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'Dancing' accelerates Taylor's transition to Tinseltown

MIAMI -- Like a series of foxtrot steps, the progression came quickly for Jason Taylor: from "Dancing With the Stars" to dining with the stars.

Among the rewards already reaped by the Miami Dolphins defensive end thanks to his "Dancing" success was a lunch date two weeks ago with Denzel Washington. They met at a sushi restaurant in Hollywood and spent 2 ½ hours discussing football, acting and the similarities between the two.

"What an outstanding guy," Taylor says. "I lost track of time sitting there talking to him and ended up being an hour and a half late for dance rehearsal. My partner wasn't too happy."

Washington was on his way to a meeting with Al Pacino, and Taylor reluctantly declined an invitation to join them.

Maybe next time. All signs suggest Taylor's showbiz career is only beginning.

It won't end with this season's final episode of "Dancing With the Stars" on Tuesday. Taylor, one of the show's three finalists, will catch a redeye flight out of Los Angeles that night for an appearance Wednesday on "Good Morning America" and then "Live With Regis and Kelly."

The 33-year-old Taylor says he'll put Hollywood on hold to play football this year, but it's unclear whether the Dolphins want to keep him, in part because his focus is increasingly drawn toward a movie career.

"Dancing With the Stars" accelerated the transition.

"This has afforded us a lot of opportunities people would be surprised at," Taylor said from Los Angeles in a phone interview. "It has obviously opened a lot of doors for me and allowed me to get in front of the camera without the helmet and shoulder pads on -- and outside my comfort zone -- to show what I can do and show a little personality."

Taylor has long been a favorite with football fans, thanks to his knack for sacking quarterbacks. He also possesses plenty of personality and looks good in a sleeveless shirt, as "Dancing" viewers can attest.

Hollywood likes what it sees. He turned on the charm for "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and "Larry King Live," and by the time Taylor returns to Miami, he will have met with executives for 20th Century Fox, Universal and Warner Bros.

"Jason has the football audience and the people who watch ESPN," says his Los Angeles-based agent, Gary Wichard. "But now he also has women, which is a rarity for a guy from the sports world to come into Hollywood with. That's something people out here are very excited about."

Taylor has been plotting a path to Tinseltown since joining the Dolphins as a rookie in 1997, and he has worked the past several years with an acting coach. The 6-foot-6, 255-pound Taylor sees himself in the kind of action roles that transformed another Miami defensive lineman into a movie star -- former Hurricane Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Bruce Willis is also a potential role model, Taylor says. And how about Cary Grant?

"The romantic thing I can do," Taylor says. "I'm not a comedian -- you've got to know your boundaries -- but I think I could definitely do a comedic film if I'm not the lead comic. There are a lot of things I can do if it's the right role with the right people and the right director."

The notion of Taylor in a remake of "The Philadelphia Story" might sound like Hollywood hubris, but "Dancing With the Stars" has bolstered his ego. After enduring a 1-15 season in 2007 and a six-year playoff drought with the Dolphins, Taylor's a winner again.

He'll dance for the last time Monday night along with the other finalists, Kristi Yamaguchi and Cristian de la Fuente, and the champion will be announced Tuesday.

Win or lose in the final, Taylor dreads the teasing and taunting that await when he returns to the locker room, but so far he says his teammates have been only supportive. He has heard from Dolphins Joey Porter, Channing Crowder and Ronnie Brown, among others, as well as former teammate Dan Marino. Taylor's brother-in-law and ex-teammate Zach Thomas has attended the show.

"I've heard from a lot of guys, and it has all been positive stuff," Taylor says. "They've been getting on the judges a little bit. They don't like some of the things the judges say. They've had my back on that. But I know there will come a time when they will get me back."

He has also regularly received words of encouragement from the Dolphins' new coach, Tony Sparano. But Taylor's unhappy about the silent treatment from new football czar Bill Parcells and new general manager Jeff Ireland, who are displeased that "Dancing" kept Taylor from offseason workouts with his teammates.

There has been speculation Taylor will be traded, and he says he doesn't know where he stands with management.

"I've talked to Parcells and Jeff Ireland probably less than a minute each," Taylor says. "If you're working in an organization, you want to have respect and communication throughout. I think that's important for everybody. So we'll see."

First, there's one more round of ballroom dancing to worry about.

Taylor says he was surprised to reach the finals and attributes his success to the coaching and choreography of his partner, Edyta Sliwinska. He still doesn't consider himself a dancer, and at social gatherings he won't be any more inclined to take the floor than before.

"For me to walk into somebody's wedding or go to a nightclub and start doing a foxtrot or quick step, it doesn't work that way," he says.

Still, Taylor has a newfound appreciation for how music can make you move. The tune most likely to get him dancing: "The Dirty Boogie" by the Brian Setzer Orchestra.

Sliwinska introduced Taylor to the song, and they performed the quick step to it on the show.

"I loved it," he says. "It's one of those songs where when it comes on, it just makes you want to go."

Perhaps it's potential material for the soundtrack when Taylor films his first musical, costarring Denzel Washington and Al Pacino. Only in Hollywood.

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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