November 27, 1992
Mysterious New Star Thrills TV’s Sisters
LOS ANGELES – Flush with disposable cash earned for the title role in the forthcoming Leon The Pig Farmer, his feature film debut, London-based actor Mark Frankel bought a round-trip air ticket last June to Los Angeles.
Mixing business with pleasure, he stayed with friends while making the rounds of Hollywood casting offices. The producers and casting directors at the dramatic NBC-TV series Sisters liked what they saw – a dangerously dark and rugged young man custom-designed to induce female meltdowns – but seemed to have no idea of how to employ Frankel’s unique talents by the time he headed home.
“Suddenly someone got the idea for a character named Simon Bolt,” he says, shaking his head, “and two days after getting back to London they called with an offer to do 12 episodes.”
Three weeks and yet another trans-Atlantic flight later, Frankel found himself on a soundstage at Warner Bros. in Burbank portraying Simon Bolt as a Gatsbyesque, reclusive billionaire with hot ideas for Chicago fashion designer Teddy Reed (Sela Ward). By investing $10 million and retaining 90 percent ownership in the fiery Teddy’s business, the mysterious tycoon also hopes to wind up with close to 100 percent of the beautiful brunette’s heart.
“There is a very dark side to Bolt, but I understand him perfectly,” says Frankel, 28, a husky man who packs heavy muscles on his six-foot frame. “His actions stem in part from a very modest background, where his father barely made ends meet as a second-rate magician playing in pubs and church basements. Simon’s younger brother died through a combination of poverty and neglect at the age of 10. He was powerless to do anything about his little brother dying; now he is over-compensating in everything he touches.”
Frankel comprehends his character’s motivations perhaps too well, having lost his one and only brother, Joe, in an airplane accident only two years ago. “We couldn’t have been closer. I worshipped him,” he says quietly. “Three years older than me, he was an extraordinary man of integrity and courage. And he was a career officer in the British army and leading Scorpion tank division based in Germany before he resigned to join my father’s plastics business. Like my father, a Spitfire flight instructor at the tail end of World War II, Joe was flying-crazy and one of Europe’s top acrobatic pilots.”
Tragedy struck in crystal clear blue skies on the edge of London when Joe Frankel’s open-cockpit Tiger Moth biplane climbed toward the sun and collided with a small Cessna carrying three people. “A pair of wings were sheared off one side of Joe’s plane, but he managed to fly it into an open field, then crashed, more than a mile away,” Frankel says. “The other plane went straight down into a playing field full of school children. Luckily, no one on the ground was hurt.”
In a matter of seconds, Frankel had lost his hero, protector, mentor, best friend and best man.
“I was devastated and felt completely alone for about six months after the accident, unable to function,” he recalls. “I came back slowly, painfully. Today, a lot of the things I do are for Joe. Whenever I feel weak or times are tough, I just think of him. And in a strange sort of way, losing him has made me fearless. Nothing frightens me because I view my life as a wait – 10 years, 50 years, whatever – until I see my brother again. I don’t know why.”
A rebellious South London youth with a penchant for motorcycles and hanging out with unsavory friends all night, Frankel’s concerned middle-class parents packed him off to a series of boarding schools in the hope of teaching him some discipline. It didn’t work. Disinterested in academics, he dropped out at 16 and spent the next four years all over the world on a low-grade men’s pro tennis circuit. Tired of the road, he turned his attention to acting (“my one bright spot in school”) and promptly earned a three-year scholarship to London’s Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Arts. A week after graduation in 1989, he made his professional debut in a local stage production of Days of Cavafy. Six months later, he made his screen debut in the title role of Michelangelo: A Season of Giants, a four-hour TNT miniseries.
Between London stage performances, Frankel also starred in eight independent short films, a Maigret episode for Granada Television and Young Catherine, a TNT telemovie shot entirely on location in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Finally somewhat financially secure, he married his long-time girlfriend, French advertising account executive Caroline Besson last year.
“Caroline lives in London and I’m in Beverly Hills, so we meet in New York at every opportunity,” he says, smiling. “A couple of weeks ago, I was recognized as Simon Bolt in Sisters for the first time in a coffee house on 5th Ave. A woman leaned over and said, ‘Why are you so mean?’ Another yelled, ‘You’re a real bastard!’ I knew I had arrived.”