Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, October 22, 2005

A different interview on Shopgirl, Pink Panther and miscellaneous
Wild and crazy renaissance guy: Martin balances comedy, drama, writing
Bill Muller
The Arizona Republic
Oct. 22, 2005 05:18 PM

Comedians trying to transition into serious roles should look no further than Steve Martin for inspiration. The "wild and crazy guy" who once did a stand-up routine with a fake arrow protruding from his head still engages in the antics that made him famous (such as his rapper routine in Bringing Down the House), but he also has appeared as a "real guy" in such films such as Parenthood, Father of the Bride and The Spanish Prisoner.

Martin's latest serious role is that of a well-off, middle-age bachelor who romances a much younger store clerk (Claire Danes) in Shopgirl, a romance based on Martin's novella. The movie opens October 28. Martin will follow that with Cheaper by the Dozen 2 (opening Dec. 21) and The Pink Panther (Feb. 10). We caught up with him by phone.

Question: What inspired you to write Shopgirl?

Answer: I found a subject I liked and some characters I liked, and wanted to write about relationships. And I just talked to some friends and pitched them my idea, which is basically "Man buys gloves, sends them to girl who sold them to him. " I just started writing, and characters emerged. The characters are based on some people, pastiche from other people. I'd been single for about, I guess, 10 years when I started writing it, so I had a lot to write about.

Q: Do you identify with your character?

A: Somewhat. I think all men do, or many men do. I've heard that from many men; they say, "Oh that guy's me, that guy's me." It's a lot of men at a certain time in their life. And by the way, they don't have to be older, they can be younger. And be in that very same situation, that commitment phobia.

Q: Is Shopgirl an LA version of Woody Allen's Manhattan (also about an older man who dates a younger woman)?

A: You could consider that L.A. Story (a comedy written by Martin and co-starring Sarah Jessica Parker) is kind of an answer to Manhattan, but I believe that (Shopgirl) is very independent. It's not really based on Manhattan, although it's a similar subject. But it really comes from my novel.

Q: It seems like the city itself — LA — is a character in the film.

A: It's especially that way in L.A. Story, and it's much more subtle in Shopgirl. But it's an environment. It's all about those sort of long distances people travel from work to home and the distances they also travel in class. Here's a girl who's working at the high end, Saks Fifth Avenue, and driving to her collegiate apartment with a futon.

Q: Does that reflect the dichotomy of living in LA, where average people are constantly bumping into the rich and famous?

A: A movie set is the most democratic place on Earth, because there are millionaires working with caterers and everybody has a weird kind of power there and everybody's very friendly, and that's kind of like LA. It's kind of like a big movie set, that everybody's mingling with everybody else.

Q: Why didn't you direct Shopgirl?

A: I wanted someone (Anand Tucker) with more experience than me, someone who can really bring their art to it. I don't know how people do it. Write, direct and act and produce. I wouldn't know how to do that.

Q: Do you still enjoy doing schtick?

A: Oh, absolutely. I've got Pink Panther in the can, I'm very excited about it. All schtick, and verbal comedy, and we have broad things. We really loved making that movie.

Q: Was it daunting to take on the Peter Sellers role of Inspector Clouseau?

A: It's daunting for a minute, meaning a metaphor for a minute, and then you get over it and you do the movie. The way I look at it is, "Hey, I'm funny, too.’ "

Q: What's the biggest hurdle for comedians trying to break into dramatic films?

A: When you're doing a comedy, you know how far you're supposed to go. I think the tendency for a comedian in a drama is to go way too serious, and I sort of had to learn that. I think I started to learn it around Parenthood time, where you're a real guy but you're being funny. Like Father of the Bride, you're a real guy, but you're being funny and find that instinct for the right balance.

Q: Are you concerned that, as a comedian in a drama, you won't meet the audience's expectations?

A: What'll happen a lot of times, I did this movie Leap of Faith, which is a dramatic film, and then they (marketers) become cowardly at the last second and they give it a comic poster — and that, I've found, is the worst thing for the audience, because I always tell them: The people that you're trying to fool are going to smell a rat and not go, and the people who want to see a dramatic film aren't going to go because it looks like a comedy. So it's always a disaster.

Q: When a movie isn't well received, like, say a Sgt. Bilko, does it hurt?

A: Yeah. You feel like you made a big mistake and you've learned for the next time. No matter what level the movie is, whether it's a commercial comedy or an intensely personal film, your ego's in it somehow. I mean you did give birth. It's not nine months, but it's three or four months, and you're kind of linked to it. But as time goes on, you realize it's not the end of the world, either.

Q: How do you judge a film?

A: You don't know if a movie is any good for five years. Then you know if it's lasting and people are still looking at it. Like right now, I'm just starting to get strong feedback on Bowfinger (1999). I thought it was going to make a big splash, and it did about $68.million in a time when movies were doing, 80, 90, 100 (million)."

Q: Eddie Murphy gave a terrific performance in those dual roles.

A: He deserved an Oscar. He was great. I really felt bad that he didn't get nominated for an Oscar because I thought, "Nobody else up there can do that."

Q: What's the most fun you've ever had on a movie?

A: It was Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. We were in the south of France for three months, it didn't get dark until 10 p.m. We'd wrap at 7, have a nice dinner with Michael Caine and Glenne Headly and Frank Oz. Staying in a house on the bay, walk by the nude beach to get to the outdoor restaurant. It was just great.

Q: What are your goals right now?

A: My goal right now is very short-term. Through accidents of nature, I have three movies coming out in about four months. I have a lot of promotion to do, and a lot of gear shifting to do, so I'm really looking forward to getting these movies out and then seeing what I want to do, which I think is just sit still for a while and maybe write something.

from KMT


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