Person to Watch: Ian Ziering
From heartthrob to action hero
By Terri Akman

If you’ve never seen any of the three immensely popular, campy, “Sharknado” movies, you probably remember Ian (rhymes with lion) Ziering, 51, as heartthrob Steve Sanders on “Beverly Hills, 90210” in the ’90s. As a teen star, Ziering was adored by legions of screaming fans, mostly female. So when he was offered the role of Fin Shepard in the first Sharknado movie a few years ago, he hesitated.

“I had a lot of trepidation,” he recalls with a laugh. “I was concerned this movie could very possibly be detrimental to my career. There were so many holes in the script that were left to be filled with visual effects. It was a low-budget science-fiction film. I was worried.”

Ziering is interviewed for E! News at the premiere of Sharknado 3

Ziering is interviewed for E! News at the premiere of Sharknado 3

He took the role when he realized that as the family breadwinner, he needed a paycheck. “My wife had my daughter Mia in her arms and my daughter Penna still in her stomach, and she said, ‘You need to go to work.’ She was right. Sometimes I enjoy what I do so much I forget I do this for a living. Now that I have a wife and a family, provider is job one.”

The risk paid off. The outrageous made-for-television movie – about a cyclone filled with man-eating sharks hitting Los Angeles – first appeared on the Syfy channel to a warm reception. But after its premiere, the movie trended on Twitter and celebrities joined the discussion. Its repeat airings brought more viewers each time. Fans got to choose the name for the second movie, and they came up with “Sharknado 2: The Second One,” which gives you an idea of the show’s level of serious drama. “The Second One” became the highest premiering film on the Syfy Channel.

Of course, not even Ziering could have guessed how popular the movie would become or that fans would embrace the “it’s so bad, it’s good” theory. While he still isn’t sure “what the secret sauce is,” he attributes the movie’s success to a legion of wildly devoted science-fiction fans and the power of social media.

“When news of a particular science-fiction project gets out there and it’s positive, it spreads like wildfire,” Ziering says. “The anticipation was instantaneous when word got out that we were doing Sharknado. Believe me, it didn’t get out from me. I was keeping my mouth shut.”

Not anymore. Sharknado has reignited the career of the star whose most popular gigs after 90210 were “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.” Now, three Sharknado movies in, Ziering’s Fin has evolved.

“When we first met Fin, he was a retired professional surfer who got caught up in all the glamour that professional surfing has, and he lost his family because of it,” the actor says.

Like Ziering, Fin comes to recognize the importance of family. “He rekindles the relationship he had with April [played by Tara Reid] and becomes the father he should have been to his kids. Honestly, it’s a family movie – a fish-in-the-water story about an ordinary guy who goes to great lengths by doing extraordinary things to keep his family safe.”

Extraordinary doesn’t begin to describe the situations Fin finds himself in – battling sharks in the White House in the most recent movie, “Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!” which premiered in July. While Ziering hadn’t envisioned himself an action hero, he is loving it. A fan of the “Die Hard” series, lead character John McClane was always his hero, so Ziering says this role is a dream come true. He does most of his own stunts, short of falling off a building.

The third installment has an expanded cast of well-known personalities, including Bo Derek, David Hasselhoff and Mark Cuban, who portrays the president of the United States. One of Ziering’s favorite moments was a quip from Cuban.

“Whether you know him or not, or like him or not, I found him to be completely down-to-earth, hysterical, charming and a real guy’s guy,” recalls Ziering.

“There’s no attitude about him. He’s just a regular guy who happens to be brilliant and incredibly wealthy. In one scene, the director was giving him some direction, and there were sharks flying through the White House. To motivate Mark, the director says, ‘You’re really pissed off – it’s like you just found out someone stole a half million dollars from you.’

“Up until that point, Mark was listening very intently in connecting the direction with the character, but he broke and said, ‘I wouldn’t even know it was missing.’ We all laughed so hard. If there was one pompous cell in Mark Cuban’s body, that comment could have gone miserably wrong. But because there isn’t, we loved him for it.”

Ziering has always appreciated comedy. He adopted the class clown role as a kid growing up in West Orange. “When my class was learning how to read, it was uncovered that I had dyslexia,” he says. “Back then we would have reading groups where each child had to read out loud. Because I wasn’t a very good reader, I had a lot of anxiety, especially as my turn was approaching. Rather than having to sound out a word and be insecure, I would compensate by cracking jokes or being funny. It was pretty disruptive in class, but I got a lot of positive reinforcement from my antics. That focused my performance part of my personality.”

At 12, he started modeling for Crayola Crayons and local department stores, and did radio and TV commercials. Soon after graduating from William Patterson University in 1988, Ziering landed his breakout role in Beverly Hills, 90210.

He insists he never focused on the fame, just the work. “I always felt my success was temporary, because every gig has a closing curtain,” he says. “Fame was really a by-product. I never wanted to be a star, just to act and sing and dance. The whole celebrity label was challenging to figure out. I have to thank my parents for giving me an early foundation to make good decisions and not step in any potholes.”

Ian Ziering with his daughters, Mia and Penna, now 4 and 2

Ian Ziering with his daughters, Mia and Penna, now 4 and 2

Ziering is now passing on some of those lessons to his daughters, ages 4 and 2. Does he want them to follow in his footsteps? “My parents are always supportive of whatever it is I want to do, so I’m going to do the same,” he says. “If they want a career in entertainment, I would certainly support them. But, like my father said to me, ‘Ian, have a plan B.’ I will make sure they have an education to fall back on.”

Though it seems unlikely he will need a plan B any time soon, Ziering is developing Chainsaw Brands, his signature apparel brand. His ah-ha moment came when he was a contestant on The Celebrity Apprentice earlier this year.

“In having to build a business project every other day for Donald Trump, I felt I could do this for myself,” he says. “Chainsaw Brands is a bit of an homage to Fin Shepard. The chainsaw in my character development was always used to overcome obstacles, so that’s the drive behind the clothing line.”

If Ziering’s risky decision to star in Sharknado is any indication, his entrepreneurial instincts may pay off. “I just want to be at home with my kids and my wife,” he says, “and I can’t do that until I can afford to do that.”

September 2015
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