Balthazar Getty

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"Being a Getty means that I get into the Getty museums free of charge - like everybody else," laughed Balthazar Getty, 32, great-grandson of the late billionaire oil magnate J. Paul Getty. However, it is widely believed that he gets a major break on the parking fees. Perhaps even gratis.

"There is nothing unusual about being a Getty, except that I've had great opportunities and a chance to travel to lots of beautiful places," explained the darkly handsome heir who usually spends the Christmas holidays and summer vacations on family estates in Italy. "This name has been a challenge at times, but never a burden. It's all in the way people perceive me and treat me."

But rather than snoozing in sculpted gardens and hanging around mossy fountains at the well-staffed Italian villas, Getty would rather work for a living - which he has done from the age of 13, when the actor started work on "Lord of the Flies."

Many films later, he turned his attention to television series, including the last season of "Alias" as rogue CIA agent Thomas Grace. He is currently a leading man in the ensemble cast of "Brothers & Sisters," a drama series catching fire after a relatively slow start. He portrays Tommy Walker, the stand-up son of Nora Holden (Sally Field). His four siblings are played by Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Matthew Rhys and Dave Annable.

As the first 26 episodes of the prime-time soap draw to a close, Tommy Walker has a major headache - he is infertile and his two brothers, Justin and Kevin, donated sperm to his wife, Julia (Sarah Jane Morris), for a successful artificial insemination procedure. Now that she is carrying twins, how big a role morally and legally should his male siblings have in the child's environment?

Although groomed by late patriarch William Walker (Tom Skerritt) to take over what turns out to be the family's fading food distribution company, Tommy soon opts out of the firm in favor or partnering with his dad's mysterious mistress, Holly (Patricia Wetting) in a nearby winery. And then his life becomes complicated.

The personable actor is used to family turmoil.

"I had hippies for parents," said the son of German-born mother Gisela and American-born father, J. Paul Getty III. "Born in Hollywood, I went to certain schools as a kid and was raised as a vegetarian by my artist and Buddhist mother."

He prefers "not to talk at length" about his father, who was physically and emotionally scarred for life after being kidnapped by brutal Mafiosi during a visit to Italy in 1973. Once his grandfather's favorite, young Getty III, only 17 at the time, hoped the serious matter could be resolved immediately. However, the founder of Getty Oil and other highly successful business ventures reportedly refused to pay the $3.4 million ransom demand until the sadistic captors sliced off the boy's ear and sent it to an Italian newspaper.

Getty's parents split up when he was very young and he was raised by his mother in San Francisco until the age of 13, when he returned to L.A. to live with his father for a while. He was a student at Hollywood's Excelsior, a performing arts high school, when picked out of a crowd to play Ralph in "Lord of the Flies."

"It just kind of happened," he said, laughing. "The producers went to various schools and picked kids randomly. I wanted to be many things growing up, but an actor was one of them. I wound up in Jamaica for four months with 20 kids who hadn't acted before either. There wasn't much parental guidance, so we wound up as wild kids running amuck in this film as well as in real life."

After "creating a buzz," Getty wound up in an episode of "Nightmare Classics," followed by such motion pictures as "Young Guns II," "Natural Born Killers," "Mr. Holland's Opus" and "Lost Highway." He also had regular or recurring roles in TV projects that include "Traffic," "Charmed," "Pasadena" and "Into the West." "The Tripper," "Feast" and "West of Brooklyn" are films scheduled for release this year.

With a very promising career ahead of him, Getty also struggled with substance abuse before a lifelong friend helped him pull out of the downward spiral more than a decade ago. More help was on the way when he married fashion designer Rosetta Millington in 2000. She is now the mother of Cassius, Grace and Violet, ranging in age from 3 to 6, with one more on the way this fall.

The brood lives in a 1950s Hollywood Hills mansion with a terrific view of Los Angeles, which will be improved shortly with two second-story bedrooms and a hot tub added to the swimming pool. The guest house has already been converted to a studio for Rosetta's Riser Goodwyn clothing line, and Getty's rehearsal studio for his band, Ringside.

"We love hanging around this house on a daily basis, but meet up with the large Getty family twice a year in Europe," he explained. "They're Americans, but live all over the place. Italy, Germany, England, Ireland."
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