LOS ANGELES - They didn't teach a class in sitcoms at Julliard but Ben Rappaport says there's plenty from classical theater that can be applied.
"Acting is telling a story," Rappaport says. "How I approach Hamlet is the same way I'd approach Todd."
Todd is the character he plays on NBC's new sitcom, "Outsourced." Set in India, it chronicles the life of a call center. Rappaport plays its American-born manager. Fish out of water? "That's me," he says.
Like James Wolk, the star of "Lone Star" and Jon Michael Hill, a co-star of "Detroit 1-8-7," he's one of a handful of young actors making their series debuts this year. Most are classically trained. Most don't quite know what to make of the world of network television. All, though, are eager.
"I never thought a career in television was possible," Hill says. "I didn't think I had the look. I didn't think anyone would want to see me on camera. I made my life in the theater."
Before "Detroit," Hill was on Broadway in "Superior Donuts." He was nominated for a Tony Award and, in New York circles, considered one of the next big stage stars.
"We were all looking up at the big lights and were excited just to be there," he says of Broadway. "Donuts" had started in Chicago, won rave reviews and transferred to New York. The TV thing? It came out of the blue.
Wolk had a bit more experience. The 25-year-old starred in the Hallmark Hall of Fame special, "Front of the Class." He got good reviews for that, landed a supporting role in the upcoming film "You Again" and, quickly, attracted casting agents' attention.
Immediately, some started calling him the next George Clooney - an actor he resembles.
Mention the reference and he smiles. "I don't mind that," he says. "It's a big, big compliment. But things could go one way or another."
All three admit success on television is a crap shoot - one they're willing to take.
"You've got to believe in yourself," Wolk explains. "If you don't, no one else will. Success? Your guess is as good as mine."
Like Hill and Rappaport, he studied acting in college and expected his first jobs would be on stage. Film and television, however, were always goals.
"I don't think I would have pursued acting if I didn't think it was possible," he says. Starring on a television series? "It's riveting but surreal at the same time."
While others have been down the same path - and disappeared - there's something about this year's trio of newcomers that clicks with those in the know.
Jon Voight, who works with Wolk on "Lone Star," says the Michigan native is going to be a big star. "He's got it. He knows exactly what he wants and what he needs to get it. It's amazing to watch him."
Wolk, meanwhile, says he's trying to learn as much as he can from his co-stars. At lunch, he'll make a point to sit with Voight so he can get his own version of "Inside the Actors Studio." "I con Jon all the time to tell me stories: ‘That's a great sandwich... that reminds me when you were in "Midnight Cowboy."'"
Hill is paying attention, too. Because "Detroit" is shot on location, he's able to immerse himself in the culture and the mechanics of television.
"In the pilot, I was surprised how much time I had between takes. I was a little worried but they spend a lot of time setting up the shots and the scenes are shorter. So it's not hard to adjust."
Like theater, "you do most of the work before you even get to the set. By the time you're in the trailer, you know the lines."
With "Detroit," the Illinois native is part of an ensemble. That gives him more time to adjust. Wolk and Rappaport are considered their shows' stars. The attention is more intense.
But, says Rappaport, "I'm just excited to be working. I'm trying to live as much in the moment as I can."
He got the audition while working on an off-Broadway play. Casting directors liked what they saw (he's often compared to Paul Rudd) and flew him to Los Angeles for a screen test. "I didn't think it went well," he says. But producers called him back to the studio where one told him, "Here's an empty office. Call everyone you know. You have the role."
Now, Rappaport says, he's basing his character on his father - a Texas-based plastics executive who worked his way up the corporate ladder. "That eternal optimism really suited Todd," he says.
When dad saw the pilot, "I could see the pride and see him registering things - he was very flattered."
And now? Now it's time for others to get a sense of what he, Hill and Wolk can do.
"The weird thing is I don't feel overwhelmed," Wolk admits. "You've just got to take it all with a grain of salt. If you believe the good stuff, you've got to believe the bad stuff."