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The show has made him the only Real World alumnus to stay in the public eye

Posted Apr 16 2013 5:57am
AT 14, ERIC NEIS MADE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT journey of his life. Leaving behind the suburban world of his parents, the lawn jockeys and sculpted shrubbery of Ocean Township, N.J., he walked off into the wild unknown: Asbury Park. "At one time, this was a real city, which means low-income housing, which means black people," says Neis, leading a tour of his old haunts. Riding shotgun, he explains how he first came here looking for a basketball game and never really went back. Out on the public lots, hitting perimeter shots and throwing elbows, he found his place. "For one thing, the people here are different," he says. As host of MTV's dance show The Grind, Neis affects the language and attitude of hip-hop, so the journey to Asbury Park was essential. In many ways, his current project seems a culmination of that voyage. This spring, Neis, back on the court, appears in the movie Above the Rim, shooting hoops against Duane Martin and Marlon Wayans. Tupac Shakur also appears as a neighborhood gangster. In the film, Neis plays a talented high-school point guard. "I'm rare," says Neis. "I'm a white guy who can play." 

Neis is probably best known for his role in the 1992 episodes of The Real World, MTV's documentary look at seven handsome young people sharing a downtown New York loft. He played himself, a struggling model who struck out memorably with the series' Southern ingenue, Julie. Following the show's yearlong run, MTV asked him to host The Grind. Replete with cleavage and ass shots, the show runs in the afternoon and early morning. "It's on at 7 a.m. so the average stiff can get off before getting on the train for work," says Neis. The show has made him the only Real World alumnus to stay in the public eye. "You could say I'm famous," he says. "After all, people I don't even know are thinking about me all the time." 

People have strong feelings about Neis. To some, he's a healthy combination of suburban innocence and urban attitude. To others, he's just a white kid playing black. To others still, he's a symbol of the age, showing that men can also get by on looks alone. The only person who has no opinion of Eric Neis may be Eric Neis. "Who knows what I am?" he says. "Just a kid who lots of shit's happened to, I guess. A kid pushed on the celebrity track and can't get off because it's too late, because he's 22 years old."

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