See more of the story

The last time Rob Lowe visited the Twin Cities, Prince was still holding court at First Avenue and the hot young actor was considered the unofficial leader of Hollywood's Brat Pack.

A lot has changed in the subsequent 30 years, most notably Lowe's transition into one of TV's most rugged leading men, following in the steps of Tom Selleck, James Garner and Robert Urich.

In his latest series, "9-1-1: Lone Star," which premieres Sunday on Fox, he's rebuilding a firehouse in Austin, Texas, with a mix of stoicism, swagger and self-indulgence. In one scene, he gives one of his new charges a tutorial on skin care.

"This character has a little bit of Paul Newman in 'Slap Shot,' " Lowe said last week. "He's real and grounded, but he's also kind of broken down."

Considering Lowe's enduring success, it was a bit odd that the network arranged for our chat to take place in front of a hotel service elevator, which meant staff occasionally interrupted the conversation by rolling tables between us.

"We wanted you to feel special," Lowe said with a dry delivery that will also be on display in mid-April when he returns to Minnesota to perform his one-man show, "Stories I Only Tell My Friends Live," at Mystic Lake Casino Hotel.

That wit was also put to good use for five seasons as the eternally optimistic auditor Chris Traeger in "Parks and Recreation." While he has fond memories of that sitcom, as well as his underrated series "The Grinder," those roles didn't give him quite enough of a workout.

"I'd love to be on a sitcom schedule as much as the next guy. It's a great life," said Lowe, who earned a 2001 Emmy nomination for "The West Wing." "But I haven't found material in that genre that's satisfying when it comes to the physical aspects. I've always had a tremendous amount of energy. If I'm not surfing or skiing, hiking, golfing, playing tennis or circuit training, I'm not comfortable. It's just good for me."

"Lone Star," a spinoff of Fox's smash hit drama "9-1-1," starring Roseville-raised Peter Krause, is jam-packed with on-screen action and — off-set challenges.

Liv Tyler, who plays the city's chief paramedic, recalls one shooting day when she found herself hanging out with a bull.

"It was actually the sweetest bull in the world," said Tyler, making her network series debut. "It was like a puppy dog."

The premiere episode climaxes with a sequence in which Lowe's character scales a tree to save a baby.

"This show is brutal," he said. "All of the effects are practical. We haven't used a green screen once. It takes stamina. I get off on that."

The 55-year-old actor's current obsession with staying fit won't keep him from sharing sordid tales from his past during his tour — just ask him about the time he got so stoned with Willie Nelson that he couldn't leave the singer's trailer for five hours — as well as near-misses, like how he passed on the role of McDreamy in "Grey's Anatomy."

But he also takes time onstage to seriously address his party days, once fodder for the gossip machine.

"It's mostly frothy and fun, but you have to be authentic," said Lowe, who has been sober for 30 years. "When I saw Bruce Springsteen on Broadway, I was blown away by how honest he was about his trouble with depression. I do the same thing, whatever my version of that is, with alcohol. Maybe that bass line resonates with those in the audience who need to hear that."

Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 • Twitter: @nealjustin