UNDER THE DOME. 10 p.m. Mondays, CBS3.

MAYBE you knew all along that Dale "Barbie" Barbara would cheat death on CBS' "Under the Dome" last night.

Mike Vogel had a few bad moments, though, before his character's time on the gallows.

"Dome" showrunner Neal Baer called him last year and said, " 'OK, the finale's going to be fantastic. It's fantastic. This, this and this happens and this happens. And then we hang you,' " recalled Vogel in an interview last week.

"And I waited. And there was silence on the other end of the line," as the Warminster-raised actor thought of other characters who'd already died on the hit show, based on Stephen King's book about a small Maine town trapped under a mysterious dome.

"I said, 'Neal. Neal, c'mon, man.'

" 'Oh, yeah, yeah. I'm not saying you die. But we hang you.' "

So, while it wasn't close to the nine months that viewers had to consider Barbie's fate after last season's cliff-hanger, "there absolutely was a moment when I said, 'Yep, it's time to hit the pavement again,' " Vogel said.

Finding another job probably wouldn't have been a challenge: Vogel has worked regularly since landing a recurring role in the sitcom "Grounded for Life" in 2001.

In the past few years alone, he's played Johnny Foote in "The Help"; starred in ABC's short-lived "Pan Am"; and recently co-starred with David Morse in two films, the Philly-shot "McCanick" and "The Boy," a movie about a future mass murderer that was set in Colorado and filmed in Colombia.

And though you might not have immediately recognized Vogel without the beard - "I look like a baby instantly, just by shaving" - he had a memorable several episodes as a sheriff's deputy on A&E's "Psycho"-prequel, "Bates Motel," last season before his character was killed off.

Vogel said that he and Morse, who lives in Philadelphia, met years ago while filming "this amazing pilot that never went, 'Empire State,' " about a blue-collar family on Staten Island, in which he played Morse's son.

"I mean, anything he's in, I'll carry his water bottle," he said. "Just watching him work, it's literally like going to school."

A special interest

Vogel's not ready to let go of Barbie, whose special-forces background intrigues him.

"Having many, many, many friends in that community, I know [that] . . . where most of us seek to avoid chaos, a lot of my friends in the special-forces community, unless there is chaos" they're uncomfortable, he said.

"That's when things get real quiet for them. They kind of run toward it. So, I looked at that and said, given the situation that's happening in this town, I like his odds," Vogel said of Barbie.

"We're still playing a lot of the mystery of this guy, and I think what people will find heading into the second season is we really start to get into who these characters are, and especially Barbie, because it's a big year for Barbie. We meet some of his family, we find a bit of what makes the man tick."

Vogel once had his own military ambitions.

The William Tennent High grad (Class of '98) grew up not far from Willow Grove Naval Air Station, obsessed with flying.

"My parents would literally drop me off over there and let me watch airplanes all day long," he said. "I wanted to go to the Air Force Academy. That was kind of my dream my whole life."

After what he describes as a "lazy" senior year, he ended up instead at Philadelphia College of Bible (now Cairn University), where his grandparents had gone.

"It was in that time that I started modeling and acting, and that all kind of took over, and the Air Force landed safely somewhere else," Vogel said.

While growing up, a career in acting was "not something that was ever a reality for me. You know, my dad had, and still has, a plumbing business . . . and I grew up working with him from the time I was 6 and every summer, on my days off, I'd have my hands in toilets."

When people who saw him in high school "doing little skits for pep rallies" suggested that he think about acting, "I always said, 'No, that's for someone else. I want to fly,' " Vogel said.

"I think God kind of grabbed me and steered me in a completely different direction. Several times throughout my career, I've tried to go back. I remember when I was filming 'Poseidon,' in 2005, I spent two weeks on the phone with the Air National Guard, going back and forth with a recruiter, to see if there was some way I could do both things. . . . It never seemed to work out."

He did eventually learn to fly.

Playing a jet pilot on "Pan Am" "was the perfect excuse to get my pilot's license," said Vogel. "That's definitely the dream that never died.

"That was a heartbreaker, of that show not working out, in that instantly I had all these great friends in the aviation world that wanted to go flying with me and wanted to take me up in their fighter jet or their warplane and . . . I would have been like a kid in a candy store," he said.

That giant dome overhead would seem to limit Barbie's altitude ("You're not going to go too far, and those that have end up meeting a terrible end"), but Vogel hinted that his character might have something to do with aviation this season.

King, who directed last night's season premiere, in which he also briefly appeared, is "very much involved in the show," Vogel said.

"It's great to just sit around and talk with the guy, to even try to get inside his mind. . . . I don't like to dig too far, because it gets really dark in there," he joked.

A little bit country

With his parents and younger sister still living in the Philadelphia area, Vogel said he gets back here "four or five times a year."

He's working on "Dome" in Wilmington, N.C., which doubles for Maine, but home these days is outside Nashville, Tenn.

"We just left L.A. last year, finally. I just wanted a change and I wanted to raise my kids somewhere else. We looked at coming back [to Pennsylvania], but making that flight to L.A. from there as often as I have to make it is a painful one, so we settled in Nashville," where the hills, he said, remind him of Bucks County.

He and his wife, Courtney, have two daughters and a 9-month-old son.

"Any time that I start to think that I'm anything or anybody, I get slapped around real quick and told to go change a diaper."

Phone: 215-854-5950

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