When Wilmer Valderrama was living in Venezuela - and failing English class - he'd tune in whenever he had a chance to watch his favorite television show, "The Simpsons." The Spanish language version, of course.
When he moved to Van Nuys 4 1/2 years ago, Valderrama continued to tune in on his favorite cartoons - using the translation function on his television set to hear it all in Spanish, of course.This fall, Valderrama will have to stay tuned to Fox for at least another half-hour on Sunday nights to catch what no doubt will be another one of his favorite shows. The one !ital!he's!off! on. He's landed one of the starring roles on "Feelin' All Right," a comedy that will take a look back at the high jinks of the '70s; it is scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. Sundays as part of the Fox network's 1998-99 season lineup.
"I especially love `The Simpsons`," Valderrama said. "I also love `The X-Files.' They are two of the best shows, and I am in the middle of it."
Valderrama plays Fez, a foreign exchange student. It's not exactly that much of a stretch for the 18-year-old Taft High School junior who still speaks with a heavy accent.
Born in Miami and raised in his parents' native Venezuela, Valderrama suddenly found a new reason why he should have paid closer attention in English class when his family relocated to Los Angeles and he had to make his way at Mulholland Junior High School.
"At the beginning, I didn't even know how to say, `Hi'," Valderrama said. "That is how pathetic my English was. I used to have to walk around with a dictionary in my little tight pants."
That's right, tight pants. Valderrama still adheres to many of his Venezuelan sensibilities, especially fashion. He refuses to don the baggy pants that infect American youth.
As an 18-year-old, Valderrama is not required to have a tutor on the set. He plans to continue high school by having his sister Marilyn, 17, another budding actor, bring his assignments to him after the show's production begins later this summer.
It was during his dictionary-toting days that Valderrama decided he wanted to be an actor. That became a punch line around Mulholland Junior High, but it is Valderrama who is getting the last laugh. Girls that wouldn't look at him a couple of months ago now want to get to know the school's newest star.
"It's like, `In your face'," he said, speaking of those who mocked him before his big break.
His first professional break was a Spanish-language Pacific Bell commercial. But aside from some school plays and auditions for TV and movies, there were few bites - until "Feelin' All Right" called.
He was shocked to hear he landed the series.
"I found out, I couldn't speak for like an hour and a half," Valderrama said. "I just busted out crying. It is like a little American dream. It's a huge accomplishment. I have only been here a short time and to accomplish something like this at this age - and my parents are able to see me succeed."