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Michael Lombardi Has Everything Falling Into Place In Varied Career

The world needs another actor turning rock star like I-95 needs more traffic.

Waterbury native Michael Lombardi of cable’s “Rescue Me” (FX, Tuesdays 10 p.m.) and the new indie feature film “Cayman Went” has heard something like that before.

“It’s becoming apparent to me that it’s a stigma,” he says by phone recently. “I’m trying not to focus on that and doing what I love to do.”

For the record, Lombardi, tall, dark and turtleshell-abbed, was a drummer before he became an actor. When acting began to pay the bills, he put his music aside.

Now he’s combining both. Lombardi plays Mike, the New York City firefighter who fought for acceptance at Engine 62 while indulging bi-curiosity off-duty in the first few seasons of “Rescue Me,” Denis Leary‘s ensemble drama. The current fifth season has a less experimental Mike in a more secure place — in charge of a bar and a band. The latter happens to be Lombardi’s real-life hard-rock outfit, Apache Stone, whose members have been written into the show.

Episodes feature Apache Stone songs, granting Lombardi the kind of exposure no orchestrated publicity could match. He says he’s taking his “minimal amount of success and celebrity” and running with it.

“I can take my mind off getting the next job and maybe not getting it,” he says. “I can tour around with my band, and hopefully some of my fans from ‘Rescue Me’ can come and check me out.”

In the meantime, a low-budget comedy that Lombardi headlines called “Cayman Went” is making a small theatrical run. He occupies nearly every frame as a down-and-out TV action star who’s recruited by a network sponsor to persuade a Cayman Islands town to make room for a cheesy resort. He becomes seduced by island ways and begins to rethink his path. Lombardi says it allowed him to flex his Thespian chops.

“I’m not gonna throw my opinion out there about anything else: directing, producing, writing — all that stuff,” he says. “What I will say is that I had my reasons for taking the job, and I feel as though it was a really good choice. ”

Lombardi, 32, credits his determination to his parents’ blue-collar work ethic. They also had a keen sense to know when to move on. He spent his tyke years in Waterbury. After the family home was robbed several times, he returned from the seventh grade one day to find that his mother had packed up boxes to move them all to Litchfield County. The family rented in and around Roxbury, an enclave of show-business royalty that includes Stephen Sondheim and Arthur Miller‘s estate, now occupied by daughter Rebecca Miller and her husband, actor Daniel Day-Lewis. Lombardi’s father, Louis, painted houses. His mother, JoAnna, cleaned houses and later ran a café in Washington (she now operates a vintage clothing store called Grape in the Shade in Washington). He attended Shepaug Valley High School.

“It really opened my eyes to things I never would have seen,” he recalls. “A lot of my friends’ parents were either actors or directors, and it really opened my eyes to the arts.”

Backstage visits to Broadway shows sparked a notion to pursue drama. His parents borrowed money to send him on the Semester at Sea program, in which college students assume a regular course load on a ship while visiting ports of call around the world. Lombardi recalls talent shows every night. He was hooked, enrolling in the Connecticut Conservatory of Performing Arts upon his return and later moved to New York City.

After meeting Leary through pickup ice hockey (he’s also an avid tennis player), Lombardi was cast in Leary’s police series “The Job.” Leary turned to his teammate once again with a bigger part as he developed “Rescue Me.” Lombardi’s Mike caused a stir in the first few seasons as the people-pleasin’ probie who found himself in awkward sexual situations with men. That story line has faded.

Lombardi, whose longtime girlfriend is model Maria Negron, lives in New York City and reads for parts when time allows. He jokes that instead of writing a screenplay, as some idle actors are known to do, he started a rock band.

“It’s not that I’d like to be known as either actor or musician,” he says. “I just think that things come your way. I’m trying to do the best I can do and getting my feet wet in different projects.”

Lombardi says he wants to be perceived as a dedicated entertainer who likes a creative challenge, even if it means enduring lame comments about the glut of actors who cross over into music.

Says Lombardi: “Whatever doors that ‘Rescue Me’ opens, hopefully I can walk through.”

•APACHE STONE plays Friday at 8 p.m. at Black-eyed Sally’s, 350 Asylum St., Hartford. Tickets are $12. Information: 860-278-7427 or www.blackeyedsallys.com. The group performs Aug. 2 at 8 p.m. at the Lakeview Tavern, 249 W. Main St. (Route 1) in Branford, as part of the Red Knights of Connecticut’s seventh annual Charity Ride. Information: 203-996-5401 or www.redknightsct4.com.