PASADENA, Calif. _ British actor Jack Bannon learned early on that he's a rotten salesman. While he was struggling to be an actor he worked at the Gap for seven years, from the time he was 16. "I was so bad that they used to encourage me to go into the stock room and pile things up rather than be on the shop floor because I didn't really like it," he says.

"They require, 'Hey, welcome to the Gap!' And I used to just stand there in the back and not want to talk to any of the customers. So they chucked me into the stockroom which I did used to enjoy _ unpacking boxes and things like that. It was much more my sort of thing."

He claims he's not really shy, maybe just a little reserved. In fact, he wishes he were more outgoing when he first encounters strangers. "Whenever I meet people I'm very quiet and sit back and assess the room sometimes," he says.

Assessing the room is not a bad quality when it comes to his new alter ego. Bannon is starring as the young Alfred Pennyworth, Batman's sagacious valet, in the origin story "Pennyworth."

The 10-episode series, which premieres Sunday on Epix, takes place in the '60s. Alfred Pennyworth is a former Special Forces officer who forms a security company and goes to work for billionaire Thomas Wayne (Bruce Wayne's father.)

When Bannon first read the script he thought, at 27, he was too young for the role. "I do tape auditions with a friend of mine who's an actor as well," he explains.

"And I nearly didn't do a self-tape because I thought, 'Awww, I'm not right.' My friend phoned me, I was going back home on the weekend to Norwich to see my parents, and he phoned me on Thursday and asked me to help him with a self-tape. I said, 'Yeah, no worries.' I thought I may as well do mine. Why not? And I did it."

He did it with zero expectations, but his Norwich accent and brooding good looks intrigued the producers. "The casting process went on and on and on," he says.

"It took two and a half months, and I think I had seven meetings. The casting process was like a condensed version of my acting career anyway because I kept having to go back and try again and try again. And I just thought, 'I've come this far, I'm not going to let one little meeting derail this whole thing.'"

Although he had done considerable acting when he was a kid, it was just a hobby. His mom, a nurse, would end her shift, drive 45 minutes to pick him up, another 45 to take him to drama school and wait for two hours while he rehearsed with the other kids. She did this for six years until he was 11.

His father, an engineer, kept urging Bannon (the oldest of four) to get "a proper job." But he was the first to relish any small accomplishment his son made.

And those accomplishments were few and far between. Bannon tried for two years to get into drama school and was twice rejected. "I think if I'd gotten into drama school I would've said this is easy, this is fun, and wouldn't have worked as hard as I ended up working to find the right agent, to save the money to get headshots, to email everyone, to put myself out there," he says. "It gave me an impetus to go and be tenacious and not take 'no' for an answer again."

He was performing a play in his hometown when the director offered some sage advice. "He said, 'You've got all these contacts from the kids' TV, you don't need to go to drama school. You've got the talent. Why don't you write to everyone you know from the kids' TV back in the day, get some coffees or some lunches going, or whatever?' That's what I did."

He revived old contacts in London, but the two-hour train ride from Norwich was expensive so Bannon found a job in a pub serving beer. "I was as good at serving beer as I was at drinking it," he laughs. "I worked there for two years."

In London he also ignited a romance with Alisha Shepherd, a girl he'd met in high school, and he soon moved in with her. Shepherd does costuming for TV commercials and is finishing up at university, he says. They've been together for five years. Has she offered some tonsorial advice to the forthcoming Pennyworth? "She bought me some socks and advised me on the trainers," he smiles.

'XENA' TRIES MURDER

Xena the warrior princess has a new kind of cudgel. Lucy Lawless is starring in the 10-part Australian mystery series "My Life is Murder," premiering on Acorn.TV Aug. 5. Lawless plays an ex-homicide detective now private eye who manages to solve the most puzzling crimes while dealing with every-day dilemmas.

The New Zealand-born actress played the derring-do Xena for six years and admits it proved exhausting. "You do get burnt out," she says.

"We were filming nine months a year and it was very physical. I didn't appreciate it at the time. I was so used to doing it, but I wouldn't ever want to do it again.

"When it was over I was fine with it ending. I think, we were all fine with it ending." She says she wasn't upset when it ended. "Because I live in the moment. There is no past; there is no future. I wish sometimes I could plan something, but more than a week ahead, I have no idea. I'm not made to multitask, organize.

"The greatest talent I have is the talent to surrender to the demands of whatever comes along. There are a lot of people who multitask: They're on the phone, they're arranging things. It's too hard for me. My brain would explode if I had to do any of that stuff. But they do it, and God bless them."

DOG DAYS ARRIVE AT SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL

Starting Sunday the Smithsonian Channel is going to the dogs. Biologist Patrick Aryee will climb the family tree of the canine family. He will study the wild dogs of the world from the Arctic fox to South America's maned wolves and every variety in between. Through this trek he will discover how relatives of these creatures turned into Fido and what the connections are. The three-part "Amazing Dogs" premieres at 8 p.m. (ET/PT).

SERIES CHRONICLES THE AVARICIOUS

"American Greed," CNBC's unique crime series _ often with a financial bent _ returns for its 13th season Aug. 12. Depicted as "the dark side of the American Dream," the show chronicles greedy entrepreneurs and scam artists who'd rather take the low road than the high. Like Bernie Madoff they're often brilliant business men, who just can't resist bending the rules to their advantage.

Stacy Keach is the prominent narrator of the series, always putting a little heft in the story.

Although Keach boasts a classical theatrical background with roles like Richard III and Hamlet and King Arthur, he is probably best known as TV's private eye Mike Hammer.

He's grateful for that. "I think it gave me the kind of exposure I needed. I became a star because of that," he says.

But Keach didn't always want to become a star. When he was studying at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, "star" was considered a four-letter word.

"But you finally learn," he shrugs. "You can't understand why those scripts aren't coming in and nobody will answer your phone calls. You say, I'm a good actor, why can't I get a shot at that part?' You're not a STAR. The reality begins to sink in _ the pragmatic qualities of this business. There's nothing wrong with being a star. You get a shot at the best stuff if you are."

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(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)

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(c)2019 Luaine Lee

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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