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South Medford alumnus makes Hollywood splash

A South Medford High alumnus is swimming with sharks in Hollywood.

Justin Baldoni has landed another good role ' as the heavy in the March 20 CBS movie Spring Break Shark Attack, a task he performs before 30 million people, mostly with his shirt off.

Baldoni, a noted soccer and track athlete at South, was brought from the Hollywood life to the Rogue Valley a decade ago by his parents, who wanted him to have a more normal, less materialistic life.

He found his way back, landing bit parts, had a recurring role in The Young and the Restless, then, last year a role in a Wedding Daze, a Hallmark channel movie.

Said his high school chum, Noelle Hilgendorf, now of Portland, the hunky roles will not go to Baldoni's head.

— Not as long as I'm his friend! Hilgendorf said. He's got that Italian suave thing, but he's also a great guy with a humble heart.

Baldoni has invited Hilgendorf to LA to watch the airing of the show.

Aside from having a blast shooting the picture in South Africa, Baldoni, 21, said it's a significant career move that he hopes will open doors and keep him working.

It's a pretty prestigious network and will definitely help my career, said Baldoni, 21. This is the next level up.

Much of Baldoni's humility was probably acquired in Medford schools, said Hilgendorf, where he had to overcome rivalries, cliques and judgments ' including the judgment by a lot of people in Medford who didn't believe a young guy can just go to Hollywood and be in films.

Justin's father, filmmaker Sam Baldoni of Jacksonville, said people may think he used his pull, but in reality, Justin did all this on his own. He's got what it takes in Hollywood ' humility, he's a good human being, he's talented and good-looking, and he would give you the shirt off his back.

Which is exactly what Justin does on national television next month, playing a two-legged type of shark named J.T., a sexual predator who uses a date-rape drug on unsuspecting spring break bunnies. His character learns a lesson but doesn't find redemption in the end, he said.

That's so NOT Justin, said Hilgendorf. Now I really will be able to tell how good an actor he is.

Complicating the plot and adding a high level of hysteria is a vindictive character jealous of hunky Justin getting all the beach bunnies' attention.

People get eaten up, people get hurt, I learn my lesson but stay a bad person and I lose the girl, said Justin Baldoni, who, in real life, is a member of the Baha'i faith and doesn't smoke, drink or party.

Justin turned 21 during the shooting of the film in South Africa and was surprised by a visit from his dad, who stayed a week and watched filming.

What he's done in 10 months usually takes people 10 years, said Sam Baldoni, noting that his son also has a role on JAG and is one of three finalists for the new Superman movie.

A role here, a role there — that's how it's done, he noted.

This is my dream, the younger Baldoni said, my passion.

I love acting and you'd think the chances of getting started like this are slim to none, so I consider it a blessing I'm making a living. Not many people get to do it.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org