Aspiring actors take note: Getting started in the film industry requires flexibility. “I’ve played a zombie, I’ve played an alien, and I’ve played a lot of nerds,” says John Patrick White. Unlike most performers, however, the 26-year-old Houston native has never had to play the real-life role of working stiff. “I had this whole plan: I come to L.A., study acting, and hopefully stumble into something during college. And that’s exactly what happened,” he says. In 1994, during his junior year at Pepperdine University, in Malibu, he snagged a spot in a Coca-Cola commercial. After that he starred in the children’s television series A.J.’s Time Travelers, appeared in numerous other programs—in roles ranging from Steve Urkel’s bully in Family Matters to the monster-of-the-week in Buffy the Vampire Slayer—and made his big-screen debut in Can’t Hardly Wait. But now he’s found a part that better suits him: the sweet, shy guy in Teaching Mrs. Tingle, the new teen comedy by Scream creator Kevin Williamson that opens August 20. While White’s growing success has kept him from moving back to Texas, he says his home state is moving in on him: “I swear that Texans are plotting to slowly take over California. I miss Texas a lot, but sometimes I feel at home because everyone I meet is from there.”