The story of Archie Kao, an Alexandria native and graduate of George Mason University (GMU), goes something like that, and then again, most of the story is unique and his alone.
Kao, who graduated from Thomas Edison High School in Alexandria, first worked as a waiter after moving from Northern Virginia to Los Angeles.
He began modeling, then turned to acting and now plays a recurring role on the CBS TV drama "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," one of today's most popular television shows.
Kao plays audiovisual technician Archie Johnson, who uses the science and art of forensics to make sense of clues discovered at crime scenes in Las Vegas.
"It's not as technical as what some of the other characters deal with," Kao said about his character's job.
"[Archie Johnson is] kind of a techie geek," he said. "He has a girlfriend. He drives a Harley, and he likes 'Star Trek.'"
Kao's odyssey to the CSI sound stage is a tale of a winding career path that often is the life of a new actor in Tinsel Town.
"I came to L.A. to go to grad school," said Kao, who earned a communications degree from GMU in 1992. "I didn't come out here to be an actor."
While using a relative's sofa as a bed and often eating pancake batter for sustenance, Kao got a job as a waiter in an L.A. restaurant.
There, he was discovered when a photographer asked him if he wanted to do some print work as a model. Kao's first job was posing for a catalog.
"I wasn't making any money [at the restaurant]. I guess I wasn't that good a waiter," Kao said.
After various modeling jobs for such corporate clients as Minolta, Doritos, Nike and Polaroid, Kao got the chance to play a superhero on TV.
In 2000, he donned blue Spandex in the role of the straight-laced Blue Power Ranger Kai Chen on the popular children's show "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers."
The actor said he remembers standing one time in front of a mirror while wearing Spandex tights, which were part of his Power Ranger costume. As he looked himself over, he thought about his career path to date.
"Sometimes you take a left turn instead of a right," Kao joked.
With a steady salary from the show and the life of a starving actor behind him, Kao went on an eating binge.
"They remade my outfit four times because I kept outgrowing it," he said.
A valuable lesson learned from his work on the series, he said, was not to take himself too seriously.
"After Power Rangers, I bounced around a little bit," Kao said.
When the series concluded, the young actor landed parts on the ABC TV dramas "Once and Again" and "The Player"; "Fire Co. 132" on Fox TV; and "The Wayans Brothers" on the WB network.
Then CSI came along.
"They were only offering me one episode of the show ... [so] I went in to do the episode," he said.
To Kao's surprise and delight, CSI's executive producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, told Kao's agent that he saw the dailies from the episode and wanted Kao to play a recurring character on the show.
"I sat in stunned silence for a while ... that he was in my corner," Kao said about Bruckheimer. "He's the biggest producer of all time."
Having worked on CSI since 2001, Kao said the show has afforded him more than mere experience.
"It's given me some measure of confidence," he said. "It legitimizes your efforts."
Maybe just as rewarding was the time Kao spent as a university student and campus resident in Fairfax.
"I loved GMU. I feel really lucky to have been there. For me, it was such a precious experience," said Kao, who was recently featured in "Broadside," GMU's student newspaper.
Having served as both vice president and president of student government at GMU, Kao had early ambitions of being a lawyer or presidential speech writer and interned for a time in a congressional office on Capitol Hill.
"It didn't take me long to figure out it was something I didn't want to do," Kao said. "I wasn't excited about getting up in the morning and going to work."
At GMU, Kao was a member of Sigma Chi fraternity, which he called "a very rewarding experience."
"They were really behind me running for student government," he said. "[But,] I think in college, I majored in my social life before anything else."
GMU is sort of a family university for Kao. Both his sistersSabrina Tillman, who is a magazine editor in Chicago, and Sarah Tillman, a banker in Washington, D.C.--are GMU graduates.
Although Kao said he still gets nervous at auditions and during tapings, his family, including mother Irene, and his experiences at GMU, he said, have contributed to what he calls his own secure sense of self.
"You have to have a pretty secure sense of yourself to be able to come out [to Hollywood] and do this," Kao said.
In addition to his TV credits, Kao has appeared in the movies "Local Boys" and "My Daughter's Tears," both released in 2002.
Kao was also set to start filming an 18th-century epic titled "The Nomad," but production has been halted due to political circumstances in the Central Asian country chosen as a locale for shooting.
Currently, Kao can be seen in a national TV commercial for electronics store giant Best Buy, in which he plays a store employee assisting a customer.