Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, November 13, 2004
On Pink Panther and Shopgirl
November 12, 2004, Friday
SPECIAL SECTION1; Pg. A4
Thesp's scribe vibe elevates 'Panther,' 'Shopgirl'
Like a man with two brains, Steve Martin has balanced dual onscreen personalities throughout his career --- wild, crazy guy and sensitive man.
Next year, "The Pink Panther" and "Shopgirl" mark a return for both personas.
In MGM's "Panther," Martin's take on Inspector Clouseau harks back to his physical antics in 1979's "The Jerk," while in "Shopgirl" (Disney; no release date set), Ray Porter is reminiscent of the actor's romantic philosopher from 1991's "L.A. Story."
And as in eight of his previous pics, Martin is writing the script as well.
"Steve Martin as writer-star is quite different from Steve Martin as star," says director Shawn Levy, helmer of both "Panther" and "Cheaper by the Dozen." "As a star, Steve leaves his character at the door. If it's his screenplay, however, he's constantly thinking about the material."
Initially, Martin was reluctant to play Clouseau but was convinced to take the part after discussing the character with Levy.
Martin tinkered with the screenplay and while he kept writer Len Blum's plot intact --- the murder of a world famous soccer coach and the theft of the Pink Panther ring --- it abandoned flashbacks of Clouseau, originally written for a younger actor.
Most of all, Martin spiced up the script's physical comedy, particularly run-ins between Clouseau and his boss, Dreyfuss (played by Kevin Kline).
Adapted from Martin's four-year-old novella about a Beverly Hills department store clerk's love affair with a millionaire twice her age, "Shopgirl" drew from Martin's life experiences. Similar to "L.A. Story" in its take on Angelino foibles, "Shopgirl" also accentuated Martin's ability to write from a female's p.o.v.
"Steve is trying to figure out how women work, and in the process of coming to that understanding, he's writing about them," says Claire Danes, who plays the lovelorn protagonist Mirabelle in "Shopgirl." Levy and "Shopgirl" helmer Anand Tucker acknowledge the assistance the actor gives them in executing their vision. Martin isn't one to dole out notes to his fellow actors, yet might gingerly provide advice on occasion.
"There was a moment when my character was entering a restaurant and fumbling with the door," says Danes. "Steve gave me the mathematical equation in terms of opening it, helping me to exploit the moment."
Levy's luck in linking up with the actor immediately stemmed from his thorough understanding of Martin's process.
"Steve isn't an actor of 30 takes. He rarely does more than three. He doesn't want a fishing expedition but, rather, a plan," explains Levy. "In a time when comedy cinema works in set pieces, Steve also knows that the biggest laughs don't come from the biggest ideas."
Rivaling Martin's four-letter tirade in "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" is a brief incident in "Panther" when Clouseau attempts to cover up his accent while ordering a hamburger.
In box office terms, Martin has experienced a renaissance, racking up two career highs in a row: 2001's "Bringing Down the House ($ 133 million domestically) and last year's "Dozen" ($ 139 million).
"Steve doesn't pick movies for mercenary reasons," Levy says. "He recognizes his audience is constantly changing. It wasn't his original fan base that gave him these two biggest hits. Rather, he's constantly being discovered and pairing himself with performers that appeal to different demos."