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Rising to the top

Tampa's Carter Jenkins is loving his run on NBC's Surface. The water may be cold, but his career is heating up.

Published February 6, 2006

He was "Carter Who?" when he was introduced to television critics on a stage at the Beverly Hills Hilton last summer.

Viewers might have seen him before on an episode of CSI: NY or Scrubs, as an extra or a guest star. He was once credited as "kid" on Jimmy Kimmel Live .

Then, last year came a film role in the remake of The Bad News Bears (but not as a Bear), and finally his big break on NBC.

Now he's Carter Jenkins, that kid from Surface.

Jenkins and crew wrap up the undersea sci-fi adventure's 17-episode first season tonight, unsure of what's ahead for the show, but riding at least a favorable mention from NBC president of entertainment Kevin Reilly.

Though not a ratings powerhouse, the seafaring saga is a top 50 show, averaging nearly 9.5-million viewers, better than Fox's Prison Break and The Simpsons , better than Dennis Hopper on NBC's E-Ring and way better than the high-dollar Matt LeBlanc NBC sitcom Joey.

And at center stage is Jenkins, a 14-year-old Tampa native who has spent this season talking to a mark of tape (and sometimes a cereal box), jumping in and out of the Intracoastal Waterway in Wilmington, N.C., and slowly turning into a creepy creature.

"It's been great, everything about it," Jenkins said as he made the interview circuit at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., last month at another TV critics gathering.

Looking already at ease answering questions from reporters, and already about 5-feet-8-inches tall and with a Web site, Jenkins seems every bit the accomplished Hollywood star. As he talked about shooting scenes, hitting restaurants and playing poker with the guys, it was easy to forget he is a high school freshman in his home-school classes.

Jenkins has had a busy year with a challenging role in a TV season cluttered with science fiction.

The biggest thing viewers probably don't know about Surface is that Jenkins never sees the co-star he deals with the most. The sea creature he is raising on the show, a super intelligent, electrically charged undersea iguana called Nimrod, is a computer-generated image added after scenes are shot.

Jenkins has to have entire conversations staring at nothing.

"Sometimes it's just a piece of tape. The other day it was a box of cereal," Jenkins said. "When we're shooting, he's not there; it's all visual effects. Acting is reacting, and when you don't have anything to act to, it's tough."

The first glimpse he gets of how "Nim" fits into the scene is when the show airs, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said work has been hard off the set as well. Labor laws ensure that he attends school in a trailer on the set, and then there was a week of production delays in September when Hurricane Ophelia skirted the North Carolina coast where the show is filmed.

"We played a lot of poker," Jenkins said.

Restaurants and stores were closed, and a declared state of emergency kept crews from filming.

As for other news from the set, Jenkins said the water in the Intracoastal got progressively colder as the fall wore on. Playing the role of a North Carolina teen growing up by the ocean, he's required to jump in and out. By December, "it was like that last scene in Titanic, " he said.

Jenkins said he wears a thin wet suit under his clothes, but it's hardly enough to keep out the cold.

Jenkins said he has little in common with his character, Miles.

"We look alike," he said, laughing (it's an old show biz line, he said).

But where Miles was a loner without any passions before taking in the baby sea creature, Jenkins said he has always had outside interests. First, when he was in Tampa, it was baseball. Now it's acting.

Taking on the obsessive task of raising a sea monster wouldn't appeal to Carter Jenkins, he said.

Off the set, he's shy about it, but co-star Ian Anthony Dale said young Jenkins has been known to slip away to see some young ladies.

"He's very hush, hush about it," Dale said, glancing at Jenkins with a sly smile. "It was sort of, "I've got to go meet these girls ... ' "

The two laughed.

Jenkins would say only that he felt very welcome in Wilmington.

Back home in Sherman Oaks, a Los Angeles suburb, Jenkins said the lone extravagance he has allowed himself after a full season on network TV is a 32-inch flat-screen TV in his room. For spring, he's planning on a brief break, more home-schooling and then one of a few acting projects he's considering.

NBC's Reilly wouldn't say in January if the network would pick up Surface for another season, but he hinted it was possible.

"The show has done a pretty good job over on Monday," Reilly said. "I think it's creative. It's got a very loyal audience. A number of (sci-fi) genre shows came out. I actually think that this one has fared the best."

About the finale, Jenkins was careful about revealing too much.

"It's huge, and it's awesome," he said. "And it will answer a lot of questions."

-- Chase Squires can be reached at 727 893-8739 or His blog is

[Last modified February 6, 2006, 01:09:14]

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