Indianapolis Star, The (IN), September 7, 2001
New 'Hoss' is Lebanon's Drew Powell

Drew Powell headed to the audition for the part of young Eric "Hoss" Cartwright with low expectations. For one thing, his agent said the character was supposed to be 15 years old, and Powell is 25.

"But it's Hoss Cartwright," the agent told his 6-foot-3, 220-pound client. "And you are Hoss Cartwright."

Then Powell arrived to find a waiting room filled with what he describes as "12-year-old fat kids."

"They're sitting there with their little vests on, and their cowboy hats, and their moms are with them," he says.

"I'm thinking, 'What am I doing? This is a mistake.' But I went in, and they liked me enough that they decided to change the age."

As a result, you can see the Lebanon native playing 17-year-old Hoss in the new PAX series The Ponderosa , which premieres at 9 p.m. Sunday as a two-hour movie on the cable channel.

Ponderosa is a prequel to Bonanza , TV's No. 1 program for most of the 1960s.

The Ponderosa story begins with the Cartwright family -- Ben his third wife, Marie and his sons, Adam, 21, Hoss and Joe, 12, -- arriving in the Nevada Territory town of Eagle Station.

It goes on to show how the Cartwrights came to own the land that became the Ponderosa ranch, why Hop Sing became their houseboy, how Ben was widowed for the third time and where Hoss got his nickname.

Most of the new show stays true to the original. Some is even an homage:

Ben works at Orowitz Trading Post, which is named for Eugene Orowitz -- the given name of Michael Landon, who played Little Joe in Bonanza .

"It's not Bonanza it's a new show," Powell says in a phone interview from Australia, where Ponderosa is taping. "And we get to take it places it hasn't been. But there's definitely a legacy, and we hope to live up to it, to some degree."

How successful they are at this -- and at attracting an audience for this gentle family drama -- will determine how long Powell spends in the town outside Melbourne, where they're taping the series.

The cast has been there since early July, and Powell says that other than the kangaroos and gum trees, the wide-open spaces remind him of home.

He was born in Noblesville and grew up in Lebanon -- around horses but rarely on them.

"It never occurred to us to actually ride them," he says. "My buddy's sisters, that's what they did.

"We were too busy playing A-Team up in the hayloft to worry about riding horses."

After graduating from Lebanon High School, Powell studied media at DePauw University, where he was a TV show host and a disc jockey and wrote for the school newspaper while acting in off- campus theater productions.

In his senior year, as he watched friends getting ready to head to law school or move into jobs as consultants, Powell wasn't sure what to do. He wanted to act, but "that practical Midwestern boy in you says there's no way."

Then he got a call to be a youth director at a church in North Hollywood, Calif. He took it as a sign. A week after he graduated in 1998, Powell packed up his Honda Accord and headed west.

In California, a friend introduced him to an agent, and Powell soon began auditioning. A year into the process, he was up for a role in the Denzel Washington movie Remember the Titans.

He lost that part but won a recurring role as a cadet on a then-unknown Fox comedy called Malcolm in the Middle. The work lasted for 13 episodes, giving him a valuable acting credit that helped him land The Ponderosa .

"I've led a pretty charmed acting life," Powell says. "I've been lucky and in the right place at the right time, and was able to perform when I needed to. And this is an actor's dream gig. We're doing the whole cowboy thing and having a good time doing it."

Copyright (c) The Indianapolis Star. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc. Record Number: ind47585337

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