David Krumholtz has a theory about why he's played so many charming but zhlubby Jewish guys in film and on television. "I must be a zhlub myself," jokes the boyish, amiable, 23-year- old, who was named one of 10 actors to watch by Variety last year. "I've tried to play dashing types, but I don't think that translates as well. It comes much more naturally to me to play the underdog, because that's sort of what I am."
Krumholtz, who says he grew up "very working-class, almost poor" in Queens, played the dopey older brother in an impoverished Jewish family in "Slums of Beverly Hills." He was the teenager who bleaches his hair to "pass" as gentile in Barry Levinson's 1950s-themed saga, "Liberty Heights." In Edward Burns' smart new romantic comedy, "Sidewalks of New York," he is Ben Basner, a doorman-musician ardently wooing a waitress, played by Brittany Murphy. Like a cuter, sweeter version of Woody Allen, he stammers while trying to convince her he's the "man in uniform" her horoscope predicts is her true love ("unless it's your mailman," he adds, apprehensively). While complaining about his romantic woes, he laments, "I'm a nice Jewish boy.... These kinds of things shouldn't be happening to me."
Krumholtz's gift for playing characters who are hapless yet appealing is one reason Burns granted him the role, sans audition, after watching a videotape of "Liberty Heights" last year. "Originally I wrote the part for my 'Saving Private Ryan' co-star, Adam Goldberg," the actor-writer-director told The Journal. "Then I saw 'Liberty Heights' and I thought, 'David's the one. He is just too funny."
Krumholtz says he was surprised to receive Burns' call, but quickly came to realize he had much in common with the "Sidewalks" character. Like the fictional Ben, he didn't date until he was 19. "I was very unlucky with women, maybe because I was too forward," admits the actor, who is now happily involved with an entertainment publicist. "I'd bring flowers and chocolates, which didn't work because the women ended up feeling embarrassed. So I've only dated two people in my life, not for lack of trying."
Krumholtz believes that Ben, a struggling artist, is a portrait of the man he might have become had he not lucked into a showbiz career. That happened by accident when, with zero acting experience, he tagged along with friends to an open casting call for Herb Gardner's "Conversations With My Father" -- a play about self-hating Jews and anti-Semitism. By the age of 13, he was playing Judd Hirsch's younger self in the Broadway production.
His paycheck helped pay for his bar mitzvah: "We couldn't afford to rent a hall, so we had the reception in the synagogue's basement -- lox and bagels only," Krumholtz recalls. He says his father, the son of Polish immigrants, didn't have a problem with his career choice "because for him, my acting success felt like, 'Finally, we are making a name for ourselves in America.'"
While still in his teens, Krumholtz began landing roles in films such as "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Slums," in which his character stole a scene by belting out a Frank Sinatra song in his underwear. In the short-lived Fox series, "Monty," he portrayed actor David Schwimmer's brother.
Along the way, he says, "I've had a really hard time getting away from the Jewish typecasting thing. I'd like to play a range of characters and not just do ethnic roles."
He'll get his chance when he portrays a skateboarding crook in the upcoming independent film "Scorched," and an average guy caught between two gorgeous women in Brian Burns' "You Stupid Man." "My co-stars are Milla Jovovich and Denise Richards -- Can you believe that?" he asks, incredulously. "Not bad for a nice Jewish boy from Queens."