SEATTLE -- A few months ago, Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal asked actor Tom Skerritt a question: Would he like to be in a ballet?

"I said, 'Peter, I don't dance. I'm just a clumsy ox,' " said Skerritt, smiling at the memory. "He said, 'All the better!' "

Skerritt, a longtime actor in film ("Top Gun," "A River Runs Through It," "Alien,") and TV ("Picket Fences,"), who's lived in Seattle for more than two decades, is making his debut with PNB in "Don Quixote." This version, choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky, is making its North American premiere at PNB, with Skerritt in the title role: a book-obsessed knight errant who dreams of a nobler and better world. It's a character role, requiring little dancing, and it takes Skerritt back to a movie made decades ago.

In 1977, Skerritt was offered a role in the ballet drama "The Turning Point," playing a former dancer who teaches. He knew nothing of that world, but agreed to take ballet classes to prepare for the role. "It's exhilarating!" he said. "It was so exciting to discover. ... You're fatigued, but that exhilaration lifts you up to a whole other level."

Now in his 70s, Skerritt's looking for that thrill again, in a role that he accepted for "just the challenge of it."