Alex O'Loughlin Goes from Vamp to Doc

It's not easy charming women journalists, but during a small lunch gathering on the Paramount lot recently, Alex O'Loughlin left the group completely bewitched.

Well, that's what happens when an Aussie rascal warbles out the lyrics to his favorite childhood show, Monkey, which was immensely popular in Australia. Monkey, so the song goes, was "the punkiest monkey that ever popped" and fought evil demons with his band of friends.

Whether he's fighting bad vampires and evil-doers, or trying to save lives at a transplant hospital in Pittsburgh, Alex can always pull out the Monkey Magic theme song to inspire him.

The 34-year-old actor offered a powerful performance in a seven-episode story arc in the 2007 season of The Shield, but it was his role as the vampire trying to get off the juice on the CBS show Moonlight that same year that turned him into star with a massive Internet following.

And when CBS decided to cancel the show last year, fans went ballistic. But no amount of blood drives or ad campaigns could save the show. Still, CBS knew they had a star in Alex, and kept him in the talent stable.

Now he's starring in the CBS medical drama Three Rivers (premiering at 9 p.m. Oct. 4) as a tortured transplant surgeon. Alex says he hopes his fans will get behind his new show the way they did with Moonlight.

"It was the first time I've been overwhelmed from fans. It was like strange and a little surreal," Alex said during the post-lunch set visit.

In the beginning, he admits, it was almost too much to handle.

"At first it's kind of spooky opening those letters, hundreds and hundreds of letters, from people who know so much about you, yet have had no real interaction with you," Alex says. "But I'm much more comfortable with it now."

Without the support of his fans, he says, he wouldn't be having the opportunities he currently enjoys. His series came a direct result of CBS realizing Alex came with a legion of supporters that could help boost the ratings of a new series.

So why cancel the vamp series, which seems incredibly short-sighted in the wake of vampire frenzy from Twilight and True Blood? It was a troubled series from the start, plagued by numerous changes in cast and producers. The network opted to cut its losses and move on with a new project for Alex.

He traveled to the Pittsburgh medical center to work with the doctor his character is patterned after, Dr. Gonzalo "Gonzo" Gonzalez-Stawinski. Alex shadowed the doctor to learn the profession.

One particular incident greatly moved him. He went on rounds to see a woman who was in her late 50s who needed a heart transplant. When Gonzo asked her what she wanted to achieve through the transplant, she simply replied that she wanted to live so she could take walks by the lake, tend to her vegetable garden and be with her family.

"They just want to do those things that bring them joy, and that's the world we are going to explore on a very personal level. They fall in love with these people every day, and they lose people every day," Alex says. "It makes you appreciate what you have. Look at my life. I'm so very lucky."

Alex says he also spent a lot of time in the actual operating rooms with Gonzo.

"Now I'm obsessed with it," Alex says. "I've chosen the wrong profession. I'm so boring. I should have been a doctor."

While fans may object to that assessment, Alex does admit he's a man who brings his work home with him.

"I'm a lot like my character. I'm a passionate person and very positive about life. I'm tenacious and go-getter. If I believe in something, I'll go after it.," Alex says. "And I come from a working class background, so I understand where he's coming from."

And he needs his personal space to work it all out.

"I'm a single man, but I do have ways of decompressing. I'm a very private person and my house is my sanctuary," Alex, who broke up wth longtime girlfriend Holly Valance, says. "I have my garden. I hated school as a kid, I just wanted to run through forests and not be inside, but now I read a lot. My bed stand has about 10 books and I've been reading a lot of medical journals and scripts."

While most critics panned the pilot sent out by the networks earlier this summer, the show has been re shot and reworked. The one thing fans probably won't get to see from that pilot are the super-tight T-shirts that stood in for scrubs in that first effort.

Is that really the way doctors dress?

"In Star Trek," jokes Alex. "If you've done any sort of research. But that's all changed."

Alex hopes the message coming across from this series about the importance of donor cards -- he's getting one -- and supporting the transplant cause. He's hoping to become a spokesman and get fans behind it like they did with the Moonlight Red Cross campaign.

And he's learned just how important it is to live a healthy lifestyle.

"Usually, the people who have (these health problems), it's from a lifestyle and doing the things we all do, like smoking, drinking and eating bad stuff," Alex says. "A sick heart, and the smell of a sick organ, dude, there's nothing like it to turn you off a burger and fries. I'll take a salad and a water tonight, you know."

And maybe with a side of Monkey Magic.