Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Thursday, November 27, 2003
Is this OUR Steve Martin?
The Evening Standard (London)
November 21, 2003
ES MAG; Pg. 46; Pg. 49; Pg. 50
London's resident supermodel shows why Richard Curtis cast her as every man's fantasy woman in 'Love Actually', and tells Sasha Slater how she found true love with an English film director
Of all the supermodels, Claudia Schiffer has always been the most serene.
Ice blonde, remote, Teutonic. She's a businesswoman with assets valued at over 50 million. A combination of Los Angeles star and Dsseldorf domestic goddess.
In Richard Curtis's new film, Love Actually, she is cast as every man's fantasy woman. And not only does she look perfect, she behaves perfectly, too. She's modest she's one of the few supermodels who has never done nudity. Her private life is also blameless. A well-brought-up girl whose childhood in Rheinberg, where her parents still live, was filled with church visits and outdoor activity, Claudia has always been family oriented. 'My parents balanced discipline with a lot of love,' she says. They remain a tight family unit. Claudia is the eldest of four. Her sister, Ann Carolin, is almost as beautiful but smaller than she is and they have two brothers, Andrea and Stefan. Claudia's father, Karl-Heinz, is a lawyer and her mother, Gudrun, is a housewife. 'My parents have been together for 34 years, so they must be doing something right,' she says. According to Claudia, her parents' relationship has taught her 'to show trust and respect and give support through good times and bad'.
These are lessons that are standing her in good stead in her own relationship. She's now married to Matthew Vaughn, the film producer, who is currently directing his first movie, Layer Cake, a thriller set in London, starring Daniel Craig, Sir Michael Gambon and Sienna Miller. The couple are happily settled in London: 'I live in Notting Hill with the two loves of my life my husband and my son,' she says.
While Claudia, 33, claims that acting 'is a hobby alongside modelling', she has done a number of films. One of the most fun is 'a short movie directed by Peter Segal,' she reveals. 'It's based on the TV show Blind Date and Steve Martin and I are the date. He makes me laugh and is great to work with.'
I guess this means Steve won't be dating his co-star
The Sunday Independent (Ireland)
November 23, 2003
STAR DUMPS PREGNANT LOVE
JUDE LAW and Ethan Hawke have competition. Billy Crudup gave new vitality to the word cad last week when he walked out on longtime love Mary LouiseParker - who is seven-and-a-half months pregnant with their child - for new love Claire Danes. Crudup, described as having "one of the best-defined jaws in the Western Hemisphere", hit the big time with Almost Famous and has been living with the West Wing regular since 1996.
Crudup and Danes have known each other for the last 10 years but their romance didn't blossom until the filming of Compleat Female Stage Beauty, an upcoming period piece in which he plays an out-of-work actor and Danes plays his muse. Parker's publicist declined to comment on the break-up but did say her client "is holding it together" and "taking care of herself and her soon-to-be child". The actress is also busy promoting HBO's epic mini-series Angels in America, in which she stars alongside Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Jeffrey Wright and Emma Thompson.
Danes, meanwhile, has split with rocker boyfriend Ben Lee and is in the throes of shedding her cute collegiate image.
She has just started shooting Steve Martin's Shopgirl, the story of a Saks employee who works behind the glove counter "selling things that nobody buys any more".
Looney Toons critic talks about Steve and other stuff -- like the movie
November 20, 2003, Thursday
BUZZZ; Pg. E4
DAFFY STORY SINKS GREAT ANIMATION IN 'LOONEY TUNES'
It is difficult to say which is more of a cinematic disaster -- a film with a great story ruined by bad animation, or a film with great animation ruined by a bad story.
"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" is an example of the latter.
It starts out promisingly, only making its inevitable failure all the more miserable.
"Looney Tunes" follows in the footsteps of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" merging reality and animation into one wacky blur, in which anything is possible.
Despite the fact that it is visually stunning, the best part of the "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" experience is the 90-second trailer for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban" (due out June 4), which drew more of a reaction from the young crowd than did "Looney Tunes."
"Looney Tunes" follows Daffy Duck, the legendary cartoon character, recently fired from Warner Bros. by vice president of comedy Kate Houghton (Jenna Elfman) after demanding more of the spotlight for himself and less for his popular colleague, Bugs Bunny.
Daffy doesn't know it, but the studio immediately regrets its decision, which means it's up to Kate and Bugs to find Daffy and convince him to return to work.
In the meantime, Daffy clings to D.J. Drake (Brendan Fraser), another ex-Warner Bros.' employee and son of a famous movie star-secret agent, who is off on a mission to find his kidnapped father, Damian Drake (Timothy Dalton).
His father's captor, Mr. Chairman (Steve Martin) of the ACME corporation, has concocted an evil plot to turn Earth into a mass of working monkeys for free labor (yes, it is as stupid as it sounds), and is using Drake Sr. as leverage.
Mr. Chairman believes D.J. has a precious diamond needed to make his goal a reality, and will stop at nothing to get it from him.
It isn't long before the two parties merge and are on a wild goose chase all over the world, including Las Vegas (featuring a run in with a pop-diva/secret agent, played by Heather Locklear), Paris (with a psychedelic journey through the paintings in the Louvre), and the jungles of Africa (where the group just happens to stumble upon a certain old lady and her little yellow bird).
Fortunately, because it is aimed at a younger audience, "Looney Tunes" is able to fake its way through the 11/2-hour running time, enlisting the help of familiar Warner Bros. characters, as well as all the insanity that will inevitably ensue, to camouflage its inconsistency.
The acting in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" is tragic. Steve Martin is known for his physical comedy, and his character, Mr. Chairman, boasts significant potential as an outlet for that talent -- but unfortunately, Martin didn't seem to know what to do with the character. The final product is sloppy, and (as painful as it is to say this about Martin) annoying.
Fraser's and Elfman's performances are disappointing and bland. Elfman shows no evidence of having a comedic bone in her body, and Fraser's over-the-top expressions and macho-man attitude get really old, really fast.
However, Joe Alaskey does an excellent job of lending voice to many of the animated characters.
You can't build a strong house on a weak foundation, and you can't make a good movie with a bad script. "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" is a great example of what not to do when combining live action and animation.
Thomas Pardee, 15, is a sophomore at Davis High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom journalism program.
Steve honors Lily Tomlin -- sort of
Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia)
November 26, 2003, Wednesday
News; Pg. P5D
Tune in tonight Tomlin seems too young to be enshrined Comic's work too incendiary for Hollywood
Actor, writer, producer and comedian Lily Tomlin receives the praise and affection of her friends and colleagues on the 90-minute special "On Stage at the Kennedy Center: The Mark Twain Prize" (9 p.m., WVPBS). In addition to tributes from Doris Roberts, Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda, George Lopez, Catherine O'Hara and Dave Chappelle, "On Stage" offers a wealth of clips from Tomlin's many movies, TV specials and her one-woman Broadway show.
It's difficult not to watch this and not remember how smart and refreshingly candid Tomlin's cracked characters could be. At the same time, Tomlin seems too young, too smart and too vital to be enshrined or entombed in any pantheon.
Her clip reel appears to dry up somewhere in the mid-1980s. Is that because Tomlin ceased to be funny, or because the movies no longer had a place for a strident and thought-provoking female comic? Steve Martin slyly alludes to this in his mocking video "tribute" when he "recalls" all of the films they've done together since their 1984 comedy "All of Me." Of course, there haven't been any. Martin has continued to get A-list work, but his big films ("Father of the Bride" and "Bringing Down the House") are increasingly safe, predicable and bland. Even with her Mark Twain prize, Tomlin is too incendiary and intelligent for mainstream Hollywood movies.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Jackie Chan as Kato to Steve's Clouseau -- oy vey
Celebrity News: 20th November 2003
Chan Signs Up for 'Pink Panther'
High-kicking star Jackie Chan has signed up to join Steve Martin in the new Pink Panther movie. Chan will play Inspector Clouseau's hapless servant Kato in Birth Of The Pink Panther - following the news Martin has secured the role famously played by the late Peter Sellers in the hit series of comedies. Chan replaces Burt Kwouk in the role, which will see Kato joining Clouseau in trying to solve the murder of the French soccer team manager. Chan is next slated to be seen in the all-star version of Around the World in 80 Days.
Thursday, November 20, 2003
On the filming of Shopgirl
The San Diego Union-Tribune
November 18, 2003, Tuesday
For 'Shopgirl,' it's 90-plus outfits
Marcy Medina; WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY
LOS ANGELES -- Shoppers at Saks Fifth Avenue's Beverly Hills store hardly bat an eye when they spy a celebrity there, but quite a few stopped dead in their tracks recently when the elevator doors opened in the men's salon to reveal a full-blown movie set -- cables, cameras and all.
Welcome to "Shopgirl," the Steve Martin novella-turned-movie, starring Claire Danes in the title role and the author as her older lover. In the book, a salesgirl meets a wealthy customer and love blooms over the glove counter at Neiman Marcus -- but since this is the movies, the action takes place at Saks, not Neiman's.
The camera sweeps through the streets of Los Angeles during the opening title sequence, down Wilshire Boulevard, through Beverly Hills, right through the front door of Saks, dodging customers in the bustling cosmetics department and up through successively less-populated floors until it finally arrives in the glove department, where a bored-looking Danes daydreams the afternoon away.
"We're trying to create a lonely, dream-like space," says production designer William Arnold, who took 10 days to transform the men's designer department into a grand ladies' salon of old, repainting and repaneling the dark space and filling it with mannequins wearing evening dresses by Oscar de la Renta, Badgley Mischka and Bob Mackie, among others.
The men's department was chosen in part because of the magnificent Regency chandelier, dating back to the store's I. Magnin days and the filming of "The Women."
For what seems like the millionth time, Danes shifts her position and again stares dreamily into space, until she's finally allowed to take a break and perches in a director's chair to work a crossword puzzle.
"It's the perfect on-set activity," she says, twirling her pen in the air. "But now I'm finished with it, and I don't know what I'm going to do with the rest of my day."
Danes picked up "Shopgirl" while she was in Denmark a couple of years ago and fell in love with the story instantly. "I zipped though it, and found it thoroughly engaging, even though Steve modestly describes it as an easy read," she says.
Danes describes her character, Mirabelle, as a passive type. "She's quiet and still," the actress says. "I don't know how entertaining that is, but hopefully I fill that stillness with some emotion.
"The atmosphere dictates a lot of that for me," she adds, gesturing to the set, "so I don't have to struggle to imagine what it would be like to be so estranged from people."
Back in the wardrobe trailer, parked in a lot adjacent to the store, costume designer Nancy Steiner takes a moment to flip through Mirabelle's rack, filled with Danes' 90-plus costume changes.
"Steve told us she's a vintage girl, so I borrowed '40s and '50s dresses from costume houses," Steiner says, pointing to a few with peplums, rhinestone buttons and high waists. "Claire was made to wear these clothes."
Newer pieces include the '50s-influenced Prada dress Martin's character gives Mirabelle, as well as a pair of gray satin Christian Dior gloves.
"This movie has a lot of similarities to my last project, 'Lost in Translation,' " which features Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, notes Steiner. "They both star 'Saturday Night Live' alums as older men, and there are lonely young girls with young slacker guys."
In the rest of the film's locations, from Mirabelle's apartment, in a drab Silverlake building, a coffee shop, a Laundromat and the Melrose art galleries she frequents with her friends, Danes bundles up in long sweaters and baggy skirts, a sharp contrast to her work garb.
But no matter what the costume, Danes thinks her character is one with plenty of appeal.
"I really identified with Mirabelle," she says. "Everyone I know can relate to that loneliness somehow, even men."
Tuesday, November 18, 2003
Steve is going to give Birth
Yahoo! News Tue, Nov 18, 2003
Entertainment - Reuters
MGM, Steve Martin Pair Up for 'Pink Panther' Movie
Mon Nov 17, 7:55 PM ET
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Steve Martin (news) has decided to follow in the pratfall-prone steps of Peter Sellers (news) and play bumbling French police inspector Jacques Clouseau in a new "Pink Panther" movie, an MGM studio spokesman said on Monday.
Martin, the "wild-and-crazy" guy of the 1970s who in recent years has starred in comedies such as "Bringing Down the House," has agreed to play Clouseau in a prequel to 1964's "The Pink Panther" movie, called "Birth of the Pink Panther."
The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. spokesman said an option is in place to make a second "Pink Panther" movie with Martin as Clouseau. A second film would depend on the success of "Birth," which will begin production next year, but does not yet have a director.
In "Birth," Clouseau will be investigating the murder of France's soccer team coach when an even more intriguing assignment comes his way. The famed Pink Panther diamond, the national treasure of the country Lugash, has been stolen.
MGM has long looked for a comic actor to take the Clouseau role and revive the "Pink Panther" movies. The part is considered classic Sellers, and comedians have been reluctant to be compared to him.
MGM tried to resurrect the franchise with 1993 box office flop "Son of the Pink Panther" with Italian comic actor Roberto Benigni (news) portraying Clouseau's son, Jacques Clouseau, Jr.
Sellers created the part of the French detective whose clumsy ways are eclipsed only by his ability to catch criminals. The comedian played Clouseau in six films through "The Trail of the Pink Panther," which was released in 1982, after Seller's death in 1980.
Friday, November 14, 2003
Steve is doing the Pink Panther... the man doesn't listen to me
Yahoo! News Fri, Nov 14, 2003
Movies - Reuters
Martin Dons 'Pink Panther' Role
Fri Nov 14, 2:17 PM ET Add Movies - Reuters to My Yahoo!
LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Steve Martin (news) has agreed to step into the role of Inspector Jacques Clouseau for MGM's new "Pink Panther" movie.
Chris McGurk, vice-chairman and chief operating officer at MGM, confirmed Martin's decision Thursday night at an open house hosted by the studio.
The original "Pink Panther" starred Peter Sellers (news) as the bumbling French detective on the trail of a slippery jewel thief. Sellers kept the franchise going in four subsequent features, while Roger Moore (news) and Alan Arkin (news) also took turns in Clouseau's trench coat.
Ivan Reitman (news) and his Montecito Picture Co. are producing the remake with Reitman attached to direct. Martin next stars in 20th Century Fox's "Cheaper by the Dozen" in December.
An interview definitely worth reading
The Weekend Australian
November 15, 2003 Saturday Preprints Edition
REVIEW-TYPE- FEATURE-BIOG- STEVE MARTIN; Pg. B01
Martin unmasked - The dark side of LA's king of comedy
The Sunday Times
On film, he's America's favourite white-haired clown, at once slapstick genius and sensitive guy. But off screen Steve Martin, author, seems consumed by introspection. Chrissy Iley requested the pleasure of his company
WHEN you think of Steve Martin, you think vibrant comic. You think charismatic but cosy. As the quintessential Oscar host, you think commanding, dapper. You know he can be scathing about himself and his industry. He wrote LA Story and Bowfinger, sending himself up. There's something beckoning about him, identifiable, lovable, because he can be just extremely silly. Think The Jerk, All of Me, Parenthood. You also think endearing, sweet when you think of the insecure fire chief with the big nose in Roxanne.
But you also know he can be searing and you know at the heart of every observational genius is the tortured minutiae of emotions. You know the dark side is there, not just because it takes dark to deliver light but also because of the enormous craft in his writing.
He went through some kind of a midlife, middle-brow crisis after 1995's Father of the Bride II and, more specifically, the remake of Sgt Bilko (1996), which was perhaps fuelled by a kind of loneliness. His marriage to actor Victoria Tennant had fallen apart in 1993. Reports have it down to their souls simply drifting apart; this sparked turmoil that could be exorcised only on the page. He began writing for The New Yorker, collected stories together in Pure Drivel. His first novel, Shopgirl, published in 2000, was a strangely poignant bestseller -- mostly because of his obvious empathy with the lonely, the displaced, the hopeless, and how he seemed to understand so much about women.
His new book, The Pleasure of My Company, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson earlier this month, is much more ambitious because there are so many threads that weave together on every page. Its hero, Daniel, is another rather hopeless person, alienated, fixated, neurotic. He has obsessive-compulsive disorders, a fear of kerbs, can't deal with crowds of more than four people unless he can connect them by their shirt patterns, can't sleep unless all the light bulbs in the house add up to 1125 watts.
Yet Martin creates the picture of a man who is not crazy but very real and looking for love, and it has a happy ending: Daniel finds "there are still many takers for the quiet heart". You feel for Martin's heart. You suspect it might be quiet.
There's no doubt he has spilled his soul into the book, and no doubt a career first launched on Saturday Night Live doing the kind of sketch that's self-flagellating and exposing requires a kind of fearlessness. Yet he's very uneasy about talking about himself in any depth. He's been described by other interviewers as Siberia -- cold and distant. Or, more charitably, socially autistic.
He's not usually pleased with his work so he doesn't feel passionate enough to promote it. But he's proud of this book so he's conflicted. He knows it deserves to be promoted and he agrees to lunch in a favourite Beverly Hills cafe. He arrives in baseball cap, sunglasses, striped T-shirt and khakis and sits down very stiffly. He speaks in a measured, mesmerising way, almost as if he's calming himself, and I'm wondering just how much of Daniel there is in him.
"I'd written a few pieces for The New Yorker where the central character was more of a comic character, with a nutty view of the world," he says. "And a friend of mine said, 'I love it when you write about that guy.' I'd never thought of him as 'that guy'."
Of course there are certain links between that guy and Martin. One of the character's preoccupations is making magic squares of numbers that add up horizontally and vertically to the same amount, then replacing them with people that add up to the same emotional amount. Did you ever make one? "Yes, I did when I was a kid. I did it with a formula. I studied magic when I was a kid, so you learn a lot of the peripheral things, party tricks."
He was born in 1945 in Waco, Texas, just like the character in the book, but moved when he was 10 to California. It was a quiet family. His mother was a housewife, his father an estate agent. He was an awkward magician who worked at Disneyland selling guidebooks while doing magic trick birthday parties. You can imagine him; painfully shy but somehow physically funny. He studied philosophy at University of California, Los Angeles. Philosophy means always the outsider.
He left school to write comedy, started off with The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, won an Emmy, left comedy writing to perform, wore a suit, played the banjo, made animals out of balloons, graduated from Saturday Night Live to The Jerk, became famous, worked even harder. Always meticulous: it took him a year and a half to write Shopgirl and more than a year to do this one.
All magicians have a part of them that doesn't seem to fit in. That's why they need the magic. "All of that -- the magic squares, the studying magic and learning the odd little things, especially at a young age, is just a way to think that you're making yourself special or attracting attention to yourself, or as you say in Hollywood, to meet girls," he says.
"But those collected stupidities you can transform into something better when you're older. Possibly."
Did you ever count wattage? "No, I never did that. Or fear kerbs. All that was made up. I was inside Daniel's head and I was separate from my own." This character has a sense of needing to connect everything up because he doesn't want to be so alienated. I ask him, if he doesn't need to fit in, does he need to be liked? "It's not a need, but you want to be liked by your friends. There are people you don't care if they like you or not."
The book is not specifically a romance, although it is romantic and loving. In the beginning, Daniel's only relationships are with people who are all in his head, and they're elaborate, over-intellectualised. There's a very touching moment where he finally connects with a girl and she says: "Don't worry. You don't have to make conversation. I already like you."
We skate perilously around the idea of romance and what it means to him. "There's always a point in romantic love where you have to wake up and get on with life, be more practical, which is great because that state is a real state of anxiety anyway. You want to get through that part pretty quickly, I think."
Because it's painful? "No, because it's removed from reality and you can't stay in an unreal state for too long." He talks about a character in the musical The Music Man: "He says he wants a girl who's had romantic pain, who has her head in the clouds and her feet on the ground." Is that the kind of girl you like, romantic and practical? "I'm a little uncomfortable in this area. It's getting into girlfriend stuff."
Martin seems to have been extremely competent at keeping his private life private. No one knows who he is dating. He has talked in the past about how the break-up with Tennant helped him as a writer. He said a few years ago: "I think in some ways, the emotion I went through at the break-up of my marriage liberated my writing. I was able to find a different emotional level coming from a deeper place. It's painful when you break up. It's the equivalent of many horrible things that you can go through -- that loneliness and the loss and the ache. The marriage break-up was the beginning of opening a bottomless pit, then subsequent events sent me lower and lower."
While the world was laughing at his clowny characters such as Sergeant Bilko, he was reading books such as How to Survive the Loss of a Love and thinking that having the pain is what heals you. He wrote, he collected art. In his Beverly Hills home he can soothe himself with Picassos, Lichtensteins, Hockneys and O'Keefes.
One senses he has gone through terrible pain but he is out the other side now. Something is calmer. "A friend of mine said, 'Men don't get it until they're in their 50s.' I think that's kind of true. I think I've relaxed a bit, got it a bit."
The book is dedicated to his parents and there are lots of paternal relationships within it. A toddler called Teddy is a kind of saviour, helping Daniel not only confront his fears but survive them. "There are a lot of father-son archetypal relationships in the book. One is the relationship with his own real father, which is strained.
"He has a paternal relationship with the guy next door who helps him jump across a kerb, and then there's his relationship with Teddy, which just creeps up on him."
I wonder if his parents are in this equation. "No," he says firmly. "It's independent of my own life. I was not abused." I tell him I have read that, as a child, he was not allowed to speak at the dinner table. "We were allowed to speak. That wasn't a rule. It was just a quiet family." He's been eating his lunch very stiffly. "I wrote about it in a play," he says, wanting to move on.
You also wrote a book called Cruel Shoes, which I tried to get a copy of. "Don't bother," he says, shaking his head. A friend of mine at Random House told me he tried to publish it 20 years ago but had been outbid and this still irked him because the book was brilliant. "The truth is, it's not. I wrote it when I was very young. I was asked to republish it recently and I said no. You can get it on eBay. I see it every once in a while," he says dismissively. "Shopgirl I actually quite like, and I can only say that because I hate almost everything else that I've done."
I start to tell him everything of his that I've loved but he doesn't want to hear. "I was running scared with Shopgirl because it was a poignant subject and a greater length than anything I'd ever done. I didn't know if anyone would care. I didn't know if it was poor writing. I didn't have any kind of reference. This time I felt more confident about the sentences, how better to construct a sentence. I was less afraid of my own chance-taking."
What kind of things are you afraid of? "I don't know what you mean. Mountain climbing?" I mean, in your life, in your work. Are they different? "Yes, when you're acting, you're vulnerable to criticisms of your being, meaning your nose is too big. You're lousy. You stink. When you're writing, your intellect is vulnerable. There are so many brilliant writers and all it takes is for one of them to slam you and you'd be ..."
He pauses to think of the terrible thing he'd be, but a very loud motorbike pulls up with what appears to be a dog riding it. Man and dog sit on the bike making loud revs and the noise revs away a moment of vulnerability. Would you be wounded? "No, actually I think I have adjusted to criticism and found a place for it, so I can find a place where I'm a little more confident, even in my own failures."
Do you think you've failed? "Absolutely. Lousy movies and ... I'm not going to go into it. There's certainly box-office failures."
His previous film, Bringing Down the House, was a box-office hit. His chemistry as an uptight lawyer with an over-the-top felon played by Queen Latifah helped carve a niche for her as a comedic actor.
What movies did you think were lousy? "I'm not going to go into it. But I mean, movies are a costly business, so a financial failure in a movie means you've failed in at least half of what you were supposed to do, especially when they're paying you a lot of money. And then there's an intellectual failure. That's a very public failure."
I tell him that if something doesn't work it's not necessarily your fault. "Well, I'll figure out some way to make it my fault," he says, deadpan.
He's in a gloom now and I make a very raw move, referring to something he once said, that he used humour to redirect some of his neuroses. "It's too complicated a thought to answer yes or no to. I'm not interested in that any more. I just go along." So you're no longer like that? "I don't know what I once was, what you read and who wrote it. It's so long ago now, I don't even care about it."
We discuss Cheaper by the Dozen, a film he's just finished in which he plays a man with 12 children. He's often most touching on the screen as a father. "I loved working with the kids. It was nice." Are you feeling a kind of paternal thing coming on? "I don't know. I get sort of satisfied working with kids. You get them when they're on their best behaviour and their parents have to take them home at night." Are you broody? "I don't know about that. I'll let that sort itself out." But he's smiling, so it seems he's not averse to the idea.
Next up is shooting Shopgirl, starring Claire Danes. He adapted it. Was it a conscious move to work more at novels than screenplays? "It wasn't conscious. I've been writing a lot my whole life and I've co-written screenplays and I just decided for practical reasons to write them on my own because you don't have to have a meeting with anybody.
"I wrote a play in the early '90s about Picasso and that encouraged me, and then some essays for The New Yorker, and then I had a subject appear in my head, which was Shopgirl. I didn't know if it would be 20 pages or 100. That took a year and a half to write but it wasn't constant, not every day. The Pleasure of My Company, I think, was a year because I was more confident this time. This one was really fun to write. I started it with very few plot points."
He's visceral in his descriptions, his details, so that by the end you feel you know the character, that you've inhabited his world. But that in turn makes you feel you know Martin. And clearly you don't.
In the book, Daniel comes closest to being accepted when his girlfriend cheerily says she has divided his obsessions into three categories: "Acceptable, unacceptable and hilarious. The unacceptable being those that inhibited life, like the kerbs."
Martin says he only needs three or four friends who are totally accepting of him, and he has those. He's seeming quite comfortable at the thought of them now, so comfortable I feel I can ask him one of the things I've always wanted to know. That character in Bowfinger played by Heather Graham -- who was manipulating, scheming, sleeping her way to the top in Hollywood even if it meant having to turn lesbian -- was she based on Anne Heche (with whom he had a three-year relationship just before she fell for Ellen de Generes)? "No. She was just a woman who slept her way to the top and Anne Heche was not doing that. She was just a funny character to me. Anne Heche is a vibrant, funny person. She has a lot of personality," he says, without a hint of bitterness.
When he's not Martin the reluctant interviewee, I imagine he is a regular guy and his life is nothing overtly fancy. "I like to travel to relaxing spots, have dinner with my friends," he says. "I'll go to the theatre when I'm in New York and I play my banjo now more than I used to. I still have an interest in art, and that's it." Do you think you're still shy? "I'm less so now, but I'm not outgoing with people I don't know ... I like to proceed at a regular pace at getting to know somebody."
Do you find it hard to trust people? "That's not it. It feels weird and strange to be too intimate too quickly," he says, and I like to think that underneath his sunglasses his eyes are twinkling, that he's telling me the interview situation is too weird and strange to allow me to get to know him. But in your writing and comedy and your acting, I say, there's so much exposure, so much vulnerability. Is that an antidote to real life?
"Do you mean is acting my emotional kick? I don't think it works like that, but in reverse. The more you experience in life, the more you bring to acting, the more affecting certain scenes can be. Like working with these kids. It's been very tender. They're so present and so uncomplicated. Their emotions are not hidden. They're touching. Like in Cheaper by the Dozen, my oldest son wants to leave home. He's still in high school and I tell him he has to get a diploma -- a father having to be tough and tender at the same time. I felt that was very moving."
You're so hooked into this father relationship. "I don't know," he says, teasingly. And then, out of the corner of his eye, he spots his car and a parking officer. "I think I'm getting a ticket."
That's a convenient exit, just when we're getting emotional. He looks panicked, not just because of the impending parking ticket but by what I'm going to write. We've scarcely exchanged eye contact, yet I want to hug him. Instead I reach out and touch his arm meaningfully and he says: "Be careful with my book, because my heart is in there."
Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Bugs Bunny on Steve
Today (7:00 AM ET) - NBC
November 11, 2003 Tuesday
Bugs Bunny discusses his new movie "Looney Tunes: Back In Action"
REPORTERS: AL ROKER
ROKER: All right. And good morning, everyone.
You know, for almost a half-century, this great pairing has thrilled audiences both young and old. Well, they're back in action again with "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," and this time the two share the screen with live action stars like Brendan Fraser, Steve Martin and Jenna Elfman. Now, it's not every day that you get to sit opposite one of the most famous character actors in animation history, but I got the chance to do just that when I interviewed Bugs Bunny recently in Los Angeles.
I am so excited. Ladies and gentleman, we have one of the biggest stars in Hollywood with us today. Bigger than Denzel Washington, bigger than Harrison Ford, bigger than George Clooney, ladies and gentlemen, Bugs Bunny!
BUGS BUNNY: What's up, skinny?
ROKER: Oh, Bugs. Go on.
BUGS BUNNY: So tell me, Al, do people ever blame you for lousy weather?
ROKER: All the time. Do they ever blame you for messing up their garden?
BUGS BUNNY: Nah. Not if I can help it, Doc.
ROKER: Well, Bugs, I got to tell you. This is very exciting. Give us a--a thumbnail sketch of the plot of "Looney Tunes: Back in Action."
BUGS BUNNY: Well, it's really all about me, but it's your typical rabbit meets girl, boy meets duck, boy meets girl, rabbit and duck have conflict movies.
(Daffy Duck holding up sign saying "I'm the star!"; picture of ham; sign saying "Has-been!")
ROKER: I saw one of those last year.
BUGS BUNNY: Yeah, you know, there's a lot of them but this one's not very formulaic. There's a a lot of left turns in it.
(Daffy appearing behind Bugs)
(Clip from "Looney Tunes: Back In Action")
ROKER: Now you're working with a lot of big stars. First of all, Brendan Fraser. What's the deal with him?
(Clip from "Looney Tunes: Back In Action")
BUGS BUNNY: Hmm, Brendan Fraser. Get a load of this bruise, Doc.
BUGS BUNNY: Mr. I Do All My Own Stunts.
ROKER: OK. Well, what was Jenna Elfman like?
BUGS BUNNY: What's not to like, Doc? Of course, she had a little competition once in a while.
(Bugs dressed as a blonde woman)
ROKER: I got to tell you, Bugs, that's vaguely disturbing.
BUGS BUNNY: Yeah, well it's my stock and trade. You know, I pull it out of the hat. People like to see me do it.
(Daffy making throw-up gestures)
ROKER: Rabbit, pull it out of a hat. I get it!
BUGS BUNNY: Yeah, I don't imagine you wanted it, but you got it anyway.
ROKER: That's right. And Daffy, tell me about Daffy.
(Clip from "Looney Tunes: Back In Action")
BUGS BUNNY: What's there to say about Daffy? He's mean, he's ornery, he's egotistical. He wouldn't spend a dime if he had to save his own grandmother, but I love the guy.
(Daffy peeking behind Bugs; Daffy eating carrots)
ROKER: You've been doing this for 62 years, and you--you're working with a youngster like Brendan Fraser, another guy like Steve Martin. Do they come up to you and ask you for advice?
BUGS BUNNY: Steve Martin, he doesn't need to ask me for advice. He's the closest thing we've got in this picture to a human cartoon.(Clip from "Looney Tunes: Back In Action")
BUGS BUNNY: Although you got Gene Shalit, so we're even.
ROKER: Oh, that's true.
BUGS BUNNY: Yosemite Sam's kind of jealous of that mustache, you know.
ROKER: You know, I never noticed the resemblance but, you know, maybe the two of them are related.
BUGS BUNNY: You know, dye it red, you know, separated at birth. You might know that kind of stuff.
ROKER: In this movie, who's the hero?
BUGS BUNNY: Well, I hate to admit it, but it's probably Daffy.
ROKER: Get out!
BUGS BUNNY: No, I'm not kidding. He's been such a second banana for so many years, he finally got his due.
(Clip from "Looney Tunes: Back In Action")
ROKER: Well, how's it different in the tune world than it is in our world? What's different?
BUGS BUNNY: It's a little more colorful.
BUGS BUNNY: It's a little more violent.
BUGS BUNNY: Generally I prefer it, but every now and again I go slumming over here.
ROKER: (Stammering) That's all folks! Life is good! Life is good!
COURIC: You showed such restraint not asking Bugs about his love life.
ROKER: No, I didn't. Well, you know, the--there are many children around, and he's a rabbit after all.
COURIC: Yeah. You know, I didn't even think of that when I asked you that question, but...
COURIC: Thanks, Al. "Looney Tunes: Back In Action" opens nationwide on Friday.
Still to come this morning on TODAY, honoring the men who have won America's highest military honor. But first, this is TODAY on NBC.
Someone who finds superficiality in PoMC
The Associated Press
November 10, 2003, Monday, BC cycle
Steve Martin's novel entertains, frustrates
By EMILY FREDRIX, Associated Press Writer
"The Pleasure of My Company." By Steve Martin. Hyperion. 163 Pages. $19.95.
Daniel Pecan Cambridge knows he has, in the simplest of terms, issues.
He crosses streets only where there are opposing driveways. The light bulbs in his apartment always total 1,125 watts. He constructs mathematical games to ease his anxieties. How else can you relax when your favorite feeling is symmetry?
And in Cambridge's world, he is not only normal, he is "the most average American" - at least according to an essay contest he won sponsored by a frozen pie company.
In Steve Martin's new novella, "The Pleasure of My Company," Cambridge lives by thinking instead of by being, leaving his home only for the occasional trip to the drugstore.
Martin takes readers inside Cambridge's frightfully active mind, a mind that Cambridge says was rejected by the high-IQ Mensa group because of a clerical error. Eventually, he comes out of his mind and into his life as he helps - and is helped by - his student social worker Clarissa and her toddler son Teddy.
Martin strikes an ideal balance between amusement and pity for a man who is practically a shut-in. Cambridge slowly makes progress and eventually leads a "normal" life in a story that entertains and frustrates readers, but is also inspiring. After all, if this "most average American" can tackle his neuroses, find himself and find love, then maybe the rest of us don't have as many issues as we think we do.
Cambridge, who won't take a hotel room higher than the third floor and who sometimes is compelled to touch every machine in the copy shop, knows he's not quite right but believes he will one day find a cure.
"There must be a key or person or thing, or song or poem or belief, or old saw that could access it, but they all seemed so far away," Cambridge tells himself one night.
In this, his second novel, Martin uses the same technique he used in "Shopgirl" - vignettes alternately amusing and poignant to portray a character who is superficial. Despite his many diverse talents - actor, comedian, playwright - Martin writes novels that read like movies and don't delve as deeply as the reader, or even Martin, it seems, would like them to.
Some characters come and go with no obvious purpose but to amuse; some experience great changes without explanation, making the transformation hard for the reader to accept.
This is frustrating because Martin, with a grand wit and eye for detail, could go so much farther with his characters and stories. He doesn't seem to be pushing himself - sort of like Cambridge, who, for a large chunk of the novel knowingly remains complacent about his problems.
"Shopgirl" was about a pitiful young woman who, like Cambridge, experimented with life and love. For Cambridge, though, most of the action is in his mind. He fantasizes about a real estate agent and can't decide on which date to tell her about his Mensa rejection - even though he's never spoken with her.
Cambridge himself is amused and annoyed by his situation.
Describing a shopping trip in which he made himself keep both hands in his pockets, and the ensuing difficulty at the checkout, Cambridge says: "If this makes me sound helpless, I feel you should know that I don't enter this state very often and it is something I could snap out of, it's just that I don't want to."
"The Pleasure of My Company" is a quick, entertaining story, but a tease to readers who hope that Martin, as a novelist, will escape from his movie mind-set.
Saturday, November 08, 2003
A very interesting view from down under -- PoMC
Sydney Morning Herald
November 8, 2003 Saturday
Spectrum; Books; Pg. 20
Things Don't Always Add Up, Man
Matthew Thompson Is A Herald Journalist.
The Pleasure of My Company
By Steve Martin
Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 151 pp, $29.95
What a different world it is when we are forced to act. How alive we become when the blood-shocks of reality hit, and no longer do we stew in a self-serving morass of intellect.
When The Pleasure of My Company begins, Daniel Pecan Cambridge has long been retarded by the need to find order in everything he touches and sees. Walking to the local shops is an ordeal, because Cambridge can cross roads only if he finds a spot where two driveways are directly opposite each other. It took him weeks to work out a route to a store only a few blocks from his Santa Monica apartment.
Catching a bus, train or any crowded public transport is out of the question, given the migraine-inducing complexities of creating "a matrix that links one individual to another by connecting similar shirt patterns".
And then there's his grand obsession numbers. Cambridge endlessly divides ceilings, floors, books and even light bulb wattage. He then re-orders the fractions into groupings he's comfortable with. Utterly exhausting, of course, and so debilitating that the 32-year-old is unemployed. Let go from his job as an encoder at Hewlett-Packard for refusing to write codes that others could read, Cambridge lives off the government and a Texan grandmother's largesse.
An obsessive-compulsive, he gobbles the appropriate medication and has a crush on his counsellor, Clarissa. He doesn't tell her much about how screwed up he is, because that might put her off. He has a crush on most women he knows. Men are dense and unreadable to Cambridge, more invested in motion and power than empathy and chatter.
Yet men are the key to his liberation. Sleeping with a neighbour is Brian, whom our protagonist initially dismisses as all penis and no brain. Brian asks Cambridge out jogging, and doesn't make an issue of it when Captain Neurosis shows up in slacks and a dress shirt. Nor does he blink when Cambridge collapses from the run and the terrors of non-symmetrical kerb-hopping. "Good hustle. Good hustle," says the well-endowed lunkhead.
Exposure to male inarticulateness gives Cambridge blessings of insight. This dawns on him when he jettisons all codes to run to the aid of a toddler being shoved around, and suffers a beating. But so what? All guys cop a belting sometimes and, as they learn, failure and pain are not the same.
Yet The Pleasure of My Company is not an Iron John, Fight Club sort of book. It's an affectionate look at the strengths and graces of women through the eyes of someone who's forgotten how to be a man. Its dramatic timing is awry, but it's still a lightly absorbing read. And, yes, it's by that silver-haired comedian of Hollywood fame.
LooneyToons the Movie -- an inside look
The New York Times
November 2, 2003, Sunday, Late Edition - Final
Section 2A; Page 3; Column 1; Arts and Leisure Desk
HOLIDAY MOVIES; That's Not All, Folks!
David Edelstein is the film critic for Slate.com.
SHERMAN OAKS, Calif.
JOE DANTE, the director of the rambunctious new live-action/animation blend "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" (opening Nov. 14), makes movies in which the real world is curiously flat: a canvas to be doodled on by animators and puppeteers, to be crammed with beasties that pop out of the frame like jack-in-the-boxes. His direction of live action is sometimes droopy, his compositions two-dimensional, his stories mere vessels for riffs, cameos and quotations from other movies. But his curlicues are good enough to goose his films to life. Mr. Dante lives through movies, and his movies live through movies, too: even when his films are assembled out of recycled parts, Mr. Dante's antic disposition and fan-boy dreaminess make them spark.
When a former writer for "The Simpsons," Larry Doyle, proposed a new "Looney Tunes" feature and a new series of short cartoons to executives at Warner Brothers, Mr. Dante seemed an obvious choice to direct the feature. He'd been weaned on Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the other Warners cartoons that preceded the junky science-fiction and horror pictures he consumed as a boy in Middletown, N.J. He'd even asked the Warners animator Chuck Jones to work on his "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990) and had spent years developing a Jones biopic, "Termite Terrace," which would have blended live action and animation -- had Warners found the project sufficiently commercial.
For Warners executives, ever on the hunt for merchandise opportunities and "tent poles" (big projects that usher in a lot of ancillary ones), a Looney Tunes feature like "Back in Action" would reinject the characters into the popular imagination. Of course, they've really never left, but now there are scores of other franchisable cartoons competing for parents' dollars. And while a previous live-action/animation feature, "Space Jam" (1996), was a box-office hit, it was more of a vehicle for Michael Jordan than for the Looney Tunes characters. The film homogenized their anarchic personalities: where was the fun in watching them work together as a team?
"Looney Tunes: Back in Action" cost more than $100 million and, according to Mr. Dante, studio executives never groused about the budget: they just kept throwing money at him. Unfortunately, they threw other things at him too.
In late October, Mr. Dante, who will turn 57 this month but who looks at least a decade younger, watched as the last of his animators and editors put the finishing touches on the film -- which they had been desperately rewriting and adding jokes to just four weeks earlier. The post-production work was based at the Warners animation studio northwest of Hollywood, in an austere glass-and-concrete office building that for Dante has been something of a high-tech prison.
Now, having toiled on the movie for a year and a half, he can't quite believe he's almost liberated. He's relieved that he no longer has to hold test screenings with, instead of the unfinished animated characters, rough black and white drawings or storyboards -- or, most absurd, eyeballs on sticks. And he's relieved that it's too late for some studio executive to watch a scene and say: "Hmm. We should have a better joke there."
"This movie was made possible by digital animation," Mr. Dante said. "It was drawn, it was photographed, it was put right into the computer. But the ease of that technology also added a whole new dimension of torture."
The problem was how simply the movie could be reworked on a computer. After Mr. Dante had shot the live actors and backgrounds, anything could be added to the frame. "Once you've told people that they can change things, they think they should change things," he said. "Some of the jokes are the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, maybe 20th pass at the same joke. We just kept rewriting. This is usually not a good idea -- and on a number of occasions we ended up going back to the original joke."
Many hours and tens of thousands of dollars later, he might have added.
It's possible, though, that all that noodling in post-production -- and all the gags packed into the movie's margins -- contribute to its air of slapstick delirium. "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" has layer upon layer of jokes; it's as worked-over as a musical after months of out-of-town try-outs.
Mr. Dante estimates that at one point or another, 29 writers were involved in varying capacities (Mr. Doyle was the only one credited), not to mention spontaneous contributions from animators and sound-effects people -- not to mention the manic improvisations of Steve Martin, who decided that to hold his own as the movie's villain he would have to create an electrified "supertwit" every bit as cartoonish as Wile E. Coyote and the Tazmanian Devil.
Mr. Doyle, who pulled out of "Looney Tunes: Back in Action" in February after vehement disagreements over animation, character voicing and jokes, takes full responsibility for the movie's plotlessness. "You can't give these characters too much of a story," he said by phone. "They have short attention spans. Even Bugs has a short attention span. What they're good at is playing around inside a story."
At the start of "Looney Tunes: Back in Action," Daffy Duck makes a play for creative control. After Elmer Fudd blasts Daffy's head off for the umpteenth time, he stops the action and announces that violence in cartoons is now a no-no. Then he marches into a studio boardroom and tells an executive named Kate Houghton (played by Jenna Elfman; Houghton was Katharine Hepburn's middle name) that he wants a new deal. He's promptly fired.
As Bugs Bunny watches, amused at what a "maroon" Daffy is, the duck is stripped of his moniker (the studio claims copyright) and ordered thrown off the lot. The luckless guard who has to do the deed is Bobby (Brendan Fraser), who also works as a stunt double for Brendan Fraser (Mr. Fraser again, in a snotty cameo) and is the son of a movie secret agent (Timothy Dalton) -- who's also a real secret agent who has been kidnapped by the diabolical head of the Acme Corporation (Mr. Martin), who . . . .
Best not to dwell on the narrative: the fun is watching the actors and the Looney Tunes hurtle from Western saloons to Africa to outer space to the Louvre, where Bugs, Daffy and Elmer Fudd embark on a mindbending chase through the paintings -- becoming, in turn, Surreal, Expressionistic and pointillist. At the end of their Seurat experience, Bugs gives a little lecture on pointillism, concluding, "I think when you go to the movies you should learn something."
Making such asides, or "breaking the fourth wall," was part of the identity of the great Warners cartoons (in contrast to the more conservative Disney fairy tales). But the practice made modern studio executives anxious.
"The phrase I heard the most was, 'If you do that, it takes you out of the movie,' " Mr. Dante said. "And my retort was, 'You're already out of the movie.' It's not like a normal picture where you get emotionally invested to the point where you believe that you're not watching a movie. The artifice of the movie should be constantly thrust upon you; that was the whole point of Looney Tunes."
Mr. Dante and his animation director, Eric Goldberg, can talk your head off about the whole point of Looney Tunes. They can dissect the styles of all the famous animators -- especially Tex Avery, with his eyeball-snapping surrealism, Bob Clampett, with his wacked-out "squash and stretch" plasticity, and Chuck Jones, who somehow used angles reminiscent of great live-action directors, and who invested his characters with complex emotions and expressions. Jones died a few months before Mr. Dante was approached to do the feature.
"I don't know if he would have thought the movie was a good idea," Mr. Dante said. "But I do know that if he had been involved it would have made my life easier because I think we would've been on the same page and he did have a certain 'emeritus' status at the studio."
One of the first debates was over guns. "It's post-Columbine," Mr. Dante said, "so how many gunshots can we have? Can Yosemite Sam have a gun at all? Briefly we made him a pirate. Then we recast it in terms of cartoon violence versus real violence, so the dictum was that there would be no real weapons in the movie. There would only be cartoon weapons and cartoon bang-bangs, and only cartoon characters will be injured -- if that, because they never really are injured, they're just put back together again."
"We couldn't not deal with that, even though I think it's ridiculous," he said. "I don't think that Roadrunner cartoons ever made any kid go out and shoot their brother or put the dog in the microwave. I think kids are smarter than that. However, parents -- who are the people who go to the previews and fill out the cards and recommend movies to other parents -- feel dodgy about the subject of violence and cartoons. Well, sorry: Elmer Fudd comes from an agrarian society where people shoot their food."
Among the studio's most consistent complaints was that Bugs didn't initiate enough action and that Daffy was driving the movie. Which is true but beside the point.
"There's a way to have your character behave that's better for telling a story, and a way to have your character behave that is true to the character," Mr. Dante said. "Bugs has a very defined persona. He's the chairman of the board, the hip character who never loses his cool and is always above everything -- which makes him, oddly, difficult to write for. I can't tell you how many times executives said, 'We want Bugs to do this,' and we said, 'No, that's not what Bugs would do, that's what Daffy would do.' " And they said, 'We're sick and tired of hearing what Bugs would do and wouldn't do.'
"There was an idea to have a scene where Bugs reveals his vulnerability -- and then we thought: 'No! We'd be cashing in the whole character after 60 years!' "
That said, Bill Murray -- whose comic persona bears some similarities to Bugs's -- has come of age in "Lost in Translation." Could Bugs develop in the same way?
"When Bugs tries his remake of 'The Razor's Edge,' we'll see how that goes," Mr. Dante said. "In the meantime, I'd rather have less Bugs and have him be Bugs than have more Bugs and have him do bogus stuff."
Mr. Goldberg agreed. "Being animated, the cartoon cast couldn't really speak for themselves," he said. "So often I really had to represent them. I felt like I was channeling them. Sometimes I'd fight over nuances, but sometimes it was big things. During one big argument somebody said, 'Does Bugs have to say, "What's up, Doc?" ' "
Mr. Dante let out a groan. "I'm sorry that you mentioned that line," he said. "I was holding it out for my biographer."
A good review for PoMC
The Seattle Times
November 2, 2003, Sunday Fourth Edition
ROP ZONE; Books; Pg. K10
Martin's 'Company' is well above 'average'
Wingate Packard; Special to The Seattle Times
The narrator of "The Pleasure of My Company," Steve Martin's winning second novel, Daniel Pecan Cambridge, is a nut and he knows it. He doesn't like to cross streets at corners or step off curbs. He can go a week without saying a word that contains the letter "e." He is full of rules for his own behavior. He is a liar, a dope, a savant. Daniel, 31, was once employed as a software encoder and is now spinning his wheels with rules he creates for himself that are so eccentric that the reader initially suspects mental illness or depression. The hilarity of his self-imposed regulations belies the painful clarity of a lonely and totally self-conscious man.
Like Mirabelle in "Shopgirl," Martin's first novel, Daniel is an innocent watching his life go by, waiting for something to pull him in with a splash. "There are few takers for the quiet heart," he notes.
The actress in the apartment upstairs confides in him, but she has a boyfriend; he has a crush on the pharmacist but never speaks with her. He adores Clarissa, a graduate student in psychiatry, but sees that her own very real problems preoccupy her and keep her from "getting" him.
The action quickens when Daniel learns that Clarissa, the single mother of a toddler, is being stalked by her abusive ex, and when he is notified that he has won an essay contest on why he is the "most average American." These two developments give him traction for breaking his own rules and engaging with other people. Martin revels in this tension between Daniel's consciousness of what makes him, in the eyes of others, special, and what makes him average.
Martin's handling of the conscious human subject that is either full of illusions or stripped to a pitiful transparency is at once witty, playful and full of mercy. In this slim, highly comic novel with undertones of blue, Martin cultivates takers for "the quiet heart" with charming integrity. Don't let the jacket cover photo of a man embracing himself sell you just Martin the comedian; Martin the novelist is even better.
An excellent article from wapo on PoMC
But Seriously, Folks
Comedian Steve Martin's New Novel Is No Joke
By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 8, 2003; Page C01
Novelist Steve Martin has been in a lot of funny movies, but that's not why he's here, sitting at a sunlit corner table in Isabella's on the Upper West Side, cradling a cup of chamomile tea and speaking seriously of the creative process in general and of writing fiction in particular.
Very particular fiction.
In the past three years, Martin has written a pair of remarkable books about characters who must triumph over their entrapments -- melancholia and misgivings. The novella "Shopgirl," which came out in 2000 and has recently been published in paperback, is an intimate and sorrowful portrait of a young Neiman Marcus glove salesclerk named Mirabelle. "The Pleasure of My Company," a just-published novel, is the story of a 31-year-old obsessive-compulsive named Daniel Pecan Cambridge, who lives alone, loves to iron shirts and hates to step off curbs.
"I know I will never be perceived as a novelist," Martin says, sipping his tea. "If I wrote the greatest book in the world, I know I'll never be taken seriously."
It's true. With his white hair and accountant-on-the-verge-of-madness looks, he is one of the most recognizable comedians in the country. He's been in more than 30 movies -- mostly playing a goofball. He has been a frequent guest on "Saturday Night Live" and other comedy shows. He has hosted the Academy Awards. The world knows Steve Martin; the world has watched Steve Martin; Steve Martin is not supposed to be a serious writer.
Like many of the characters he writes about in his screenplays, such as "L.A. Story" and "Bowfinger," and in his more non-comedic fiction, Martin is hemmed in by circumstance -- pigeonholed by his success as a funnyman, movie star and Hollywood celebrity. As such, and as a writer, he has been the host of the National Book Awards. Could he ever be a nominee?
He is not to be pitied, obviously, but there is an irony here. Maybe that's why his serious fiction cuts so close to the bone, because we have all felt snagged by the world's great -- and not-so-great -- expectations of us. The entrapped Martin writes about entrapped characters for entrapped readers.
Nothing funny about that.
In the cafe, he's wearing a grayish shirt with a flyaway collar, bluejeans, green-blue-and-gray-squared Mondrianish socks and sensible black shoes. He sports a Swatch watch with a fluorescent green band that looks like a hospital bracelet. A pair of half-moon reading glasses dangles from his neck by a reddish plastic cord. His quilted green jacket and a baseball cap are on a chair nearby.
Though his hair is old-man white, he's in good shape. He's 58, but looks younger. He shuttles back and forth between Los Angeles and New York. His easygoing attitude is very West Coast; his pale-as-paste skin is positively Central Park West.
He strains to think of another public person -- a movie star, a national-stage politician, a world-class athlete -- who has made it as a real, high-lit novelist.
But he can't. It's just not done.
What the world really wants from Steve Martin is for him to: Do something slapstick, not something serious. Be Wild-and-Crazy Guy, not Pensive Author Man. Act like "The Jerk," not like J.D. Salinger.
For example, this is from a recent review of "Pleasure" in the New York Times: "Although it would have certainly been possible for Mr. Martin to shape a funny, affectionate portrait of the kind of man who buys 16 ChapSticks at a time," the critic writes, "the book too often seems sad and wan."
Come on, Steve. Make us laugh. Hasty Pudding, yes; Pulitzer Prize, no.
"Why does Steve Martin write fiction?" another New York Times reviewer asks. The implication of such a question is that Martin should stay put in his pigeonhole. But he doesn't.
"I'm not trying to be a novelist," he says, speaking slowly, pausing between words. "I'm only writing when I have something to say."
Sometimes what he has to say takes the form of a screenplay, sometimes it comes out as casual humor, as in the essays and stories he writes for the New Yorker. And sometimes his need to write comes out as some of the most original fiction in contemporary America.
"Pleasure" has a little more forward motion in it than "Shopgirl," but not much. The books are character studies -- interior, wistful explorations.
To Martin, sighs matter.
Readers respond. His works of fiction are bestsellers. Dean Kauffman, a computer programmer in Washington, belongs to a book club that meets monthly at a Borders in Baileys Crossroads. His group of a half-dozen people or so read "Shopgirl" when it came out. "We don't always like the books," Kauffman says, but this time around, everyone did. Men and women. The group "thought it was quite fresh."
Some critics have been kind. Readers of "Pleasure," writes a reviewer in Library Journal, "may be surprised to find that the comic actor is a decidedly serious author. Rather than wild-and-crazy attention-getters, Martin's literary characters are sweet, sad, and gentle oddballs."
The book, the reviewer adds, is "a pleasure to read."
Does Martin read the reviews?
Do the bad ones affect him?
"Yes, meaning this: It certainly can affect your day," he says. "But it doesn't affect your life."
Days, however, do make up a life.
"I am an entertainer," he says. "I have a sense of audience. I want them to like it." He fiddles with a knife. "I'm invested in the book."
He is straightforward. There is nothing zany in the air. Assessing his own gifts, he says that his books are "seeped more in melancholy than in story."
Looking for the word, he says, "Seeped with melancholy."
He glances at his tea bag. He finds the right verb and corrects himself. "Steeped in melancholy."
He was greatly moved, and influenced, by Steve Millhauser's quirky novel about a boy who dies at 11 called "Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer 1943-1954 by Jeffrey Cartwright." And by Geoff Dyer's strange book "Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with D.H. Lawrence."
Places and things have meaning, says Martin, who is fascinated by "trying to find the tender connection we have to a certain object."
In "Pleasure," when Daniel Cambridge's grandmother dies, he travels from California to her house in Texas. Her estate attorney asks Cambridge if there is any keepsake he would like.
"I knelt down and browsed through a couple of boxes. At the bottom of one I found a metal container the size of a shoe box. It had a built-in lock but the key was long gone. I thought it would take a screwdriver to bust it open, but I gave it an extra tug and it had enough give to tell me it had only rusted shut. A little prying and the lid popped up. Inside were a bundle of letters, all addressed to Granny, all postmarked in the late '70s. Two of them had return addresses with the hand-printed initials J.C. They were from my father. I picked up the box, knowing that this would be the only thing I would take from the house."
He's intrigued by the way language connects the outer world to the inner emotions.
Leigh Haber, his editor at Hyperion, says that Martin "has an extraordinary sense of timing, both for comedy and other situations."
And "he loves words and language, and their interplay."
Whenever you look into the sky in Los Angeles, Martin says, you see five or six airplanes glinting silver in the sun. They don't seem to be going anywhere. It's a little detail that is meaningful to L.A. residents. Something you know, but didn't know that you knew. "Every L.A. person has seen that," he says.
Martin is an L.A. person. Though he was born in Texas, his family moved to California when he was a child. His two novels are set there. He went to school there. He dropped out of college to write for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour," a weekly TV show.
Around 1970 he lit out on his own as a stand-up comedian. For the next nine years he played college campuses and music concerts. "It's a pickup life," he says. "And it's lonely on the road."
Eventually he hit the big time. In 1986 he married actress Victoria Tennant. They divorced in 1994. He says he lives alone with his yellow Labrador retriever, Roger. He is a collector of art.
But the stand-up experiences did stay with him. He lived outside of Hollywood and met real people, like shopgirls.
He had no specific glove seller or Neiman Marcus in mind when he wrote "Shopgirl."
He says: "All that's made up." And: "It made me see those girls in a different way."
He says, "I never thought it would ever be a movie. A lot of the story is told without dialogue."
But a year or so after the book was published, Martin says, "I started to see images." He figured there were enough events in the book to build a movie around.
He picks up his knife and uses it like a pen, carving out words on the linen tablecloth.
At one point he says that the filming of "Shopgirl," with Claire Danes as Mirabelle and Martin as well-to-do-businessman Ray Porter, "is going so well I'm frightened." The film is scheduled to be released next year.
"Pleasure" was not conjured up for the screen either. "The novel was written as its own end," Martin says.
"A book you would write to be a movie would be thick on plot. Lots of surprises and twists. Some of this and some of that."
In screenwriting, "scenes are loaded with what writers call subtext."
Writing novels, he says, "is so enjoyable."
When he's hitting on all cylinders, he works on his fiction about two hours a day. After his assistant leaves, after his housekeeper leaves, he writes. He says he closes the door and thinks: "Oh, goody!"
For now, he doesn't have another novella in his head. "It's a good time to rest," he says.
He's got a couple of movies coming out. He plays a wacky father in a remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen" and he plays the wacky chairman of the Acme Co. in "Looney Tunes: Back in Action."
In the not-too-distant future, he'll write the screenplay for "Pleasure." He says it will take him about three months.
Does it bother him, he is asked, that he will forever be known for his looniness more than his literature?
He says that when he sits down to write a novel, "my goal is not to be taken seriously. My goal is to write a book."
The tea is gone. The sun is setting.
Martin puts on his cap and sunglasses. He slips into his coat and leaves the cafe. The autumn wind is to-the-bone chilly. He's got his hands jammed into pockets and a newspaper trapped under one arm. He hunches his shoulders as he walks south along Columbus Avenue, looking more like the solitary writer than Prince of the Multiplex. When people walk by, Martin stares straight ahead.
He's not looking for recognition this afternoon. Well, not that kind of recognition.