Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, October 29, 2005

Steve Interview
Philadelphia Daily News
Posted on Fri, Oct. 28, 2005
Steve Martin discusses writing, and more

TORONTO - Steve Martin is running late.

He's at the Toronto International Film Festival promoting "Shopgirl," based on his own novella, and between the print media and TV interviews, he's way behind schedule, but we were able to grab him for a quick chat.

Q: You've written screenplays, plays, novellas, magazine pieces. Does the idea inspire the form?

A: Absolutely. If you have an idea, it just tells you what it is. When I first wrote "Shopgirl," it was simply a novel. Then later - much, much later - I thought of it as a screenplay. But in general, everything comes wrapped up on its own medium.

Q: Do you ever say to yourself, "I just wrote a screenplay, now I'd like to write a play"?

A: Sometimes I do do that, too. When I sat down to write "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," I definitely wanted to write a play. So I guess it works both ways.

Q: Any other forms of writing? A blog, perhaps?

A: No. The idea of writing every day, sort of thoughtlessly, would kill me. I spend so much worry over every sentence, I don't want to just put it out there.

Q: Was there a conscious choice by you to go against type in playing the lead? You're usually the lovable good guy. Here, not so much.

A: No, I never really had any qualms about it. The only other person I thought should play the role was Tom Hanks. And I asked him. After that, I wasn't just going to give it over to another actor and sort of be the writer guy.

Q: What's the driving force behind Mirabelle's choice? Your character and Jason Schwartzman's are so different. Yours is smarter, smoother, far wealthier...

A: The war is not really about personality, it's about age. It's about peers. Here are two people who are seeing each other who are not peers, and here are two people who are peers, who are at the same stage of their life of growing up. It's not a choice between two men, it's a choice between a lifestyle, a moment of your life, and what's more comfortable.

Q: Is it your plan to alternate between lighter fare, like "Cheaper by the Dozen," and more serious films like "Shopgirl"?

A: No, not really, although I find it works that way. Right now I'm very interested in writing something, but I don't know what. I need that interior time. I just finished "Cheaper by the Dozen 2," which is a very active experience, and now a little quiet time in front of the computer would be good.

Q: Do you have a next film?

A: No. I'm hoping "Pink Panther" [due in early 2006] is a hit, and we'll do another one of those.

Q: Any chance you'll do any more TV - or another album?

A: Probably not. It's a choice between movies, books and retirement, not movies, books and television.

Steve talks about loneliness and other things
Denerstein: Martin's 'Shopgirl' flirts with cure for loneliness
Robert Denerstein
October 29, 2005

Steve Martin never thought he'd make a movie out of his novella Shopgirl, but as the book's themes simmered beneath the surface, he began work on a screenplay that employs a nearly poetic writing style.

When Martin talks about the movie that resulted, it's likely he'll find himself weighing in on loneliness, isolation and the forces that push an older man into a younger woman's bed.

In Shopgirl, which opens Friday in Denver, Martin tells the story of Mirabelle (Claire Danes), a young woman who works behind the glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue. Mirabelle becomes involved with Ray Porter (Martin), an older businessman wary of commitment. Perhaps on a deeper level, Ray understands Mirabelle's vulnerability.

When I met Martin at the Toronto International Film Festival, I began by asking whether he thought loneliness, as someone once said, constitutes one of America's great, unacknowledged problems.

"It's a human issue, certainly," he said. "I remember this William Styron quote at the beginning of a book he wrote about his health. He said, 'You're either in the land of the sick or the land of the well, and when you're in the land of the sick, all you can think about is getting into the land of the well.' That's sort of like, 'You're either lonely or not.'

"But loneliness is a thing that's cured in a second. It can be cured walking down the street. It can be cured with just the right person, whether it's a friend or a lover."

True enough, but look how many movies and books are devoted to characters desperate to end their loneliness, I say, not even bringing up the fact that Martin starred in a 1984 comedy called The Lonely Guy. Loneliness can be cured in an instant?

"Yes, but it's not that casual," said Martin. "The big stories are about how it happens, how loneliness is cured - whether it's romantically or through a friend. That's what this story's about."

When we first meet Mirabelle, she's standing behind the counter at Saks, tucked into a quiet corner of a department store.

"In the book, I wanted by the end of the first paragraph for the reader to know who that girl was without saying she's 5-foot-6, has brown hair and does this or that. I wanted the same thing in the movie. I think it happens within the first 10 minutes.

"Mirabelle hasn't said a word. She works, drives home and goes to her apartment. You sense her loneliness and isolation . . . I love those things. That's something moviemaking can really do."

Because Martin plays the older man in Mirabelle's life, it's difficult not to ask the "autobiography" question. Is this character him?

"Lets put it this way. At one point in my life I highly identified with this character. It's like writing a memory, but it's never 100 percent. Every guy has been that guy, either for 10 years or five seconds."

In those 10 years or five seconds, that guy we've all been tells a woman: "Look, I'm not interested in a serious relationship and you should know that up front. I think we should keep our options open."

Translation: "I want to sleep with you but I'm not willing to make a commitment."

"It's just some kind of a safety thing," said Martin.

"Ground rules (in relationships) don't mean anything, even to the person who's speaking them. The person who's speaking them is leaving a door open, but he's still in the door. He's just providing an excuse. But if a woman says it to a man, he's thinking, 'Yeah right. You haven't met me yet.' "

But why do so many subscribe (at least in their fantasies) to a grass-is-greener philosophy?

"I think it partially has to do with the sex drive. It's so powerful that you have to keep moving."

Martin says the impulse for writing the novella came from a lifetime of observing relationships - his own and others.

"I wanted to understand something and writing about it was the best way . . . I was surprised at how much I knew. You start writing and this flood of information starts coming - about Ray, about Mirabelle, about relationships, and you realize, 'Oh, I have been paying attention.' Every relationship is weirdly successful, even when they break up, because you come out of it with new information, ready for the next."

OK, there's sex and there's shopping; Mirabelle works in a classy department store and maybe there's some kind of link here.

"You remind me of something. I happened to see the screenplay for L.A. Story (a 1991 comedy Martin wrote) the other day. There's a scene that takes place in a hip clothing store. Sarah Jessica Parker is a sexy clerk there.

"In the screen directions I said that an L.A. clothing store is one of the sexiest places. Everyone's changing. There's music and there are girls and guys. A department store is a little like that. Everyone's on display. When Ray goes into that department store (where he meets Mirabelle) he's shopping and it's not just for clothes."

Even critics who haven't entirely embraced Shopgirl have been raving about Danes, who gives the kind of performance that allows her to come into her own as an actress. Martin had a hand in casting Shopgirl, which was directed by Anand Tucker. (Martin thought another eye on the material was essential and avoided directing). In Danes, he saw all the qualities Mirabelle needed.

"It's her stillness as an actress. There's a sadness that other actress couldn't get. Her simplicity was so important to the movie. She has to be interesting walking across her lonely apartment - and Claire is. By the way, she's also vulnerable to this man, which is important."

When Martin completed the novella, a movie was the furthest thing from his mind.

"When I finished writing, I thought, 'At least there's no movie here.' But the mind works subconsciously. When you read the book you almost think nothing happens. There are no car chases. No mystery. When I read the book again I thought, 'Things do happen. There are events.' "

Shopgirl gives Claire another suitor, bumbling young Jeremy, played by Jason Schwartzman.

"Jeremy's almost like a sprout that's growing and looking for direction. . . . I won't say I was trying to write a typical teen-ager with Jeremy because I don't know any. I'll just say he's a character who didn't have etiquette. He goes on the road (he sells amps to rock bands) and he learns a little about relationships and about etiquette, about dressing and cleaning up his room.

"Later when he comes back he apologizes to Mirabelle for the way he treated her. He kind of grew up - and yet at the end, he's still that guy (from the beginning of the movie) even though he's got a suit. It's not a transformation. It's an attempt to change and to treat her well."

Shopgirl has a markedly gentle quality, almost a quiet elegance. Even Ray, who could have been portrayed as predatory, never seems odious.

"I think that's really important. Everybody's doing their best. Ray believes that what he did was fair. Mirabelle doesn't do anything wrong. Jeremy does what he thought was right. There was just a conflict of personality and events."

As this conflict unfolds, Martin keeps the audience in touch with the written word. He delivers a sparse off-screen narration that often comments on the characters.

"I first wrote the screenplay with no narration. I then realized I could take a few passages from the book and build moments from them. . . . The narration almost functions like chapter endings that summarize. I see them as a real part of the movie, little poetic interludes, and they were built over silence."

And that may be the way you feel about all of Shopgirl, a movie built over silences that Martin, at 60, isn't afraid to let speak.


For those who can make it to Vegas,0,4143450.story?
Travel section
Three days of yuks in Vegas
October 30, 2005

For those who don't see the humor in losing money at a blackjack table,
The Comedy Festival schedule for Nov. 17- 19 in Las Vegas might be just
the thing. This inaugural event, an outgrowth of the annual U.S. Comedy
Arts Festival held in Aspen, will feature performances by comedians
Dave Chappelle, George Lopez, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller and Jon Stewart.
Jerry Seinfeld will be honored as the first recipient of The Comedian

More than 50 events will take place over the The Comedy Festival's
three days. They will include stand-up performances, sketch comedy and film
screenings. Shows will be held in nine venues at Caesars Palace and the
Flamingo Las Vegas.

A two-hour comedy extravaganza called "Earth to America!" will kick off
festivities on Nov. 17 at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. Scheduled to
appear live are Larry David, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hanks, Dustin
Hoffman, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Martin, Ray Romano, Martin Short and Ben
Stiller. Pre-taped segments feature Jack Black, Will Ferrell and Robin
Williams. The show will be taped and shown Nov. 20 on TBS stations. The
festival is being presented by HBO and AEG.

Tickets are available for single events as well as in packages. They
range from $25-$125 for individual shows and up to $1,500 for Platinum
Pack admission to all events. Tickets are available at the Colosseum box
office, online at www.thecomedyfestival .com and www.ticketmaster .com,
and by phone at 877- TCF-FEST.
Friday, October 28, 2005

Steve on NPR about Mark Twain and Shopgirl

To hear the NPR interview of Steve this morning, go here. You will find other links as well to other NPR interviews of Steve and to clips.

Seattle P.I. says P.U.
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Friday, October 28, 2005
'Shopgirl's' first mistake: Steve Martin plays it straight

Steve Martin produced, wrote the screenplay (from his own novella) and stars in "Shopgirl," and reportedly was so involved in all the behind-the-camera decision-making that he probably could claim a co-directing credit. So it's the closest thing to an auteur-shot he's ever made.


DIRECTOR: Anand Tucker
CAST: Steve Martin, Claire Danes,
Jason Schwartzman
RUNNING TIME: 104 minutes
RATING: R for some sexual content and language
WHERE: Meridian 16, Seven Gables


Yet, surprisingly, the movie has little of his distinctive humor. In fact, it's barely a comedy at all. It's more of a whimsical and melancholy love story, and the earnest, slightly self-pitying, expression of a comedian who wants to be taken seriously.

Shot in 2003, and edited and re-edited for well over a year, the film occasionally sparks with life, but it's aspirations of being a quirky, inter-generational romance in the same league with "Lost in Translation" fail, and the weak link in the acting department is Martin himself.

Framed as a kind of modern urban fairy tale and narrated by the Martin character, it tells the story of a sensitive young sales clerk (Claire Danes), who has journeyed to L.A. from her Vermont home with aspirations of being an artist.

She's also, of course, looking for true love, and, after a long, lonely dry spell, she finds herself torn between two candidates: a goofy slacker (Jason Schwartzman) and a divorced, late-50-ish computer magnate (Martin) who commutes between L.A. and Seattle.

Since the younger suitor is as lovable as a pooh bear and the older one is a well-meaning but selfish case of arrested development who can't commit to a relationship, the love triangle is a bit one-sided and doesn't turn out to be much of a contest.

The film's comedy is given to Schwartzman, who we see humorously on the road with a rock band and being seduced by Danes' beautiful but hateful co-worker (Bridgette Wilson). He's cute, but the comedy is forced and out of sync with the rest of the story.

The film's modest success as a romance is due almost entirely to Danes. Without a trace of the mannerisms and affectation that have marred so many of her performances, she's as vulnerable, appealing and believable here as she's ever been on the big screen.

Martin is less so. He plays his character very straight, and, while this worked for him in the "The Spanish Prisoner," it doesn't here. Without the saving grace of comedy, his natural abrasiveness is off-putting, and he just doesn't have the stuff of a romantic lead.

SF Chronicle liked Shopgirl
San Francisco Chronicle
Feeling down in the dumps? Go shopping. You never know what you'll find.
Mick LaSalle, Chronicle Movie Critic
Friday, October 28, 2005


Shopgirl: Drama. Starring Claire Danes, Steve Martin and Jason Schwartzman. Directed by Anand Tucker. (R. 100 minutes. At Bay Area theaters.)
A man sees a pretty young woman walking down a street or standing behind a store counter, and something about her gets his mind going: "Who is she? How did she get here? What is her life like?" A cynic could file these ruminations under the general category of sex, but their true origins are in longings that sex can't answer.

And then ... well, that's usually it. But in "Shopgirl," Steve Martin takes this commonplace feeling and builds from it, shaping ruminations into art. The film, which he wrote, based on his own novella, is a wistful contemplation of a young woman, directed with a rare combination of delicacy and decisiveness by Anand Tucker. Despite a mannered performance by the unprepossessing Jason Schwartzman, "Shopgirl" is a film of wisdom, emotional subtlety and power.

The director puts his stamp on the material from the opening shots. As a classical string piece plays on the soundtrack, the camera moves through a Saks Fifth Avenue store, finally arriving at Mirabelle (Claire Danes), who stands behind a counter in the glove department, at the center of the frame. This is a confident opening, in that it could easily seem absurdly ostentatious. Instead the effect is one of contemplation and timelessness, as though the movie has chosen to focus on this one person, out of all the people in the universe.

That Mirabelle's story is interchangeable with that of any other young person is emphasized later by an overhead shot showing her lying in bed. The camera moves back, and we see her through the skylight of her small apartment. Then it moves farther back, and she just becomes a spot of light, one of many. Tucker is the director a screenwriter dreams of: He makes big choices and yet all of them serve to underscore the mood that's already in the material.

Two men emerge in Mirabelle's life. First, there's Jeremy, a young fellow played by Schwartzman, who needs a shave. He has no money, no sensitivity and looks as if he sleeps in his clothes. After a couple of nights with him, Mirabelle is ready for something better -- so is the audience -- and that's when she meets Ray (Martin), who's rich, reserved and many years older. He pursues her carefully, with a meticulousness that's either romantic or mechanical. That is, it seems romantic if you're young, but if you're older, you know what he's doing: the gifts, the taking his time, the letting her get used to the idea of an old guy, etc.

Until Martin's arrival, "Shopgirl" is stylish but perfunctory. With the arrival of Martin comes the real intent and interest of the story, which is a study of a relationship between a young woman, offering youth and freshness, and an older man, offering money and a wider world. It's a relationship that is functional in many ways, bringing advantages to each partner. It's also one that comes with an undertone of sadness that can't ever be completely forgotten or ignored.

As Ray, Martin goes through much of the movie looking forlorn, keeping a part of himself distant, even as he feels himself being irresistibly drawn toward her warmth. When he touches her, it's a past-tense kind of touching, as though he's touching her while simultaneously seeing himself through the eyes of her future, or his own, in which he's either a memory or a ghost. He's too old to believe that a moment can be seized or held. Before he has a moment in his hands, it's running through his fingers, and his only defense is to stand back from it and not care.

Much is conveyed through very little. At one point, Mirabelle is happily modeling a new dress he has bought her. The camera moves in, and he brushes his hand gently near her waist. In the shot, we see her midsection and his face, nothing else, and the thought that he seems to be thinking, which comes leaping from the screen, goes something like, "Why are you, through sex, messing with the baby-making apparatus of this fresh young woman, when you really have no intention of giving her the love she deserves and is supposed to have?" And, of course, there is no answer. He's frozen between pulling back and letting go.

It's not surprising that Martin should understand Ray, but he has a compassionate insight into Mirabelle as well, and Danes responds with a distinct, beautifully shaded performance. Schwartzman still presents some problems -- someone told him he's funny, probably the same person who told him not to shave -- but he gets better as the movie goes along. Still, for all the movie's virtues, it's a grim concept, the notion that all a nice shop girl has to hope for is the choice between a morose 60-year-old man and a 25-year-old fellow who can't remember his last bath.

-- Advisory: Sexual situations.
Thursday, October 27, 2005

A more complete account of the Mark Twain Awards Show

The GW Hatchet
Rolling out the red carpet for Steve Martin
by Maura Judkis
Arts Editor
Issue date: 10/27/05

The red carpet lining the Kennedy Center's Hall of Nations looked like a Hollywood red carpet, paparazzi and all, on Sunday night. Photographers angled for a view, and autograph-seekers squirmed through the crowd as limo after limo arrived, each bearing a new celebrity - perhaps Tom Hanks, Larry David or Queen Latifah - to be blinded by flashbulbs.

The occasion was in honor of Steve Martin, who received the Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. To celebrate the comedian, actor and writer, many of Martin's A-list friends flew out from tinseltown to strut the red carpet and give him somewhat of a roast.

Hanks, sporting Bono-esque slicked back hair, jump-started the program, which was taped for television broadcast, with a suitable homage to Martin.

"Poems will be written about him; operas will be performed here in his name," he said, " … and they will all be lousy. So we might as well celebrate him now."

The theme of ripping on Martin continued throughout the night.

"What is it like to be Steve's friend?" asked actor Martin Short. "Well, it's intimidating - and not just because of the guns."

He continued, "I think that genius rubs off on us. Steve was a philosophy major in college, and there's not a single one of us not wondering, 'Why are we here?'"

In between speakers, clips of Martin's films, such as "The Jerk," "Father of the Bride" and "Bringing Down The House," were shown, along with clips from appearances on Johnny Carson's show and "Saturday Night Live." The audience was also able to see a quick clip of Martin's newest film, "Shopgirl," which opens Friday (See "Shopgirl," page 8).

Claire Danes, dressed elegantly in a black, off-the-shoulder number, was the only serious speaker of the evening, sharing her experience working with Martin on "Shopgirl." Then, Diane Keaton, Martin's co-star in the "Father of the Bride" movies, sang "The Way You Look Tonight" - but cracked up partially through the song when she looked at Martin, seated in a box above.

Larry David of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" made an appearance, along with Monty Python's Eric Idle, singer Paul Simon, comedian Lily Tomlin, humor columnist Dave Barry, comedian Carl Reiner and Lorne Michaels of "Saturday Night Live."

Queen Latifah discussed a particularly sexual scene in their film "Bringing Down the House," in which she teaches Martin's character to be less uptight.

"I've worked with a lot of white guys," she said, "But Steve Martin - he's white."

At the end of the evening, to the tune of ragtime music, Martin emerged from his box to come onstage and accept his award.

"I am so proud to be in D.C. - which I have recently learned is the nation's capital," he said. "This is the only significant award for American comedy, except for money."

"When I look at the list of people given this award, I feel very satisfied," he said, "but when I look at the list of people who haven't received it, I am even more satisfied."

"The Kennedy Center Presents: The Mark Twain Prize 2005" will air on PBS Nov. 9 at 9 p.m.

Minneapolis/St. Paul
City Pages
Volume 26 - Issue 1299 - Film

'Shopgirl' actor-author can't cut the mustard, but licks the jar

Sampling the Merchandise
by Lindsey Thomas
October 26, 2005

It's a good time to be an old, rich white guy. All right, that's an eternal truth, but right now Hollywood is playing up the silver-haired bachelor as if he's going out of style--or maybe just ready to keel over. Like fellow comedic stalwart Bill Murray, Steve Martin no longer plays the fool, but the wise, wealthy sophisticate. Where once stood a loser--pants around his ankles, hands clutching a table lamp--now there's a dapper gentleman who's not just rich, but private-jet rich.

Martin's placement as an elderly Casanova is a bit more deliberate than Murray's, because Martin wrote the novella on which Shopgirl was based. In the story, the unfortunately named Mirabelle Buttersfield (played by a charmingly plain Claire Danes) spends her days hidden behind the antiquated Saks Fifth Avenue counter that supplies full-length gloves to debutantes. By night, she lies on the outer edge of her bed, accentuating its empty space as only a lonely film character can. But soon she's plagued by two romantic choices: Jason Schwartzman's fidgety weirdo Jeremy, who borrows money (from her) to take her on a date; or Martin's suave Ray, who claims he's not looking for a commitment, just a warm body. Mirabelle takes up with the latter, and what ensues feels very much like a relationship. Not surprisingly, Mirabelle mistakes Ray's mixed signals for love, by which time Jeremy has hit the road with a friend's band.

This is by no means a new venture for the 60-year-old Martin, as either actor or writer. He posed himself as a midlife-crisis sufferer trying to keep up with a pretty young thing in L.A. Story--and that was 14 years ago. And Schwartzman, of course, already competed with Murray in Rushmore. But whereas we all knew there was no way poor teenage Max would win the girl, things aren't so certain for Jeremy. Shopgirl's love triangle works because it doesn't favor either man, not even through the superficial eye of the camera. Watching Martin caress the inner thigh of a woman less than half his age is really no more repulsive than seeing the hirsute Schwartzman naked from the socks up. Feminists might argue that Danes's twentysomething, so desperate for attention that she'll make a booty call to the monkey man, perpetuates myths of impending spinsterdom. But it's the single senior who warrants the most pity. Much like Murray's numerous forays into the role of graying loner, Martin radiates an impenetrable sadness that bleeds into the rest of the film.

Shopgirl will garner plenty of comparisons to Lost in Translation, in part due to the meticulous pacing, which Martin's characters slow down even more. Ray and Mirabelle aren't a fun couple: In Tokyo for a night, they'd probably stay in and order Chinese. But the fact that their relationship isn't particularly energized by money, or even sex, helps define it as one of comfort (and those are the toughest to leave). When the clinically depressed Mirabelle is sprawled out on her bed, sobbing and conjuring eerie flashbacks to My So-Called Life, Ray takes care of her, and the idea of a long-term commitment isn't unthinkable. The pairing isn't perfect but it's a nice change of pace given that most romantic comedies come with easy answers.

While Martin the actor knows his flaws, Martin the author--who slips in his own third-person voiceover--is more of a narcissist. Nothing says I did this! Me me me! like a personal reading. (Save it for Barnes & Noble, Steve.) These brief passages of text also show how much work his basic narration skills need. In setting up the voiceovers, the film literally slows down to make sure everyone is paying attention to hackneyed musings about, say, what it's like to lose something you never really had. Martin fares better with witty dialogue and character development. While he doesn't make himself the bad guy, he's also aware that he's not the crowd favorite. Jeremy the spaz is sweet and harmless, as long as he can be convinced that a plastic bag is no substitute for a condom. He's also hilarious, even if his best lines make his pitiable date wince. Still, from the moment he meets Mirabelle in a laundromat and assures her, "I'm an okay guy, by the way," the audience has someone to root for-- with occasional reservations. While other films about falling in love would have used Jeremy as a gag or just another obstacle for a girl trying to make the right choice, Shopgirl thrives on its open interpretation of "right." Maybe Martin isn't so concerned with winning or losing. Maybe old guys just want to prove they can still play the game.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On the red carpet for Mark Twain
USA Today
Posted 10/23/2005 8:20 PM Updated 10/23/2005 9:47 PM
It's Steve Martin's night
Karen Thomas, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Zany was the red-carpet mood Sunday at the Kennedy Center, where there were no arrow hats, just lots of tuxes and good-natured barbs.

Comedians gathered to honor Steve Martin, recipient of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, for his work as an actor, comedian, author (he published two novellas, Shopgirl and The Pleasures of My Company), playwright (he has written two Broadway plays, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants) and musician (he once played banjo with Earl Scruggs on Scruggs' Foggy Mountain Breakdown). The ceremony will air Nov. 9 on PBS.

Martin, 60, and his Three Amigos co-star Martin Short hammed it up on the red carpet, with Martin insisting "this is my night," as Short mingled with applauding fans. "You get in there," the honoree said, pointing to the concert hall entrance and mocking Short's height.

A friend for over 20 years, Short said Martin is "witty, self-deprecating, and he doesn't take his stature for granted."

Randy Newman, songwriter for Amigos, and legendary comedy director Carl Reiner, who directed Martin in four early films, traded compliments. "You're voice is worse than Satchmo's," Reiner joked, calling the songwriter "a god."

But it wasn't all just a bunch of wild and crazy guys at the celebration. Lily Tomlin laughed about Martin's "big heart," "pipe-cleaner bones" and "we all know the rest of him is made of rubber."

The Twain award is a "great honor," Martin said, but even better, "it's a gathering of friends." He recalled getting his start performing stand-up at the Kennedy Center in 1976.

Tributes came from old friends: Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels recalled meeting Martin in 1976, the second season of SNL. "He made the show," Michaels said. And from new friends: Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David has known him only about four years, "but I could be off by two years on either side," Martin said. "He's fastidious," joked David, adding that Martin, a collector, has "great taste in art."

"He plays a great banjo, too," added Monty Python's Eric Idle.

Quotes from Mark Twain Prize show

Associated Press Worldstream
October 24, 2005 Monday
From 'wild and crazy guy' to actor and playwright: Steve Martin receives Twain award
JUAN-CARLOS RODRIGUEZ; Associated Press Writer

Steve Martin's character in "The Jerk" is ecstatic to find his name in print - in the phone book. "Things are going to start happening to me now!" he says.

Twenty-six years later, the actor and writer is receiving a more prestigious form of recognition.

For his career achievements, Martin was honored Sunday with one of the nation's top comedy awards - the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.

Among those saluting the versatile performer at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts were actors Tom Hanks, Lily Tomlin, Diane Keaton, Martin Short and Claire Danes and musicians Paul Simon and Randy Newman.

"He redefined comedy by defining the moment of our ascendancy as a generation," Hanks said. "As did Charlie Chaplin, as did the Marx Brothers, as did Laurel and Hardy define their own times, Steve Martin defined ours."

Martin's colleagues paid tribute in between dozens of clips from his movies and TV appearances. Newman performed "I Love to See You Smile," a song from Martin's film "Parenthood."

Tomlin said, "His artistry soars to heights of sublime silliness and divine absurdity."

In accepting the Mark Twain Prize, Martin mentioned some other awards he had won, including a 1969 writing Emmy for "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour." "But of course the Mark Twain Prize is more special to me," he said, "because it's more recent."

"He's an original genius," Short said before the ceremony. "He's kind of blazed his own trail."

"I think he's the most intelligent man I've ever met," said Monty Python veteran Eric Idle. "Honesty, simplicity and truth are the secret to his comedy."

Hanks disagreed, saying Martin's success was based on "self-loathing and unhappiness."

Asked if he had any regrets, Martin said, "It's a life of cherishing a few things and regretting a lot of things, but that's the life of a performer."

Martin's career got off the ground in the late 1960s, when he wrote for the Smothers Brothers' show. As a standup comic, he grew popular on campuses and often appeared on Johnny Carson's "The Tonight Show."

He hit his stride playing larger-than-life characters while hosting "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s. His performances on that show - from a singing King Tut to Georg Festrunk, better known as one of two "wild and crazy guys" - earned him fame as a zany comedian.

After starring in the hit "The Jerk" in 1979, Martin appeared in more than 30 other films. He also wrote the screenplays for such films as "Roxanne" (1987) and "A Simple Twist of Fate" (1994).

Over the years Martin expanded his repertoire to include plays, novels and humorous magazine pieces for The New Yorker. His 1993 play, "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," which envisioned a meeting between Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso at a Paris cafe, has been produced around the world.

Despite these sophisticated career turns, Martin, now 60, hasn't forgotten where he came from - he will star next year as the stumbling, bungling Inspector Jacques Clouseau in "The Pink Panther," a prequel to the popular Peter Sellers movies.

Previous Mark Twain Prize winners include Richard Pryor, Jonathan Winters, Whoopi Goldberg and Bob Newhart.

Partial transcript of Mark Twain speech

ABC News Transcripts
October 24, 2005 Monday


(Off Camera) Well, we want to lighten the mood a bit with our "Picture of the Morning." This is comedian Steve Martin. He was honored last night with one of the nation's top comedy awards. It is the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Well-deserved. But here's a bit of his speech at the Kennedy Center in Washington last night.


I want to thank my family up there in the box seats who have made my life so rich. My secret family in the other box who knows nothing about the other family. So, please. When I look at the list of people who have been given this award it makes me very, very satisfied. But when I look at the list of people who haven't been given this award, it makes me even more satisfied. I'm laughing at something, a Mark Twain quote that I love, and I wrote it down because I wanted to get it exactly right. He said, whatever you do, for God's sake, do not name a prize after me.


(Off Camera) I love, "The Washington Post" said over the weekend, it should be the Steve Martin Award. They could give it to Mark Twain. But Steve Martin's the funny guy.


(Off Camera) He sure is.


(Off Camera) Well-deserved award. We'll be back.


(Voice Over) Coming up on "Good Morning America," America's favorite handyman reveals his greatest passion. And we're not talking about Teri Hatcher. Plus, the secret scene they didn't have time to show you last night.

Ray a "cold fish" in Shopgirl

The Toronto Sun
October 21, 2005 Friday

Forgive me, but I wouldn't go to Star Jones for diet tips. Similarly, I suspect Steve Martin is not as good a person to go to for insights on the ways of the heart as he might be on subjects like comic timing and Einstein.

Which isn't to say the pieces aren't sufficent to appreciate in Shopgirl, the movie based on Martin's quasi-autobiographical novella about a rich, emotionally closed older man who can't commit and the naive young woman who suffers for it.

The movie, directed by Anand Tucker, is putatively the story of its title character, a demure, fresh-off-the-turnip-truck wannabe artist named Mirabelle (Claire Danes), spinning her wheels in Los Angeles while working as a salesgirl in the glove department of Saks.

There she is approached in a circumspect fashion by Ray, a fiftysomething older man who is um... what's the word I'm looking for here? Besotted? No, that's not right. Let's say interested and precise in his intentions.

Armed with expensive wines, nice suits and sad, laconic conversation, he sweeps this girl off her feet and into bed, forcing her to forget all about Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), an adoring puppy boy whose attentions she'd also been fielding. Her relationship with Ray meanders along as Jeremy takes off to be a band's roadie. Ray helps Mirabelle when she stops taking anti-depressants and freaks out, and Ray sleeps around.

This is only putatively Mirabelle's story because the movie is also narrated by Martin, who offers up her thoughts, as well as Ray's on a platter. It's an essential conceit, because it serves to offer up abstract rationalizations for Ray's cold-fishery and sometimes callous disregard for Mirabelle's feelings, and ascribes great emotionalism to him under that immobile mug (at times there's something that could be sadness on Martin's face, but the deadpan that is his moneymaker as a comedian is his Achilles Heel as an actor).

Martin has much in common with Bill Murray on that score, just as Shopgirl is much like Lost In Translation -- minus the appealing quirks and Murray's superior ability to use his deadpan to convey turmoil.

The movie is impeccably shot. Director Anand Tucker shoots with warmth and with a loving eye for the Los Angeles skyline, reminiscent of Martin's L.A. Story.

Meanwhile, such comedy as there is in this rom-com comes mainly from Schwartzman, who is, admittedly, an acquired taste. But things definitely could have been worse (Jimmy Fallon was originally cast as Jeremy). At that, they lose him early and only reintroduce him at what amounts to the romantic payoff.

Even that is rationalized in a jaundiced manner by Mr. Narrator. In Steve Martin's view, nobody is right for anybody -- just less wrong.


Cold-fishy ambivalence isn't the most compelling theme for a romantic comedy. Lost In Translation got away with it through pure quirk, but this one takes its deep thoughts on love far too seriously.

Washington Times on the Mark Twain Prize

The Washington Times
October 21, 2005 Friday
SHOW;; Pg. D01
Steve Martin's many faces; Mark Twain Prize winner also writes films, plays

It's a funny thing about Steve Martin. Every time we pigeonhole him, he wriggles free with either a new persona or yesterday's model spruced up with a fresh coat of paint.

The erstwhile "wild and crazy guy" picks up the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor - a career honor - Sunday at the Kennedy Center, but even at 60 his body of work remains in flux.

The performer, who declined our interview request, regained some of his former box office magic with 2003's "Bringing Down the House" and "Cheaper by the Dozen."

These twin farces gave us the "old" Mr. Martin, the slapstick stooge whose rubbery limbs helped pave the way for pranksters like Jim Carrey.

What's next, "The Jerk 2: Even Jerkier?"

Mr. Martin's more recent work seemed to glide along a maturing curve, greased by the pithy novella "Shopgirl" and some respectfully received plays.

Why would he revisit his goofy side just as he was approaching the age for Social Security benefits?

Mr. Martin's career began in near-textbook comedy fashion. He worked as a Disneyland concessionaire in his teens, juggling and tap dancing for passersby before graduating to writing for such performers as Dick Van Dyke and the Smothers Brothers.

Stand-up comedy came next, and while his fellow comics adopted fashionably countercultural stances in both dress and material, Mr. Martin played it straight - until he slipped that broken arrow prop around his head. He rode the bit and his silly "King Tut" ditty on "Saturday Night Live" to concert ticket and record sales more befitting a rock star than a stand-up comedian. He stood before us prematurely gray and as lean as a racehorse, but he moved like a man who just grabbed the business end of a live wire.

That energy coursed through "The Jerk," the smash 1979 comedy that launched his film career. More cagey comedies would follow, like the underappreciated "The Man With Two Brains" (1983) and "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid" (1982), all collaborations with director Carl Reiner.

Yet, early on, his need to explore other facets of his talent gnawed at him. The 1981 musical "Pennies From Heaven" didn't revive that long dormant genre, but neither did it embarrass the young star.

Respect wouldn't come swiftly.

Some critics applauded his physical comedy in 1984's "All of Me," while others warmed to his turn as both performer and writer in "Roxanne," his 1987 twist on "Cyrano de Bergerac."

The late 1980s proved his film zenith, with hilarious turns in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" (1988) and 1989's "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" as slow-burning straight man to John Candy. He proved equally comic in the poignant "Parenthood" and helped steer 1991's "Father of the Bride" to box office glory.

The mid-to-late 1990s saw Mr. Martin's film career tumble, while his writing prospects took off. Busts like 1996's "Sgt. Bilko" and 1999's "The Out-of-Towners" meant more time to admire his cerebral play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile" and the best-selling novella "Shopgirl." He also became an irregular contributor to the New Yorker magazine.

Sunday's ceremony, to be broadcast at 9 p.m. Nov. 9 on WETA-TV, will find the contemplative comic surrounded by such show business chums as fellow Mark Twain Prize winners Carl Reiner and Lily Tomlin.

What we won't see is any one Mr. Martin. Sure, we'll likely get glimpses of the childless star looking paternal in clips from "Parenthood" and "Cheaper by the Dozen." And no doubt we'll get a glimpse of him in that King Tut garb speak-singing his 1970s novelty hit.

Mr. Martin's immediate future promises more big screen features. First up is "Shopgirl" - he both wrote the screenplay and stars as its aging Lothario. Next on the schedule are the obligatory "Dozen" sequel and an attempt at resurrecting the "Pink Panther" franchise early next year.

We could keep scratching our heads over his ability to leap from dumb and dumber comedy to more refined fare, but this year's Mark Twain Prize winner may be showing us it's best the real Steve Martin still refuses to stand up.

Ray is sleazy, per review

Newhouse News Service
October 19, 2005 Wednesday
Film review;
A Muted Steve Martin in Story of May-December Romance
By LISA ROSE; Lisa Rose is a staff writer for The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J. She can be contacted at lrose(at)

In his recent efforts, Steve Martin has allowed himself to be upstaged by his co-stars.

The children of "Cheaper by the Dozen" earned the biggest laughs, while Queen Latifah and Eugene Levy dominated "Bringing Down the House." The best scenes in "Bowfinger" featured Eddie Murphy in dual roles.

Once a wild and crazy, arrow-accessorized comedian, Martin has mellowed into straight man, ceding the spotlight to younger performers.

Although "Shopgirl" is unlike anything the writer-actor has made of late, it again features him in down-tuned mode. Claire Danes, playing the title sales clerk, owns the film with her intelligent, luminous portrayal. After a series of middling pictures, she finally delivers on the promise of "My So Called Life."

Danes' performance is a grace note in a movie that is otherwise misguided. The adaptation of Martin's bestselling novella lacks the flow and depth of its source material.

Penning the screenplay, Martin had his work cut out for him. With its meditative nature, the book doesn't easily lend itself to Hollywood plotting.

Martin pads the picture with extra narrative, while his voiceover commentary belabors obvious points and creates an air of pretense. Director Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie") coaxes good work from his lead actress but falters in the areas of structure and pacing.

"Shopgirl" is more a sullen mood piece than a laugh-oriented romantic comedy. In his performance, Martin takes a melancholy cue from fellow "Saturday Night Live" alumnus Bill Murray. He's so low-key, his character seems a bit dull, less a lost soul than a one-note depressive.

Ray Porter (Martin) is a wealthy logician who must have hired a shrewd divorce lawyer. He slumps around his sprawling vacation home in the Hollywood Hills and gazes wistfully out private plane windows.

Mirabelle (Danes) also suffers from a mood disorder but at least she tries to channel her gloom into creative endeavors. A struggling artist who makes rent selling gloves at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, Mirabelle leads a lonely life of long, dull work days and evenings at home with her reclusive cat.

Before she encounters Ray, she crosses paths with Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a slacker with poor social skills and worse grooming habits. During their first night out together, he asks if they can split the cost of movie tickets, and then borrows $2 on top of that.

After one more unspectacular date, Jeremy leaves town, hitting the road as a tech with the band Hot Tears (the lead vocalist is portrayed by cult singer-songwriter Mark Kozelek). This is no great tragedy to Mirabelle, who soon meets Ray. He visits the shop for a pair of gloves and she finds his purchase gift-wrapped on her doorstep with an invitation to dinner.

Ray is the opposite of Jeremy, debonair and worldly, but he is not emotionally available. He tells Mirabelle that he doesn't want a committed relationship and she naively accepts his terms. Meanwhile, on the tour bus, Jeremy starts listening to self-help tapes, his rock 'n' roll road trip turning into, ironically, a journey of personal growth.

Ray is callous and unfaithful to Mirabelle over the course of their romance. Ultimately, he is the tragic character, however. She blossoms while he remains in a rut, incapable of investing enough of himself in a relationship to sustain it over time. The book expresses this idea far more elegantly than the film.

Even if Ray seems destined to die alone, he isn't someone you'll feel sorry for. He's too rich, too aloof and too sleazy to stir much sympathy. Only aging entertainment moguls might identify with his plight.

LA Times on Shopgirl

Los Angeles Times
October 21, 2005 Friday
Home Edition
CALENDAR; Calendar Desk; Part E; Pg. 1
Movies; Maneuvering through a man's world;
'Shopgirl,' about a love affair between a retail clerk and a millionaire, is sure to inspire debate.
Carina Chocano, Times Staff Writer

"Shopgirl" is like "Pygmalion" for the upper-middle-brow business class flier. Which isn't to say it's bad. On the contrary, it's smart, spare, elegant and understated. Especially the sex scenes, in which Claire Danes poses like an Ingres Odalisque in an extra languid mood. The movie positively blushes with class, taste and high-mindedness, and anyone thinking of seeing it just for the chance to see Danes naked will be sorely disappointed. She appears strictly in the \o7nude\f7.

Directed by Anand Tucker ("Hilary and Jackie") from a screenplay adapted by Steve Martin from his novella (he also produced), "Shopgirl" is a wistful account of the yearlong love affair between a 50-year-old millionaire and a lonely, debt-saddled service sector serf in her 20s. It stars Danes, Martin and Jason Schwartzman, respectively, as the girl in the window, her benefactor-with-benefits and a grotty fellow waif whom success, improved grooming and prolonged exposure to self-help literature eventually transform into a suitor the millionaire-narrator can feel good about handing her off to.

Mirabelle Buttersfield (Danes) is stranded at Saks Fifth Avenue, selling evening gloves nobody wants from a remote counter off the coast of the couture department, when a browsing computer tycoon sees something he likes. Ray Porter (Martin) buys a pair of gloves, finagles Mirabelle's name from management and has the accessories delivered to her shabby Silver Lake apartment, along with a note inviting her to dinner.

Having endured a few dates with a socially inept amp salesman and font designer named Jeremy (Schwartzman), whose idea of a date consists of taking her to Universal CityWalk and borrowing money, Mirabelle agrees to go out with Ray -- but not before Martin has assured us in voice-over that what this girl needs is "an omniscient voice to illuminate her, to tell the world "this" one has value."

This one, that is, as opposed to that one -- as in Mirabelle's gold-digging co-worker, Lisa (Bridgette Wilson-Sampras), whose fanged bimbonics further secure Mirabelle's place among the ranks of the cute, deserving poor. Lisa serves another important function: She makes Ray's interest in Mirabelle look more curatorial than acquisitive. His taste in girls (like his taste in clothes, art, cars, food, wine, etc.) is exquisite. He's no rank consumer. He's a connoisseur.

Okey-dokey. But then who, exactly, is calling her a "shopgirl"? (Certainly not Saks; they understand the magical morale-boosting properties of "sales associate.") Well, that would be her omniscient lover. From the get-go, Ray and Mirabelle's relationship is based on a power dynamic roughly analogous to the one in "Bambi Meets Godzilla," the Merchant-Ivory version. A self-described "terrible judge of character," Mirabelle concludes on their first date that Ray is not dangerous, and from that point forward nothing he does can change her mind -- not even the rehearsed morning-after speech he delivers announcing that he would like to keep seeing her, but -- everybody now -- he's not looking for a relationship at the moment.

As Mirabelle falls in love, Ray falls into a creepy "in loco parentis" role, spoiling her with little luxuries that far exceed her means (like new dresses), and quickly moving on to grand gestures of life-changing largesse. Ray's beneficence, combined with an oddly fusty Victorian tone imported from the book, give "Shopgirl" an almost Dickensian feel -- like "Oliver Twist" for dirty old men. For a movie predicated on themes of power and exploitation, in other words, it does a pretty nimble dance around the elephant in the room -- even as the elephant slowly lowers its haunches, threatening to pulverize every carefully constructed rationalization and sophisticated attitude in sight.

This, naturally, is the most interesting thing about the movie, and really a very good reason to see it. It's hard to think of another film this year as likely to inspire debate, or even smashed crockery. It's not that the movie is blind to its characters' faults -- it's not. It's just honest up to a point. Mirabelle awkwardly calls Ray "mister," like a kid in a joke about a stranger with candy, but never dares call him "sweetheart." And Ray's inability to love Mirabelle is copped to early and often. But "Shopgirl" never removes its gloves.

For an artist (she draws), Mirabelle is strangely lacking in insight. Never once does she rebel against Ray's remove, never once does she even wonder whether their relationship is purely transactional. She only submits -- and so graciously. She's not dumb, though. And there are hints that the relationship is taking its toll. But the depression that knocks her off her feet in the middle of the movie (she stops taking her medication because she's happy) is treated like a purely chemical pathology. Ray has a shrink to talk to; when Mirabelle crashes he takes her to the doctor and gets her back on her meds.

And it's not just Mirabelle who doesn't get a turn illuminating Ray. Nobody else -- not his awful, viperish ex (Rebecca Pidgeon), not his shrink, not even Jeremy -- get a single word in on the subject. There's just that omniscient voice admitting that the relationship was, er, fundamentally problematic and, um, ultimately bittersweet, but, as Ray concludes in parting thoughts, "that's life."

That's life? That's it? OK, it stands to reason that director Tucker didn't push things further. Actually, considering the circumstances, Tucker does exceedingly well. Shifting the movie's point of view to Danes helps quite a bit. Danes can fill a scene with one wounded glance, and her body language alone conveys a richness of character that makes an otherwise not very expressive character mesmerizing. She also does something interesting with Mirabelle's passivity-- she plays it as quasi-mute, awestruck intimidation that speaks volumes.

For some reason, it made me recall Hans Weingartner's recent, excellent "The Edukators," in which a waitress roughly Mirabelle's age becomes indentured to a man roughly Ray's age after she crashes her uninsured Volkswagen into his Mercedes (of which he, like Ray, has several), and he makes her buy him a new one. When the waitress sees just how huge the discrepancy between his effect on her life and her effect on his, she trashes his house. In "Shopgirl," she leaves without a fuss.

For all of its sensitivity and intelligence, and its finely observed details ("Shopgirl" is nothing if not hawk-eyed about the accouterments of social rank), the movie is oblivious to the pleasures of life off the status grid. Rather than let the warm, eccentric, goofy Jeremy just wise up to Mirabelle's demure charms, it nudges him subtly into Ray's camp. It's one thing when Jeremy sends Mirabelle a rose, another when he shows up in a shining new Toyota and tells her he'll protect her. She's been protected enough.

Newsday review of Shopgirl

Newsday (New York)
October 21, 2005 Friday
MOVIE REVIEW; 'Shopgirl': Can't buy her love

(3 1/2 STARS) SHOPGIRL (R) Claire Danes works up sympathy as a romantically myopic sales clerk who is all too willing to be taken in by the lavish attentions of millionaire Steve Martin. Jason Schwartzman is irresistibly unkempt as the spoiler in this gently biting comedy of love and self-delusion, from Martin's novella. Directed by Anand Tucker. 1:43 (some sexual content and brief language). In Manhattan at the AMC Empire 25, Loew's Lincoln Square, Loew's 19th Street East and Loew's Village VII.

In his edgiest star turn since "Pennies From Heaven," Steve Martin plays a poor little rich boy trapped inside the body of a 50-plus-year-old man. Martin's Ray Porter lives in a sexy glass house high in the hills of Los Angeles, where he can gaze down upon the struggling folk of Silver Lake who fly economy and take 25 years to pay off their college loans. He's a bit stiff in the joints with romance, but when he gets lonely, he can always take out his wallet and buy himself a girlfriend.

Which is more or less how he worms his way into the heart of Mirabelle, the eponymous department store clerk of "Shopgirl." Played with relaxed verve and charm by Claire Danes, Mirabelle is a small-town Vermont emigre to L.A. who dabbles in art and guards the ladies gloves counter of Saks Fifth Avenue like a sentry. Since there isn't much traffic on evening accessories, she has lots of time to contemplate the abyss that is her new West Coast life.

Mirabelle is naturally wary when she receives a dinner invitation out of the blue from Ray, accompanied by a costly pair of gloves that she sold him some time earlier. She doesn't know the guy from Adam, and he's old enough to be her father. But he's got her attention. And he's way smoother than the only other guy in her life, Jeremy (a delightfully ramshackle Jason Schwartzman), a socially inept, financially indigent amplifier salesman whose notion of a hot date is to sit outside an IMAX cinema and imagine the wonders they would behold within if only he could spring for tickets.

No contest? Well, in the screwball comedies of yore, Jeremy would be the terminally flawed stooge that the leading lady ultimately throws over for Cary Grant. But Martin, who adapted "Shopgirl's" wise and scrupulously honest screenplay from his novella of the same name, is not letting himself or us off that easily.

The self-delusional mating dance between Mirabelle and Ray is familiar to anyone who has barreled into a relationship with funnel vision, filtering out the messages that don't conform to the scenario one has constructed from a shaky foundation of romantic gestures.

Martin projects the clenched confidence of a man who is used to seducing women with the same close-to-the-vest style and selective candor that's made him so successful in business. It's a brave performance, exposing a personal place of frailty that is usually hidden behind Martin's common mask of affability.

While it's really Mirabelle's story, it's Ray's tightness that lends the film its air of formality. Sometimes the studied gloss of Anand Tucker's direction and Peter Suschitzky's excellent cinematography feels "too done," in the way that Ray describes his home's manicured interiors. Fortunately, Schwartzman's mangy-mutt Romeo is barking somewhere in the wings, ready to rush in and mess up "Shopgirl's" immaculately polished surfaces.

Interesting article by NY Observer on Shopgirl

This article focusses on Danes, but read it all. Very interesting.

New York Observer
October 24, 2005
PAGE ONE; Cover Story 1, Pg. 1
Our So-Called Star
Suzy Hansen

Steve Martin, apparently the guest of honor with his velvet suit and powdery skin, thanked the small crowd seated at bunched-in, circular dinner tables for celebrating his new film Shopgirl. It was at Tina Brown and Harry Evans' quaint Sutton Place mini-palace on Monday night, and another promotion party was under way.

In Ms. Brown's arched doorway stood Mr. Martin's co-stars, Jason Schwartzman and Claire Danes, looking exactly as happy and grateful as actors do at such events. Mr. Martin took his seat beside his ladyfriend, pretty New Yorker staffer Anne Stringfield, who has good glasses, better hair and an upturned nose. The short and large-headed Mr. Schwartzman dissolved into another room, back where he came from. Ms. Danes, Crudup-less and Lohan-blond but wearing a redhead's dream hue of deep forest-green velvet, gingerly attempted to make her way between the chairs, a plate of food balanced in one hand.

But there were no seats. They were already occupied by a curious mix of New York folks: Kurt Andersen, Zac Posen, Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus, Shopgirl director Anand Tucker, New Yorker writer Ken Auletta, Nora Ephron, pundit-intellectual Fareed Zakaria, Slate's Jacob Weisberg and Joyce Carol Oates, among others. In the back, rowdy Regis Philbin and Phil Donohue occupied the same table and talked loudly at each other. Their spouses, Joy and Marlo, hushed them up.

So, at first, no one noticed this dilemma--that the ingenue didn't have a seat--and Ms. Danes' very wide mouth curled small and slightly downward, in the genuinely pained but mock-forlorn female expression of "Oh no, where am I gonna sit?" By the time chants of "I'll get up" and "You can sit here" erupted from a few guests, Ms. Danes was already matching them with quick retorts: "Oh no! ... Don't worry about it! ... No, I'm fine!" Then Claire Danes, the 26-year-old movie star, laughed big and said to no one in particular, "This is just like high school!" and plunked herself down at a newly vacated seat across from Chip McGrath, the New York Times literary man.

And so it was at Tina Brown's own version of a high-school cafeteria: the brains, the cool kids and Claire Danes, all mixing happily, awkwardly, in one tight space.

"I am a New Yorker and I am an actor," said Ms. Danes a bit later, daintily eating a syrupy dessert while Mr. McGrath rubbed shoulders with Mr. Auletta. "But not some combination of the two." And yet she seems like one of those subway-riding actors; it was hard to imagine Charlize Theron in her place.

There was an impulse at Tina and Harry's to note that Ms. Danes' reference to scary high-school cafeterias recalled her character, Angela Chase, on My So-Called Life. One tried to resist that impulse. But with her, even more so than with most celebrities, it's absurdly easy to confuse the character and the human. After all, she had even noted on My So-Called Life that high-school cafeterias are like prison movies.

No famous person resists the blurring of celebrity, fiction and gossip. Over there was Steve Martin, who wrote a book (Shopgirl) about dating younger women, stars in a movie (Shopgirl, based on the book) about dating younger women, and who actually dates younger women. There was that little Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, at once unattractive and attractive--just like he is onscreen! Regis Philbin looked silly and cute, like a wobbling Weeble ... just like ... And all-seeing Joyce Carol Oates looked about to rip seven novels off the shelves and write an 8,000-word essay for The New York Review of Books (which was probably true).

Except--surprise!--Claire Danes, in person, is nothing at all like Angela Chase. It is, of course, a blessing and a curse that those who grew up with the character wish it were so.

"They seem to do it more now than they did even five years ago," Ms. Danes said, furrowing her brow and yet completely unconcerned. "Which is weird. I don't understand why."

And will it ever end? On the eve of Shopgirl's opening, the more serious question of whether Ms. Danes will finally leave behind Angela Chase and become a big-time movie star has become, at long last, a legitimate one. This film is as good a chance as any for the breakout performance that My So-Called Life fans have been waiting for. But does the sometimes beautiful, sometimes odd and quirky girl have a chance against the Scarlett Johanssons and Natalie Portmans of the world? Where does the interesting girl go in Hollywood after she's left high school?

Ms. Danes, for her part, said she never had an idea of how she wanted her career to unfold. She "just wanted to work with clever, searching" people.

Many movie stars have suffered the curse of child stardom, but for Ms. Danes it's a different story. Her Angela Chase was in many ways wise beyond her years, a moody teen and a soulful granny fighting out their differences in one small, uneven body. So while other teen stars, such as Kim Fields (Tootie on The Facts of Life) and Tina Yothers (Jennifer Keaton on Family Ties), always seemed tinged with an aura of inevitable downfall, the teenage Ms. Danes suggested the opposite. Fans of the show, ignorant then of the fickle miseries of Hollywood, trusted that a young person that talented could do whatever she pleased. Who would Claire Danes grow up to become? Who cares, she had time. When she decided to take some time off to go to Yale--good for her. She had her whole long life ahead of her to develop into the next Meryl Streep.

But the last 10 years of Ms. Danes' career--since her lovely, plain-Jane turn in Little Women, and since Romeo + Juliet, when she and Leonardo DiCaprio were hyped and hailed as the finest actors of their generation--haven't amounted to the commercial or even critical success that My So-Called Life fans believed was as inevitable as Angela's flannel outfits. Not that her talent has diminished, or that she hasn't been working, but rather that she isn't the star everyone thought she deserved to be.

In fact, many of her films have been multi-starred ensemble pics, like The Mod Squad or Igby Goes Down. In The Hours, she played Meryl Streep's daughter for about 10 minutes. Stage Beauty landed when Ms. Danes was also being cast in real life as not only a man-stealer, but as a daddy-stealer, in a love triangle with Mary-Louise Parker and Billy Crudup that made Brad Pitt look like Tom Hanks.

For some people happily lost in Tabloidtown, Ms. Danes' reputation was blighted as well. And even so, Claire Danes was almost unidentifiable, a New York star who had virtually no public personality, except that at one time she was a brilliant actress who must have been a lot like the pained, thoughtful character she played on TV. In the absence of a defined persona, and in the confusion of a scandal, Danes fans fell back on what they used to know: that, at heart, Claire Danes was still and would always be the perceptive actress who played Angela Chase. Maybe Claire was Angela. For teens, after a day of staring into the depths of a hallway locker and longing to jump inside, watching My So-Called Life was a swimming pool of solace.

How could her face--wide planes, large features, a hard-won smile--express so perfectly all the wonderful things and terrible things that teenagers felt and thought and congratulated themselves about? Lately I can't even look at my mother without wanting to stab her repeatedly, she said in the first episode. More than once on the show, she smiled widely and cried down deep inside, the strong upward tug of her lips the only thing keeping the entire face from collapsing in upon itself. (She rivals Julia Roberts in the art of beautiful weeping; the more talented Ms. Danes is more gut-wrenching to watch.) She was capable of comedy and remarkable physical control: After finally properly kissing long-time crush Jordan Catalano on the show, she danced in her front yard and up her front steps, part ballerina, part Chaplin. It was joyous whimsy, but also skillfully executed in the way only a true dancer can.

If you'd seen that episode, it wouldn't come as a shock that Ms. Danes danced in Christina Olson: American Model a few weeks ago at P.S. 122 in New York. It was the same venue she'd danced at as a child growing up in New York City before she left for L.A. and TV. For the solo act, Ms. Danes wore a series of plain dresses and spent a decent amount of time on the ground. Critics loved it.

Ms. Danes cooperated on the project with a family friend. She just felt like dancing again; she'd loved it when she was younger.

And yet it seemed obvious to ask, especially for those for whom dance in New York is akin to a jazz solo in a Philadelphia nightclub: Why would a movie star take part in a small-time dance performance--and right before a major movie opening? This wasn't Nicole Kidman dropping her drawers for David Hare. This wasn't even Broadway. It was humble, maybe even humbling.

But in Shopgirl, Ms. Danes is the woman, the only woman, the center of a rather cruel tale, actually, about a lonely artist from Vermont working at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. In the ads for the film, with Ms. Danes smiling sweetly and leaning over a department-store counter, she's the object of desire for mankind as embodied by an actor-cum-New Yorker writer on her right and the dude from Rushmore on her left. In the film, Mr. Martin is an old, rich, blank-hearted man named Ray Porter, and Mr. Schwartzman is a messy boy named Jeremy who paints amplifiers for a living.

But although Ms. Danes said that she thinks Shopgirl is "generous" to all its characters, her character endures a good amount of anguish. This is an incredibly painful and somewhat unfair movie--especially for women. Ms. Danes will naturally win (back?) their sympathy and affection.

In the beginning, she is forlorn. The moving initial shot of the film, which starts above Los Angeles and slowly moves through the city, the sunny glitz of Saks and the hushed rooms of a very, very expensive floor in that store, finally stops on a girl. She is far away, standing behind a glass counter, her head almost imperceptibly tilted, her arms resting lightly on the case; she's staring straight ahead, but at nothing. It's Ms. Danes, and the effect is mesmerizing because it is exactly the kind of physical brilliance that is particular to, and immediately recognizable as, Claire Danes. It's apparent how sad this woman is, even without seeing her face. You can almost feel melancholy radiating from the way she holds her shoulders.

A jarring voiceover, performed by Mr. Martin, tells us that this is Mirabelle Buttersfield, and that since she's moved to L.A., she's been waiting for something to happen to her. That's what she looks like behind the counter: both ready for something, and highly vulnerable to whatever that is. This is Ms. Danes' trademark pose, one she established as a teenager.

What happens to Mirabelle is Ray Porter. Out of every shopgirl in the place, including that hot, pointy-nosed blond actress who's Pete Sampras' wife in real life, this rich man from Los Feliz picks the poor girl in barrettes and 40's dresses. He buys her things. She falls in love.

He, of course, does not. In one sequence, after Ray and Mirabelle discuss the terms of their relationship, the camera cuts to Ray in therapy explaining how he let her down easy, and Mirabelle with her two twit friends, rhapsodizing about how much he loved her. It's a cliche that men and women can't communicate, and an ever bigger one that women always misinterpret men's intentions, and yet in this case, it's so over the top--the women so stupid and the man so cold--that it becomes clear the film is signaling that even uglier stuff is to come.

The imagery is excruciating and humiliating to watch: Mirabelle splayed and hysterically crying on Ray's bed after he cravenly writes her a letter and makes her read it in front of him; scenes of her happiness transforming her face, contrasted by Ray's mute and frozen expression, eyes black; Ms. Danes' adorable vintage clothes and old-fashioned suitcase suddenly seeming silly and immature in Ray's L.A.-sleek home, just after he's hurt her so carelessly. Why don't you love me? she asks.

It's no fun to watch Ms. Danes get hurt again and again in Shopgirl, though that blurring of reality and fiction may allow some people who hate her for the whole Mary-Louise thing to vent some of their own relationship woes. Mostly, the film is a reminder of Claire Danes' very special ability to be Everygirl. It was that which made her so accessible, and which made fans love her so much. She's inhabitable. And while she is very much a girl in this film, by the end, with that stunning smile blotting out any residual pain or naivete of growing up and getting hurt, she's something else: a thoughtful actress whom even the most nostalgic so-called fans will never really know.

More Shopgirl reviews

National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)
October 21, 2005 Friday
National Edition
ARTS & LIFE; Chris Knight; Pg. B1
Danes and Martin great in the Saks
Chris Knight, National Post


I loved Broken Flowers, the movie that starred Bill Murray as an ageing playboy revisiting the women of his youth; but a lot of people, including Robert Fulford writing in this paper, complained that it was deadpan with the emphasis on "dead." To them I say, give Shopgirl a try. It's not the thrill-a-minute ride that is Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang (this weekend's other L.A. story), but it's a tender tale of love with an identifiable heartbeat.

Steve Martin wrote the novella Shopgirl, adapted it very closely for the screen, provides an odd bit of opening and closing narration taken straight from the book and stars as Ray Porter, which makes sense since the character is at least partially based on the author. Ray is, like Murray's Don Johnston in Broken Flowers, an unattached, affluent man in his late fifties whose wealth is never fully explained but seems to have been spawned by a dot-com.

Unlike Don, Ray is not content to sit in his well-appointed home mooning over the past. He walks into Saks Fifth Avenue, buys a pair of gloves from Mirabelle (Claire Danes), then sends them back to her with a note asking her to dinner. Mirabelle is already in the early stages of being wooed by Ray's polar opposite, Jeremy (Jason Schwartzman), a twentysomething font designer (was there ever a less urgent need than new fonts?) whose quivering libido causes him to jump on her like a nervous badger at the first sign of romantic sparks.

Just about the time Ray enters the picture, however, Jeremy leaves town to pursue a career as a roadie/amplifier salesman with a rock band. He won't be back for a while, robbing us of a Martin/ Schwartzman showdown, which would have been an appealing echo of the 1998 Murray/ Schwartzman bout in Rushmore. It also leaves Ray free to pursue Mirabelle without direct competition; however this romance blooms or withers, he will have only himself to blame.

Shopgirl the book is a narrative that focuses on feelings and internal dialogue, and includes such terrifically unfilmable sentences as "they exchanged exactly one semi-humorous line each." On the screen, people actually have to speak specific lines, but Martin and director Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) also manage a lot with silences. Take the scene in which Ray and Jeremy are each at home, watching football on TV and eating takeout while standing at their kitchen counters; their body language (and the difference in the quality of their meals) speaks volumes about the similarities between these two members of the male species, and how the australopithicine Jeremy might yet evolve into Ray Porter, homo prosperous.

Mirabelle is an artist from Vermont with stolid, American Gothic parents and a depressive streak requiring daily medication. She's also the object of Ray's and Jeremy's desires, which again makes for a complicated concept to put on the screen. Tucker replicates the book's mostly male gaze clumsily, by more than once showing Mirabelle drying her hair or shaving her legs. Danes does a better job at portraying a fragile woman whose wide, unblinking stare is so appealing to behold that the men in her life seldom wonder what the view is like from her side. She obviously has feelings, but Danes' carefully neutral smile is the look of a woman who has learned not to show her cards too soon.

There are some beautiful parallels besides the kitchen scene; Ray travels by private jet from Seattle to L.A. and back, sipping champagne, while Jeremy's bus trips are slower and more meandering, but ultimately more revelatory. ("I've been reading a lot of books on tape," he later tells Mirabelle.) Martin uses points like this (and the more obvious ones, like Jeremy's crappy beater v. Ray's two identical luxury cars) to posit the differences between age 25 and 55, the move from hostel to hotel, from coach to business class, from fries to lobster.

What doesn't change is our ability to confuse sex with love, to talk endlessly yet never be understood, probably because we never really understand ourselves. In Martin's world view, love is a many squandered thing. That may sound melancholic, but it's the kind of melancholy that moves us closer to an ultimately unattainable state of romantic grace.

USA Today on the Mark Twain Show

October 24, 2005, Monday, FINAL EDITION
LIFE; Pg. 3D
It's Steve Martin's night
Karen Thomas

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Zany was the mood Sunday at the Kennedy Center, where there were no arrow hats, just lots of tuxes and good-natured barbs.

Comedians gathered to honor Steve Martin, recipient of this year's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, for his work as an actor, comedian, author (he published two novellas, Shopgirl and The Pleasures of My Company), playwright (he has written two Broadway plays, Picasso at the Lapin Agile and The Underpants) and musician (he played banjo on Earl Scruggs' song Foggy Mountain Breakdown.) The award ceremony will air Nov. 9 on PBS.

Martin, 60, and his Three Amigos! co-star Martin Short hammed it up on the red carpet, with Martin insisting "this is my night," as Short mingled with fans. "You get in there," the honoree said, pointing to the concert hall entrance and mocking Short's height.

The show included movie clips and tributes. Fellow Twain award winner Lily Tomlin said "may this award bring you a lucrative modeling career."

Mike Nichols and Eric Idle spoke simultaneously (in the interest of time, the announcer said) while Paul Simon played The Sound of Martin on guitar. Dave Barry, who was on Martin's writing team for the 2001 Academy Award show, joked about Martin's first e-mail to him. "It said, 'I'm hosting the Oscars and would like to put together a team of geniuses. Do you know any?'"

The Twain award is a "great honor," Martin said before the show, but even better, "it's a gathering of friends." He recalled getting his start performing stand-up at the Kennedy Center in 1976.

Pre-show tributes on the red carpet came from old friends: Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels recalled meeting Martin in 1976, the second season of SNL. "He made the show," Michaels said. And from new friends: Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David has known him only about four years, "but I could be off by two years on either side," he joked. "He's fastidious," joked David, adding that Martin, a long-time collector, also has "great taste in art."

"He plays a great banjo, too," added Monty Python's Idle.

Variety on the Twain Prize Show

Daily Variety
October 25, 2005, Tuesday
NEWS; Pg. 10
Laff luminaries laud Martin at Twain event

WASHINGTON In taking home the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for Humor Sunday night, Steve Martin quipped after receiving a miniature bust of the 19th century humorist : "This prize is special because it's the most recent."

His nonchalance was in the true spirit of the evening, a clip-a-thon of great Martin moments in film and TV presented by a contingent of comics, humorists and thesps who flew in to pay irreverent homage. They included Tom Hanks, Martin Short, Carl Reiner, Mike Nichols, Larry David, Eric Idle and Dave Barry.

With Martin looking on from a box seat, Hanks kicked off the evening with a reprise of a career he said began when the comedian "rode into town on a banjo and a non sequitur." Hanks then introduced a clip of Martin's pantomime perf of "The Great Flydini" on "The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson."

Others on hand included past recipients Lily Tomlin and Lorne Michaels. Tomlin lauded Martin's keen sense of "sublime silliness and divine absurdity," and predicted that he would uphold the award's high standards while performing his "duties and obligations" at rodeos and other events.

Reiner offered a clip from "The Jerk," which he directed, while comedian Short discussed other Martin films, including "The Three Amigos." Barry intro'ed Martin's classic 1977 film short "The Absent-Minded Waiter."

Diane Keaton ("Father of the Bride") sang a breathy "The Way You Look Tonight" to piano accompaniment. Queen Latifah ("Bringing Down the House") and Claire Danes ("Shopgirl") also chimed in. Michaels introduced highlights of Martin's "Saturday Night Live" appearances, while David offered his curmudgeonly perspective. Paul Simon and Randy Newman also performed.

The Mark Twain Prize, now in its eighth year, celebrates American humor while benefiting the center's education programs. The event at the center's Concert Hall will be broadcast Nov. 9 on PBS.
Monday, October 24, 2005

Stephen Hunter reviews Shopgirl

Stephen Hunter, one of my favorite reviewers and authors.
A Happy Feat
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005; Page N01

You Know What's Funny About Twain Prize Winner Steve Martin? Everything.

See, here's a much better idea.

Instead of the Kennedy Center giving Steve Martin the eighth annual Mark Twain Prize for American Humor tonight, the Marble Sepulcher folks should give Mark Twain the first annual Steve Martin Prize for American Humor.

Twain was great. Twain was fine. Twain was courageous. Twain was wonderful. Twain wrote a great novel. Twain had cool hair.

But he was no Steve Martin.

As who is?

Answer: Nobody.

"I prefer to mix the old comedy bits with the new comedy bits because that way there's more . . . money."

Since he first broke out nationally on the late-night talk show circuit in the early '70s, the frosty-haired comic has moved with ease between the various worlds of comedy. Seemingly without breaking a sweat, he's been a great TV stand-up, a record album smash (he sold more comedy albums than anyone until this summer, when Dane Cook surpassed him), a "Saturday Night Live" host of mythic dimensions, a movie star, writer and producer, a comic essayist for the New Yorker, a playwright, a novelist, the master of just about any form that by its noble reach makes audiences cough their lungs up in laughter.

And he has much cooler hair than Mark Twain.

Best of all, he seems rage- and neurosis-free, apolitical, unmoored in time, unaffiliated to a particular generation (at 60 a classic baby boomer, he seems to have missed that generation's infinite patience with its own narcissism). He's unaffiliated with the zeitgeist: He has happy feet but also a happy soul, and a guarded private life of no interest to gossip-mongers. Divorced from actress Victoria Tennant years ago, he now quietly dates a New Yorker fact-checker. He does one thing: He's just damned funny, all the time. It ranges from gut-splitting oxygen debt to reserved, ironic bemuse ment. But always some form of funny.

"You know that look women give you when they want to have sex with you? . . . Neither do I."

And he's modest. When an important concept is explained to him over a recent lunch in New York -- the theory of awarding Twain in his name, not him in Twain's name -- he gives a little chuckle but backs away fast as a startled snake.

"Oh, he was very great. He was a great man. No, no, no. He took real risks."

Does it follow then that a great comic has to take risks?

In journalism we call this a trick question. They teach it at Columbia. The deal is, if he says yes, which he almost certainly has to, then your professional reporter will say, "Hmm, and what would be your biggest risk?" to which he would have to answer by defending his whole career, and the questioner gets to appear wise and all-knowing and -- but Martin's too "clever" for that. He says, honestly and correctly, "No."

And that's the truth. His job is to lighten the load, not to reform the world. His job is to acknowledge the surrealism that flickers through the ionosphere, point out the folly and the craziness, yet at the same time stand for decency and stability, all of which Martin does, again without breaking that sweat.

"Hi, I'm Steve Martin. With so many celebrities endorsing cosmetics these days, I wanted to make sure the cosmetic I endorsed was very special. That's why I'm proud to put my name on . . . Steve Martin's all-natural Penis Beauty Cream."

Typical Martin. Notice the soft setup, which is in the banal form of the celeb-endorsement, and then the arrival of a strange word that twists the whole thing off in an absurdist direction. I mean, really . . . beauty .

In this palmy, pale Manhattan eatery, he is a study in graceful cool. Sweat seems inconceivable. He's dressed for style, speed, stealth. Black slacks, dark green shirt, a ball cap and jacket, soft-soled shoes, shades on a loop, he moves fast, not making eye contact, negotiating an aisle among swells slurping vichyssoise and nibbling on brie and frisee without a ruffle. He seems more like a .300 hitter than a showbiz celeb, quick and peppy and pink, blooming with health and purpose, ticking off today's agenda. He's in so fast no one notices him, and the funny thing is that in this particular eats-joint, there's another celeb.

Who is that guy?

At another, far more visible table (Martin's, by design, is snugged in the corner, blocked largely from view by a colonnade of some sort) is the famous face of a man who knows the meaning of adoration, who sold affability and aplomb as a product for decades. He's the buzz in the room where nobody has caught on that the dark flash with the snowy roof is the famous S. Martin, well-known wild 'n' crazy guy.

"Who is that guy?" Martin is asked, and he is not so vain that he gets anxious when the attention is directed elsewhere.

"Isn't he a quiz show guy? Something on TV. Or maybe a host guy. He's some kind of host."

And though this famous fellow's name can't be conjured, he brings a certain rumble of memory with him and the disclosure that Martin . . . knew Paul Lynde!

Now, what about giving Paul Lynde -- you know, fabulously funny comedian and center square on "Hollywood Squares" all those years -- a Steve Martin Prize for American Humor. Like Mark Twain, Lynde was funny for a lifetime, unique, brilliant, had cool hair and is now dead. But we didn't come all this way to talk about ghosts, even if the comedian is pro enough to laugh and show delight at a reporter's mention of Paul Lynde. Because Steve Martin knows comics. His may be a postmodern stylization, but it's not without its foundation of respect for those who came before.

As a kid, he says, he wanted to be like the TV comics of the '50s and that's where it all began for him, that's why he's sitting in this room before an egg-white omelet and persnickety water ("Tap water. No bottled water. Tap water"), wealthy, famous, beloved all these years later.

"I watched Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis. A lot of it was stupid but funny, but that's all right. Comedy is comedy."

By high school, the essential Steve Martin was already in place. He looked like he does now, handsome but unremarkable, with a thick shock of hair (then it was black; it would turn gray in his late twenties, white in his thirties but stay thick forever) and a slightly fleshy nose. Not quite sexy. Not quite smoldering. Never brutal or dark. Not the sort of man good girls would throw their lives away for. Yet not regular, either; something too mischievous in the eyes, something too ironic in the face. A guy who'll stick a fake arrow on his head for laughs can never seriously brandish a gun in a movie. Why, he almost looks like the sort who might have worked at Disneyland.

In fact, he did. His first showbiz job was the magic shop at the Anaheim theme park, where he prepped under a magician called the Great Aldini.

"I had some dexterity, so I could be a juggler, a coin manipulator, a lasso artist. I would do anything to get onstage. That's where the banjo came from. Folk music was big then."

His hunger for the stage also included election as Yell Leader with his pal Morris Walker at Garden Grove High School in Garden Grove, Calif., where he grew up (he was born in Texas; his family moved west when he was 6). The two ran for office on the policy position "Martin and Walker are 1 Percent Human and 99 Percent School Spirit."

A picture survives from that golden Jurassic, and Walker reprints it in a book he wrote, "Steve Martin: The Magic Years." Both kids wear Eisenhower era skinny ties and Stay-Prest white shirts and dark suit coats. Theirs could be anybody's youth, and at the same time there's something utterly moving about the image. (Walker, still friends with Martin, became a video producer in Oregon.) "At school, whether throwing a fancy line of double talk or just conversing with classmates, the active pair make things interesting for all," a local newspaper reporter wrote in the early '60s, in what must be Martin's first shot of press coverage. "Makes things interesting for all." Hmmm, how's that for prognostication.

After high school, Martin attended Long Beach State for a while, majoring in philosophy.

This would be Serious Steve. He yearned to get onstage but wasn't sure how. He seemed to need some kind of philosophical underpinning to his work.

"I knew there was something funny besides a joke, but I didn't know what it was. Maybe a feeling of glee, something less formal, less programmatic than a joke. I couldn't express it, I couldn't do it, but I had a sense of it."

He found a kind of key in philosophy.

"Philosophy taught me two things. First, the reality of the absurd. Absurd was funny. You didn't need a punch line, a structure, you just needed an ironic juxtaposition. Second, there's a logical progression to things, but when you disrupt it, that's very funny. I got that from Lewis Carroll. There's a word for it. I don't know it, but I know there's a word for it."

Example, from an old monologue: "I'd never divorce you, because I love you, I cherish you, I honor you and I don't want to lose half my stuff."

Armed and undangerous with his new insight, he took to the road to find material. He also worked as a writer on TV shows, honing his material. But his laboratory was always the road, opening for folk groups and then rock bands, trying desperately to find a persona.

"I did everything I could to get up to 15 minutes of good material. Some nights I had nothing. But it's like Windows, you know the way screens just keep coming on to cover other screens. You pile it on. Or it's like evolution. One night you mutate. You're all alone, you and 40 people in a room somewhere, and you're just looking for something that works and it just happens."

What Martin settled on was something that could be called The Deluded Man. It's a kind of postmodernism, a figure so steeped in showbiz realities and traditions that he just doesn't realize what he's doing isn't funny. It's a parody of showbiz conventions by someone who doesn't realize it's a parody.

The arrow through the head, an ancient vaudeville trope, is a perfect case of this. If you put an arrow on your head, nobody would laugh at it. But if you put an arrow on your head and sell the audience on your being so naive and uncool and clueless that you think they'd think such a lame-o stunt is funny, then magically the oldest joke in the biz is reinvented and becomes hysterical.

Martin's lunch companion believes (but can't verify) that he saw the breakthrough moment: his first network appearance on Johnny Carson's "Tonight Show" on Feb. 15, 1972. It was a time when American comedy was particularly dead, the buttoned-up comics of the '50s long forgotten, the war in Vietnam sucking much of the comic oxygen out of the nation, Woody Allen in his serious phase and "Saturday Night Live" three years away. "Steve Martin"? What could someone with a Fuller Brush salesman's name add to this?

He blew the house up and the reporter can recall being dazzled by the guy's antic craziness, his deft use of showbiz idiom but skewed slightly toward the insane, his vivid energy.

"Steve, Steve, people say to me, you're a ramblin' kind of guy, what makes you ramble?"

Sheer genius. He got the comic power of a word like "ramble," never used in conversation except by the delusional, by someone so clueless that he thought being called ramblin' was really cool. But it was also in the body language. Martin had a powerful way of expressing irony through his body. It was his facial expression, faux-smug, a little too sure of the self, not aware, really, how off-key he was; and it was his physical exuberance, subtler than slapstick but still expressed in flesh. But most of all it was his sense of language.

He had a great gift for finding the apposite word and then infusing it with comic meaning so profound it would become funny even when shorn of context.

"Excuuuse me!" is one such, or "We are two wild and crazy guys ."

"I was very lucky," he recalls. "Before he died, Johnny sent me a disc with all my appearances on it. That first night, the camera happened to cut away from me to Sammy Davis Jr., falling out of the chair. That sold me. What I didn't realize was that Sammy always fell out of the chair; the camera cut just happened to catch it."

It was the first of five performances on "Tonight" that year; to date he's been on a total of 45 times, for the second most appearances (Bob Hope is first with 103; David Letterman third with 44). "Saturday Night Live" ginned up around that time, and his talents meshed perfectly with the show's -- his gift for sketch humor, his quickness with an ad-lib, his ability to rally the young cast, who didn't yet realize they themselves were on the way to becoming the new establishment.

One of Martin's gifts is consolidation: He masters a form, then moves on. The first feature film came in 1979, "The Jerk," directed by old pro Carl Reiner. Many of his early films were simple projections of his stage persona. But he was adventurous as well, as witness the flop that became a cult hit, "Pennies From Heaven" in 1981. "All of Me," in '84, where he shared a body with fellow Twain winner Lily Tomlin, put him over the top critically. From then on his pattern, a kind of pinball ricochet between more serious "acted" works (frequently he wrote and produced as well) and lesser, more popularly oriented broad comedies. In 1999, for example, he made "The Out-of-Towners," a broad, stupid comedy, and "Bowfinger," a much smaller and more focused film, which he wrote and co-produced. He'll follow up this month's "Shopgirl," which he wrote from his novella, with the upcoming "The Pink Panther."

"Martin seemed one of the few American artists of any sort who, working within a late-modern, ironic self-conscious sensibility, have found access to a vein of real feeling and genuine poetic invention, without ever becoming sentimental, precious, or self-congratulatory" the critic Adam Gopnik wrote of him in 1993. It's still true.

"I don't think I ever made a conscious career plan. Something always seems to come up. I never feel disciplined."

He describes his process as a constant search for "topics." He never knows where he'll find one, what it'll be, where it'll take him. But he's always looking for something to engage his imagination and take him on a little voyage.

"Shopgirl," which he stars in with Claire Danes, is typical: He wanted to try to imagine a young woman's mind, based on an encounter he'd had, but he didn't want to stoop to cheap psychology. He tried to write a paragraph that summed her up, feeling that if it worked, if it were accurate, it would take him to an interesting place.

"I think of it as about behavior. The book does not analyze this young woman. If you describe intently, you get the psychology." And then it's time to rush off. He has some German art collectors to meet, to see the paintings in his New York apartment as opposed to his Beverly Hills house. Glasses come on, baseball cap covers the permafrost, jacket is pulled tight, and fast and silently he departs, unnoticed by a room that has spent the past hour gawking at -- Peter Marshall.

Martin probably remembered Marshall that afternoon, as he joked he would; and maybe he wished he'd said a word or two to the retired old "Hollywood Squares" host.

But he had to hustle on.

"I just want a new topic in my life," he said.


Steve promotes from home
The Boston Globe
The funny thing about Steve Martin
The 'Shopgirl' writer and star may be prone to reflection, but zaniness is never far away
By Mark Bazer, Globe Correspondent
October 23, 2005

CHICAGO -- There's a funny, endearing, and more than a little loopy character who shows up wearing a white suit at the end of "Shopgirl." The film stars and is written by Steve Martin, but the suit belongs to costar Jason Schwartzman's character, Jeremy. Martin, on the other hand, plays Ray Porter -- wealthy, reserved, a little aloof, sharply dressed but more than content not to stand out in a crowd.

A quarter of a century after Martin pulled the fake arrow out of his head, and even 14 years after the comedian roller skated through an art museum in "L.A. Story," Ray Porter is now the kind of character we aren't at all surprised to see Martin play. Heck, even in 2003's "Bringing Down the House," it took a while to get him to loosen up.

While Martin is hardly the minimalist, Jim Jarmuschized Bill Murray -- in 2003, he went on "Letterman" and pretended to dangle a baby off a balcony, à la Michael Jackson -- like his fellow elder statesman of comedy, he often has a reserve that suggests contemplation and having something to prove beyond getting the laugh. There was always an intelligence behind even his zaniest bits, and, these days, Martin's zaniness occasionally pokes its head out of something that's more reflective, like "Shopgirl." Contrary to the title of one of his classic comedies, Martin only has one brain.

"Shopgirl" will likely be classified as a comedy, but on the phone from his home in Los Angeles, Martin describes the tone of his 2000 novella, on which the film is based, as "very melancholy, or achy, or thoughtful."

And so for Martin, the screenwriter, the big challenge was to transfer this tone to the screen -- and to adapt a 130-page text that largely exists without dialogue and within the minds of its three protagonists, Ray, Jeremy, and, most centrally, Mirabelle (Claire Danes).

"If you notice, in the first 10 minutes of the movie, there's no dialogue at all," Martin says. "And, yet, as in the book -- one of my purposes when writing was, I wanted by the end of five paragraphs or even one paragraph for you to feel for this girl. And I think the director [Anand Tucker] successfully did that."

Mirabelle, it's established from the first time we see her, is a lonely, delicate young woman working in the loneliest nook of the Beverly Hills Saks Fifth Avenue -- behind a counter of formal gloves that both customers and co-workers, like the sexed-up, quintessentially LA makeup-counter girl Lisa (Bridgette Wilson Sampras), only pass by.

We see Mirabelle "among the rich world and then going home to her collegiate apartment," Martin says. "And then, of course, the first thing you see her do that strikes you, she takes a nude photo of herself. To me, I always thought that was a nice surprise for the character.

It's perhaps this quiet, erotic vulnerability that, in the span of a few days, draws both Ray, a divorcee who made millions in computer software, and Jeremy, a slacker who stencils logos on guitar amplifiers, into Mirabelle's solitary world. That, or they're just single and horny. So Ray sends Mirabelle a pair of the exquisite gloves she knows so well; Jeremy takes her to an IMAX film and borrows money from her for a ticket. She chooses Ray.

But Mirabelle's relationship with Ray, we sense from the beginning, is destined for failure -- he wants a young woman and no commitment, she wants to be loved and makes the mistake of thinking he does, too.

Relationships "are always a part of learning about life," Martin says. "And I think, you know, it's surprising what relationships you look back on, now that I'm older, as the ones that were extremely valuable, and the ones that I learned something from through disaster, whether it's romantic or not."

What saves the old hurt-but-wiser-for-it lessons of the doomed relationships in our own lives from feeling like Hollywood cliches is exactly that -- they're our doomed relationships. And what saves ''Shopgirl" from the same fate is Martin's use of small moments to subtly illuminate his characters and life's Big Themes. Mirabelle making a nude self-portrait is one among many.

"I believe that the intimate view of someone in small moments really reveals character well," Martin says. "Those private moments of Mirabelle drawing, looking in her refrigerator -- those are all very specific.

"After Ray Porter asks her out on a date, the next thing you see her doing is bathing, meaning she said yes, or she's getting ready."

Martin adds, with a laugh, that he'd originally planned to follow up Mirabelle's subtly sexy date preparation with a shot of Lisa, her anything-but-subtle co-worker, shaving her bikini line. "From the back, obviously," he adds.

That scene wound up on the cutting-room floor, or is perhaps destined for the bonus features of the "Shopgirl" DVD. But you may be starting to get the picture: Steve Martin may dabble in serious fiction these days, but he's still, well, Steve Martin. He humorously tweaks the May-December romance in one scene set in Mirabelle's apartment, situating Ray deep in the crevices of a ratty futon that his old joints have a hard time navigating.

"I remember equating that experience of doing that scene with dancing with a really great dancer and all I had to do was follow," his co-star Danes says, in Chicago for a screening of "Shopgirl" at the city's annual film festival. "Suddenly, I felt hysterical, like my timing was great, but it was really that I was in his wake. With the futon bit, he tilted it so that his knees would come up even higher. And he played with [the word futon] a lot; he knew that was a funny word. And he immediately assessed that situation and exploited all the inherent jokes that were in there. He found them."

Still, you get the impression from Danes that Martin wasn't exactly cracking up the cast and crew on the "Shopgirl" set.

'He was working hard, I think he had to make a lot of decisions," she says. "And he was playing someone who was more somber, or sober, and grown up, so that influenced his persona on set, I think.

"Occasionally he'd make some really silly banana peel joke or something, and I'd be jarred by that," Danes says. " 'Oh, right, right, you're funny. You're, like, one of the funniest guys ever.' He's a lot of different things and is as comfortable as the fool as he is the exceedingly earnest intellectual."

No one, of course, would accuse Martin of wearing the earnest intellectual hat for his next film, "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." That sequel and "Shopgirl" are, as Martin says, "two entirely different animals." But while the comedian may not have the same intense personal connection to the family films he's starred in (but never written) as he has to his own creations, like "Roxanne" or "L.A. Story," he doesn't sign on just for the paycheck.

"I really like -- if we can keep it from getting too redundant and corny -- these family films," he says. "I think comedy at this level, at sort of the family-film level, is a way to very kind of lightly and politely learn about Mom and Dad and what they go through and what the kids are thinking."

Some longtime fans of Martin who wore out the grooves on his standup records and maybe even exclaimed "Excuuuuse me!" every chance they got might want to reach for their DVD of "The Jerk" rather than embrace his more intimate, brooding films or his family-friendly comedies (though the first ''Cheaper by the Dozen" was Martin's biggest box office hit to date).

But to argue that there's been more than one Steve Martin would be false. He'll thoughtfully discuss his approach to writing his silly 1999 comedy, "Bowfinger," and he'll play the fool in a futon in the "very melancholy, or achy, or thoughtful" "Shopgirl." Martin's comedy of the mind and of the body have never been far apart.

As his other "Shopgirl" costar, Schwartzman, also in Chicago for the film festival, says, "To say 'the real [Steve Martin]' to me makes it seem like then there's a fake guy, and there's not. He's always honest, and he's always Steve Martin."

And there had to be some jokes on set about how Martin should've been wearing the white suit, right?

"Nope," says Schwartzman. "No jokes."


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