BEVERLY HILLS, California (AP) — In a town where seemingly everyone wants to be a star, but few look like one, Sid Levin is the talent agent who represents the people who look like the rest of us.

Some people play tough guys because they once were. Or hard-core military types because they were that.

"I am kind of the strange guy here in Hollywood," says Levin. "I rep a lot of talented people, but people who are kind of the underdog. But that's OK. I'm the underdog, too."

One of his breakout underdogs is the arm-wrestling champion and former juvenile hall guard Dot-Marie Jones. She's been nominated for three Emmys since landing the role of Coach Beiste on "Glee."

There's Abdoulaye N'gom, for example. The Senegalese-born actor who came to Los Angeles 35 years ago with the unlikely dream of becoming a movie star, although he spoke little English and what he did came out in a thick accent reflecting the years he'd spent in Senegal and France.

"But Sid said, 'There's just something about you. I know you're going to work,'" recalled the actor who after years of small parts in films like "George of the Jungle" recently played the kindly hotel manager in the Drew Barrymore-Adam Sandler comedy "Blended."

Likewise, when Levin saw Coast Guard, Mike Dalager, he says, he knew just what roles to send him after. Dalager's been a cop, a soldier and a member of the crew of The Enterprise in "Star Trek: Into Darkness." Not that he always plays the good guy. He was also a Taliban militiaman in "Eagle Eye."

"It's definitely a what-you-look-like industry," laughs Dalager, adding Levin seems to know that better than anyone.

Thirty years ago, the former stand-up comic and singing-telegram salesman put up a shingle in a tiny office at the fabled but then-faded intersection of Hollywood and Vine. "People told me I had to move because nobody would go there after dark," he recalled of Hollywood's rougher days.

Kids from the even rougher streets of South Los Angeles would, however, especially after Levin got seven of them roles in director John Singleton's breakthrough movie "Boyz n the Hood" in 1991. They had been sent to him by a Compton acting coach named Anthony Bean who was trying to get them away from street gangs.

The next break came when a tough looking Latino actor from one of LA's roughest barrios showed up. When Danny Trejo started to work regularly, Levin recalls, he volunteered at prisoner workshops and began sending his students to him.

"Ex-cons that were bank robbers and their likes, and that was kind of dicey," he recalled.

Still, he might have kept representing ex-cons, gang members and their associates if tragedy hadn't struck. Dedrik Gobert, one of the South LA kids he'd gotten into "Boyz n the Hood," seemed headed for stardom. He was making money and spending it restoring old cars.

Unfortunately, he raced one day against a gang member, they argued afterward and he was shot to death.

"I still think about him a lot," Levin says softly. "It was just so senseless."

As most of the kids from LA's mean streets drifted away from acting, and some like Trejo who became big stars moved on to other, more prominent representation, Levin began to focus more on military and law enforcement people.

He figured they have as much right to dream of being movie and TV stars as anybody else.

"Talented is talented," he says.


Associated Press Writer John Rogers contributed to this report.