You, on Sept. 20 (8 pm/ET). Playing the Beverly Hills, 90210 grad's boyfriend, Rex seizes the opportunity to prove that he's not just pretty, he's pretty funny, too. "All I've ever wanted to do is make people laugh," he says, "and this show is going to let me be a total moron and fall over the couch and spill drinks and do the things that Jack Tripper [of Three's Company notoriety] would do."

In addition, the wannabe matinee idol recently shot his first lead in a feature, Unleashed, with showbiz survivors Jon Voight and Chevy Chase, and former Jack & Jill castmate Jaime Pressly. "I play a detective who finds this dog that Pat Morita trained to walk and talk," he explains. "We solve the crime together."

Even with divine intervention, the G-rated kiddie caper probably isn't going to turn Rex into box-office gold. However, a little detour on the path to fame and fortune won't sway him from his ultimate ambition — becoming the next Tom Cruise. "I'd rather be going from film to film — I think ideally anyone would," he says. However, for the moment, he's just happy that, unlike a certain other ex-VJ, no fan of his would ever ask him to recite gibberish like wubba, wubba, wubba. "I got lucky," he concludes. Thank the stars.