Durham, N.C. — When "The Bodyguard" and its accompanying soundtrack debuted, Judson Mills was a shirtless farmhand on daytime TV.
The former "As the World Turns" star is now starring in the stage adaptation of the famous film. The touring show visits Durham Performing Arts Center Tuesday through Sunday.
Mills can thank his college connections for helping him land the role made famous by Kevin Costner.
"Alex (Dinelaris), who wrote the book for this adaptation, was my first theater buddy in college," Mills said during a tour stop in Charlotte last week.
When they couldn't find the right actor to start opposite singer Deborah Cox, Dinelaris contacted his former roommate to see if he wanted to do it. At the time, Mills had been working steadily for the past 20 years in film and TV with appearances on "Walker Texas Ranger," "Dexter," "Westworld," "The Mentalist" and "Notorious."
"Who wouldn't want a shot at being the bodyguard. It's a pretty good gig," Mills said.
Fans of the film will note its lengthy running time and multiple location shots (including the scenes shot in the snow). The stage production has a faster timeline, but doesn't cut out some of the most iconic moments of this love story.
"I like the karaoke scene - the last scene in the first act. The moment when (Frank) got to interact with Deborah, show his personality," Mills said. There's a lot of songs and spectacle. Things slow down (in this scene) and I get to work with her."
Mills' chemistry with Cox is something that producers didn't test before casting him.
"We did not get a chemistry read before this. As luck would have it, we got along really well," Mills said.
Audiences so far are taking note of that chemistry and often coming back to see the show multiple nights.
And if audiences find themselves getting lost in Cox's performance of Houston classics like "I Will Always Love You" and "Run to You," they won't be the only one. Mills said there are few moments when he even gets memerized by Cox's performance.
"She just crushes this music. You are not ready for Ms. Deborah Cox," he said.