An act of salemanship\ Dayton-born actor creates his mark in Hollywood

Damian Chapa proudly called himself "the tin man" when he sold aluminum siding as a teen-ager. Now, the Dayton-born actor is selling himself on the silver screen.

Since he left the New York stage and made his film debut in Bound by Honor in 1992, Chapa has turned in fiery performances opposite some of Hollywood's top actors.

Hell put another notch in his belt Monday when he co-stars with Wendy Makkena and Stephen Collins in the NBC movie On Seventh Avenue (9 p.m. on Channel 22). Chapa, 31, plays a mafia loan shark who gets mixed up in New Yorks cutthroat fashion industry.

All of which is heady stuff for a kid who was born at Dayton's Good Samaritan Hospital and moved to Columbus with his family when he was 7.

"When I was young, I was very creative," he recalled by phone from his Los Angeles apartment. "I would do skits for my sisters, playing a priest or a cowboy."

As a teenager, he didnt have much time for play-acting.

"Our family didnt have a lot of money it was a struggle," he said. "I went to work for my father when I was 15, after school and on weekends."

His first acting teacher was a fellow salesman, "this old Jewish guy who had been an actor in New York." Chapa would watch him go door-to-door, putting on the performance of his life.

"When you're 14 or 15, knocking on doors, an audition is nothing compared to that," he said. "Its just selling yourself instead of siding."

Chapa quit Gahanna Lincoln High School in 1982, joined the Navy and "traveled the world," ending up in New York. He started going on auditions and landed roles in Bible Belt Bash and The Prisoner of Second Avenue.

Moving to Hollywood, he took a screen test for a role as James Dean, "but the money fell through and my dreams were broken," he said.

Chapa got a job sweeping floors and survived until he beat out Stephen Baldwin for the lead in Disney's Bound by Honor (retitled Blood In, Blood Out for video release).

" It was very intense," he said. "It was about a guy who grows up confused about what he is because he's a half Mexican, half white guy which I am. I know what it's like to be on both sides."

Since then, Chapa has appeared in Street Fighter with Jean-Claude Van Damme and Raul Julia, played a seaman in Under Siege with Steven Seagal and Tommy Lee Jones, and had roles in Dead Connection and Saints and Sinners.

On TV, he was a weeping Lyle Menendez in the CBS mini-series Menendez: A Murder in Beverly Hills and played Jim Rockford's godson in a Rockford Files movie last season. Hes also in Midnight Blue, a film with Dean Stockwell that he thinks will end up on Showtime.

And he's become a triple threat. Chapa wrote, directed and stars in a low-budget thriller, Kill You Twice, that hes taking to the Houston Film Festival.

Two marriages, the first to a nurse and the second to Species star Natasha Henstridge, have gone down the drain, but Chapa is proud of one product of his first marriage. He shares custody of his 6-year-old son.

"He's a big part of my life," Chapa said softly. "In fact, he's the biggest part."