LOS ANGELES — It's just another day on the set of "Glee" and Lea Michele, who plays spirited songstress Rachel Berry, is in her schoolgirl attire, roaming around with a salad in hand and a female companion by her side.
Then John Stamos walks by. Michele plays it cool, greeting him casually. But as Stamos passes, the reaction that has shadowed him throughout his career reveals itself:
"Oh, my God. That's Uncle Jesse," Michele's friend says in a muffled voice.
Actually, it's John Stamos. But the character he's best known for is never too far behind.
The dark-haired star achieved heartthrob status while developing his comedy chops on the decidedly lowbrow "Full House," a hit sitcom that ran for eight seasons in the late '80s and early '90s — and continues its wholesome influence in syndication. Stamos has been trying to shake this alter ego ever since.
Along the way, there have been several highlights in his wide-ranging career: performing with the Beach Boys; stints on Broadway; a role as a doctor on "ER"; and a self-deprecating turn on the just-completed season of "Entourage."
But there have been more than a few low points in his work and personal life: Several series developed around him that came and went quickly; a high-profile divorce from Rebecca Romijn; and an extortion scandal involving people who said they had incriminating pictures that never materialized.
The highs and lows have positioned Stamos, 47, in what he calls "the middle."
"For all intents and purposes I should have been long gone by now; a lot of my contemporaries are," he said at his Beverly Hills home. "I've been comfortably at the low part of the middle for a long time. I'd like to say that it's strategy, but ... it's just good timing."
The clock is on his side these days.
His heartthrob persona was tweaked in the latest season of "Entourage," where he played a stylized version of himself — a self-indulgent pingpong enthusiast cast to play Johnny Drama's brother in a TV series. "You spend your career playing a nice guy and one spot on 'Entourage' can totally burst the bubble. People see it and go, 'I knew he was a jerk.' "
He's following that up with a stint on "Glee" — a "golden ticket" for any actor, he said.
His entry into the glossy, upbeat world of Fox's critical darling has a certain irony, considering that last season, McKinley High guidance counselor Emma Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) said of Stamos: "They say it takes certainty more than talent to make a star. I mean, look at John Stamos."
"I remember I called the head of the studio," Stamos recalled. "I was so mad. And I boycotted the show ... yeah, I was the only one in the world that boycotted 'Glee.' Me, the guy who's on the show now."
"Glee" creator Ryan Murphy had, 10 years prior, pitched Stamos a series about a male hooker —"which, in my opinion, is a role America wants to see him play," Murphy teased. Stamos "politely declined," but the two have stayed in touch ever since.
Now, Stamos says he is set to appear in 10 episodes as Carl Howell, a dentist who sparks a relationship with his germophobic patient Emma.