His father Scott briefly played pro baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his big brother Jake is a third baseman at the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, banking on a similar shot at the majors. But back in Nampa, Zack Lively made headlines of his own as a triple threat in football, basketball and baseball. The starting quarterback of Skyview High's Class of 2005 was the kind of red-blooded Big Man On Campus you'd practically order your teenage daughter to date.
It's funny how life throws the occasional curve ball. Two years later, Lively's playing a closeted gay teen in the alpha-male world of the college fraternity system.
The athlete-turned-model-turned-actor plays Heath, a recurring character on the new ABC Family series Greek. The hour-long comedy-drama, which centers on bookish freshman Jacob Zachar and his initiation at fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University, kicked off its 10-episode summer season July 9. And Lively, 20, couldn't be happier about playing a guy who's so conflicted about his sexuality.
"It should be great," says the neophyte thespian, speaking from his home in Marina del Ray, Calif. "As of now, I'm in every single episode except [episode] three, and we're [shooting episode] seven. I get called every week saying, 'OK, you're in this one,' and then 'You're in this one.' I'm not too sure [about] eight, nine or 10. I'm hoping."
It sounds like a tenuous, fingers-crossed kind of existence—but then, Lively's used to this kind of without-a-net lifestyle. At the age of 17 and just shy of graduation (he finished his final two credits online), he moved from Nampa to Los Angeles to pursue the risky occupation of male modeling. The unlikely career opportunity came his way during his junior year, when he tagged along with his girlfriend, Jessica Hauge, to a modeling/talent search competition—and received far more attention from a scout than he'd ever imagined. "The guy [was] like, 'Hey, you could do really well,'" says Lively. "I wasn't even thinking about doing [modeling] at the time. I was like, 'all right, I guess I'll try it once or twice.' I did really well, and it kind of went from there."
Soon he was earning appellations like "most sought after" and "male model of the year," and appearing in the pages of Teen Vogue and on Verizon Wireless in-store displays—all of which suited Lively just fine, as his new direction didn't exactly clash with any set-in-stone plans for a postsecondary education. Back in high school, he'd entertained a vague notion of parlaying his pigskin prowess into an athletic scholarship—but had trouble fully committing to the idea. "[Junior year] when I got named starting quarterback, I was like, 'I'm going to try to go as far as I can with quarterbacking,' because we had a pretty good team ... I was top of the league in passing completions, touchdowns, stuff like that. We did well. [But] it's tough for a 6-foot, 1-inch, 185-pound kid from Idaho to do amazing ... it's real tough."
Alone in the City of Angels, Lively threw himself into his new role of mannequin-for-hire. But homesickness proved to be a chronic illness, and rampant drug abuse among his strike-a-pose peers brought him down from his natural high. "I had a tough, tough time. I would go [to our] vacation home every other month as much as possible because I missed my family. I mean, I'm 17 years old, living alone in a huge city where I knew no one. It was crazy, and seeing the things I saw—there is a lot of drug use. I never fell into it. I'm not really here to party and get high; I'm here to work."
That spirit led him to enroll in acting classes, where he discovered a passion for performing he hadn't realized he'd had. Lively had signed up for a theater class back at Skyview High, but had been asked to leave after only one day. "They were like, 'We don't think you can be in this class because it's an advanced class,'" he recalls.
With no real experience, he was cast as one of the leads in an independent feature titled Making of a Legend, but funding for the low-budget film—about self-destructive rich kids—fell through soon after shooting began last March. Lively had better luck with a January cameo on the Disney Channel sitcom The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, where he played an average guy who joins his pal in taking two female models on a date. "I think my first line was, 'I can't believe we're on a date with a couple of models.' That's the funny part ... because the other guy was a model, too."
When he first auditioned for Greek—"I was very green," he concedes—it was for a bit part as a pretty-boy fraternity brother who dispenses hair-care tips. "I don't think he had a name; he was just 'hot guy' or something," says Lively. "They picked [another] guy and I came back for Heath, read that [role] one time, and got the call saying, 'It's a go.'"
Lively's character, a member of the Kappa Tau Gamma fraternity, has only one brief scene in the first episode of Greek—but it's a memorable one. He sneaks a potential pledge named Calvin (played by a series regular Paul James) out of the Kappa Tau house following what appears to be a down-low one-night stand. Heath insists that their brief encounter doesn't mean that he's homosexual—and Calvin is only too happy to humor him.
Lively states that future episodes of Greek will explore the Heath/Calvin dynamic, as well as their individual lives. "It's showing our relationship evolve, my relationship with my fraternity evolving," he says. "[Heath is] figuring out that he really likes Calvin. Both of us [are] easing our way into a relationship."
But how will this coupling play back in Nampa? "I'm pretty sure everyone [knows] it's just acting," he says. "I don't think anybody's going to be like, 'Oh, my God—I can't believe he's doing that.' I mean, you gotta start somewhere, and it's not that bad. I don't think it's going to be too big of a deal."
Lively says his parents—his father is a salesman for Rawlings Sporting Goods, and his mother Leana is an optician—are supportive of his acting career. And because Greek airs on the ABC Family network and not Showtime, Lively—and his friends and family—can rest assured that Heath and Calvin won't be venturing into graphic Queer as Folk territory.
Though Heath may appeal to a young, gay male demographic, Lively's not through turning ladies' heads. He recently shot a memorable episode (airing Aug. 1) on the over-the-top NBC soap Passions. "It was just a one-day thing: Come in, make out with a girl, and then I'm done," he says, laughing sheepishly. Apparently two young ladies named Pretty and Fancy Crane clash over his character, Harrison, in a flashback sequence. "One of the girls throws acid on the other girl's face," he says.
Just as long as Lively's mug isn't marred. This is one guy who's ready for his close-up.
The next episode of Greek airs Mon., July 16 at 10 p.m. MST on ABC Family Channel.