Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, November 21, 2005

On the occupants of the family section at the Mark Twain Awards

Omaha World-Herald (Nebraska)
November 19, 2005 Saturday
NEWS; Michael Kelly; Pg. 01B
Honored funnyman has friend in Kerrey

From the notebook:

Steve Martin received the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and seated close by was his pal Bob Kerrey.

A number of viewers spotted Kerrey, the former Nebraska governor and U.S. senator, on the telecast last week. Now president of the New School University in New York, Kerrey has been friends with the actor-writer-comedian for several years.

A New York magazine article two years ago said Kerrey "dines frequently with his wife's circle of artists and writer friends," including Martin.

The comic's stage antics once included, "Well, excuuuuse me!" Hence the Washington Post headline on the story of his big honor: "Well, Incluuuude Him: Martin Joins Twain Pantheon."


On Writing

National Post (f/k/a The Financial Post) (Canada)
November 21, 2005 Monday
National Edition
ARTS & LIFE; Out & About; Pg. AL2
The Jerk no more
Chris Knight, National Post

Triple-threat Steve Martin (actor, writer, comedian) recently starred in the film version of his novella Shopgirl, which he also adapted for the screen. He speaks about the writing process in the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting magazine, but it's not the first time he's opened up about his craft; Martin also wrote "Writing Is Easy!" in The New Yorker's 1996 fiction issue. (It's reprinted in his collection of essays titled Pure Drivel.) Here's how nine years have changed him.


1996: As I write this, for example, I am sitting comfortably in my rose garden and typing on my new computer. Each rose represents a story, so I'm never at a loss for what to type. I just look deep into the heart of the rose, read its story, and then write it down.

2005: Sometimes you just sit down and start, as I did with L.A. Story. I like the idea of just sitting down and having vague ideas. Sometimes vague ideas create very original, surprising ideas.


1996: Writing is the most easy, pain-free and happy way to pass the time of all the arts ... I could be typing "kjfiu jiw," and enjoy it as much as typing words that actually make sense, because I simply relish the movement of my fingers on the keys.

2005: I try to write out of excitement -- when it's time, I can't keep myself from the typewriter anymore.


1996: Sure, a writer can get stuck for a while, but when that happens to a real author -- say, a Socrates or a Rodman -- he goes out and gets an "as told to." The alternative is to hire yourself out as an "as heard from," thus taking all the credit.

2005: My take on Roxanne came from talking to a friend of mine. I told him I had an idea to update Cyrano de Bergerac but I couldn't think of what would make it different enough to do it. He said, "Well, he gets the girl." And I said, "Oh, that's a good reason."


1996: It is true that sometimes agony visits the head of a writer. At those moments, I stop writing and relax with a coffee at my favourite restaurant.

2005: I ran [the idea for Shopgirl] by a couple of people at a dinner table to ask them if it sounded interesting and they said it did.


1996: Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol.

2005: Whenever I'm stuck I just do not write. I believe in a subconscious process, that on a subconscious level your mind is still working on it.


1996: "Pure" writing ... occurs when there is no possibility of its becoming a screenplay.

2005: Writing a screenplay is work that's inspired, and writing a novel is inspired work.


1996: Sometimes the delete key is your best friend.

2005: You'll see more clearly what needs to be cut if you just lose that emotional connection to the moment of creativity.


1996: Go to an already published novel and find a sentence that you absolutely adore. Copy it down in your manuscript. Usually, that sentence will lead you to another sentence, and pretty soon your own ideas will start to flow.

2005: Years ago I copied down a quote that came from a studio script reader who was analyzing a script. She wrote this line -- "by leaving out the occasional narrative step, the authors hook your interest and avoid the kind of point-blank exposition that so easily deadens interest." I thought that line was great.

About a banjo performance

Financial Times (London, England)
November 19, 2005 Saturday
FT WEEKEND MAGAZINE - The Performance; Pg. 6
Pick and mix Comedian Steve Martin joins his musical heroes on stage for an evening of bluegrass - and proves he's finger-pickin' good

The lights die in the Directors Guild of America Theatre and a shadowy figure takes the stage, sidestepping the set-up of folding chairs and microphone stands. "Uh, it's a little dark up here," he says. The audience laughs.

From the darkened stage comes the twang of a single banjo, a tight little number flowing sweet as a creek. This continues for a minute, and then the stage lights come up to reveal the musician: Steve Martin. There he stands in a dark suit and tie, not just playing around with the banjo but rather pickin' it like a pro. The New York audience gives him a big, wild cheer. It is startling to see him on stage not as a wild and crazy comic actor but as a man willing to reveal his musical dimension. Perhaps it isn't widely known that his banjo obsession predates pretty much everything he's known for - from Saturday Night Live to Father of the Bride to Shopgirl (Martin's latest film, based on his own novella) to his novels and essays, which run regularly in The New Yorker, the magazine hosting the banjo event at its sixth annual festival of arts.

As the applause dies, this might be a good place for a wisecrack but instead Martin brings out his stage companions, starting with Pete Wernick, a Brooklyn native and Colorado banjoist. Together they play a little something. "That only has two chords," Wernick says. "Well then I can play it," says Martin. (Big laugh.) He introduces Charles Wood, a prodigious South Carolinian whom Martin discovered while trolling the internet for banjo Christmas songs; Tony Ellis, a lionised Ohio banjo master; Wernick's wife, Joan, a guitarist/vocalist; guitarist Gary Scruggs, son of the legendary Earl Scruggs; and then daddy Scruggs himself, who at the age of 10 invented the three-finger playing style that revolutionised the five-string banjo and forever linked it to bluegrass music. Every banjo man and woman picking today, including the self-taught Martin, was influenced one way or another by Earl Scruggs, now 81, who enters to a standing ovation.

It's difficult enough to MC a panel of this many performers but trickier still to do it in front of 500 people who have each paid Dollars 35 to see you be funny and play banjo and choreograph a meaningful performance by a stage full of virtuosos. It requires an instinctive calibration of deference, tact, agenda and grace.

Martin puts Scruggs in the centre seat and they all play "Doin' My Time" and then "Step it Up and Go", threaded with Martin one-liners - "What are we playing?" "What about 'Step it Up and Go'?" "Lemme go learn it, then." (Big laugh.)

Martin moves on to "what the banjo sounded like before Earl" and Ellis plays "Stand Boys Stand", which he learned from his grandmother, who learned it from a Virginia state senator when she was nine. Martin does "Quaker Girl" in the frailing method - a slappy, fluttery sort of style - as the old-timers watch with quiet, nodding approval. Next, Martin asks Scruggs about the famous syncopated three-finger style.

Scruggs: "Well, I was 10 years old and sitting around one day idling in the front room, playing a song called 'Ruben', and realised I had this three-finger roll going."

Martin: "And? Did the heavens open up?"

Scruggs: "My brother Horace said I ran through the house saying, 'I got it! I got it!' They didn't know what I had but... " (Big laugh.)

Martin says he wants to demonstrate the haunting Appalachian sound that is so particular to the banjo. "Pete, you got something? Tony, you got something?" he says. "I got something but it's not a banjo." (Big laugh.)

Ellis plays a lullaby. Wood gives his moving rendition of "What a Wonderful World". As the final bittersweet note fades, Martin waits one perfect beat and says, "Charles, that's gonna get a lot better once you master it." (Big laugh.)

He asks Scruggs about "Scruggs' pegs", another Scruggs invention where a banjoist can tune while playing. This draws from the reticent Scruggs an anecdote about a cheap guitar, a pocket knife and his wife's waxing mop.

For more than an hour, Martin nudges the programme along not with the hubris of a Hollywood star but with the deftness of a maestro. The evening coalesces as a showcase of music, jokes and stories about hunted foxes, broken banjos, riverboats, grannies and mamas. All along, Martin keeps this pleased, awed little smile. His left loafer taps perfect time. He does have rhythm and, better yet, soul.

You may think, "Steve Martin and banjo?" But there is actually something fitting about Steve Martin playing the instrument. For all its entertaining sprightliness the banjo is also capable of great melancholy and depth. It's the sad clown of string instruments. Not that Martin appears sad, but you don't play the way he plays with a hard, unbroken heart.

LOAD-DATE: November 18, 2005
Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bits and Pieces from each of the Shopgirl actors

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
November 4, 2005 Friday
Pg. C-1
Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TORONTO: Claire Danes, it turned out, was the woman of his dreams. Or, at least, his dreamy novella.

Steve Martin, after all, had created Mirabelle Buttersfield in his slender book "Shopgirl" and now was ushering her to the big screen. "We had lunch -- I think it was, right? -- and Claire didn't even have to speak before we knew that she was exactly right for it," Martin said to the actress seated to his left. "Because Claire is naturally beautiful, as opposed to unnaturally beautiful in Hollywood."

And then the 60-year-old actor segued into a sly sidebar about aging in Hollywood. Or, more commonly, not aging.

"I always think, in 20 years, where are the old actors going to come from, because they're all going to look like this," he said, yanking the skin back from his own cheeks and looking like the victim of an extreme makeover. "They need someone who looks 80, there isn't anyone ... and doing a period film and there's people with fake breasts."

Dane turns that into a straight line for a joke at her own expense before Martin compliments the quiet solitude of her shopgirl. "There's something about the simplicity of Claire's performance, which was quite stunning, actually. I'm always amazed, how does she know this emotion? How does she know it?"

On this day, Danes was clad in pale yellow and sported long, streaked blond hair instead of the shoulder-length red tresses of the movie. Martin, of course, looked exactly like the wealthy logician he plays on screen.

In Toronto for a gala showing of "Shopgirl" during the Toronto International Film Festival and Disney-organized interviews, the leads were fielding inquiries together while co-star Jason Schwartzman and director Anand Tucker took questions alone.

If "Shopgirl" doesn't seem like your standard girl-meets-boy romance (TV ads aside), there's a reason.

Martin says, "I always feel like there's the person with the inspiration and then there's the person who's going, 'No, no, no, this other movie had this and we got to have this' and 'This other movie had this and we've got to have this' ... and it just starts getting wrenched out of its own heart, and our movie didn't get wrenched because basically, the book is about small moments and the movie is about small moments, which are obviously the biggest."

People who invest a lot of money in movies fear that they're going to repel moviegoers if they challenge them, Danes chimed in. "I think the opposite is really true; it takes confidence to know that and then commit to it."

Danes, who was still in her teens when nominated for an Emmy for "My So-Called Life," had read Martin's novella about a transplanted Vermonter who works the glove counter at the Beverly Hills Neiman-Marcus (Saks in the movie) and is an aspiring artist. Martin is Ray Porter, a millionaire suitor generous with everything but his deepest emotions.

This is not the physical funnyman of "Bringing Down the House" or "Cheaper by the Dozen" or next year's "The Pink Panther." This is the cerebral Martin who wrote the play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," who has an extensive modern art collection and whose work frequently appears in The New Yorker. It's the other half of his brain and acting persona.

The natural question is directed Martin's way in the course of a press conference: Is "Shopgirl" autobiographical, since writers typically draw on their own experiences? He lobs the inquiry back, suggesting, "Your argument then applies to what is the autobiographical side to Mirabelle, because I wrote her, too." Not to mention the hapless Jeremy, played by Schwartzman.

Danes had been deeply affected by the book long before the fateful lunch with Martin.

"I knew a lot of people who were, so I'm not very special for having been moved by it, but I was, and I couldn't have been in more exquisite company. I loved 'Hilary and Jackie,' so I felt confident that Anand would render the story with subtlety and depth and smarts. Steve had really been a hero of mine forever."

Tucker, whose "Hilary and Jackie" featured virtuoso performances from Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths, asked for less, not more, from Danes in the early scenes.

"In the beginning, he really wanted to emphasize my stillness, which was scary because it's hard to trust that that's going to be enough, that the audience is going to remain engaged with her when she seems to be giving very little. I always want to tap dance in some way." But it's only once Mirabelle finds joy that she physically conveys that.

Schwartzman, who plays a goofball font designer for an amplifier company, was put in a potentially awkward position. "You're going to, hopefully, be the funny person in a Steve Martin movie," in which you will never actually swap dialogue with Martin.

"I never knew him as an actor, I only knew him in this context as a writer, but he does bring with him that precision and that eloquence. ... I don't know how he does it. We just did this interview and I watched him speak and I was like, 'Did he memorize all this stuff?' "

By comparison, Schwarztman was so nervous during the first table read -- when everyone reads the script aloud -- that he mumbled. "He said all that mumbling's really great. Really play that up."

Unlike Schwartzman's smitten 10th-grader in "Rushmore" or his unhappy environmentalist in "I Heart Huckabees," Jeremy isn't immobilized by worry or doubt or overthinking things.

"He's like super in the moment, maybe like the most Zen of them all. ... He just knows what's in front of him, he just feels things, says how he feels, doesn't think about things," much like a child blurting out unedited comments. By the end of the movie, Jeremy isn't so much changed (although there are some obvious, welcome differences) as open to change.

As for dating, Schwartzman sounds a bit like Jeremy when he says, "I don't know the first thing about the dating game or how to talk to anyone and how to connect. I think you just gotta go person by person and do the best you can. ... I don't think anyone really knows. We're all just trying to figure it out."

One relationship with a shopgirl at a time. "Shopgirl"

A review

The Ottawa Sun
November 4, 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.

Good Morning America Transcript of Steve Interview

Good Morning America 07:00 AM ET)
November 8, 2005 Tuesday

...good. You look good. Looking good. Oh, yeah, thank you very much. My first time down here in the new studio as well. Always great to welcome Steve Martin. And he has been visiting us since, well, nearly the beginning of his career. Don't remember if you remember this, 1977?

I don't remember 1977 at all.

ROBIN ROBERTS Well, he was here with our host David Hartman and Sandy Hill. Maybe this will - refresh your memory.




He is quickly becoming one of the most popular young comedians in the business. Good morning.

Good morning, David, Sandy.

Good morning, Steve.

Are you always so rambunctious at this hour of the day?

Will this bother you?

No. Not at, not at all.

All right. In the years since then, Steve...

Oh, boy. That was a bad cut to go from that...

No - did you like, oh, coming back to you like that?

It's a little shocking.

Well, since then, you've put down the banjo...

No, I've - never put it down, the banjo.

Well, I mean, you've picked up the pen, I should say, to do a little...

Yes. I have now picked up the pen.

ROBIN ROBERTS do a little, a little more writing.

It's hard to write with the banjo.

That would be a, a little bit difficult to do. But you're here and he has turned his best-selling novella, a novella, a little...



But it's a novel, really.

Yeah. "Shopgirl." And a funny and endearing movie that 'The New York Times" says puts most modern comedies to shame.

(Voice Over) And Steve, we have a little morning meeting and we have, a lot of us, have seen the movie and we were trying to put into words what exactly, and romantic comedy, we're like, no, no, no, it's too, that's not the right, the right phrase for this movie.

Term for this? Romantic comedy?


No, I don't think so.


No. I think it's much more, romantic comedy implies a very light-hearted happy ending. This movie is very, very dense and very realistic about how a relationship goes wrong.

It's very thoughtful.

A misguided relationship but, but by people who care about each other.

And you said when you take your work, something that you've written, and put it to the screen, it's, goes through like stages. You said it's kind of like a bad marriage. What did you mean by that?

Well, actually, I said that about adopting a work. Adapting a work. Sorry.


Adopting a work is very different because of the care and feeding. But adapting a work, I've, I've done that with - Cyrano de Bergerac for 'Roxanne," and 'Silas Marner" to 'A Simple Twist of Fate," and I did it with a play. So, I was, here I was adapting my own work and I, I said the process of adapting is like a failed marriage. You start with fidelity, and then you transgress, meaning you change a little bit, maybe, that wasn't in the original, and then there's a divorce from the original material and you have to make it your own.

Because you, you just have to, at the end, you have to release it and let it, let it go, don't you?

Right. Right.


But you also have to take it over, in a sense, the original material.

I love this movie. It's so thoughtful and has all these, and I think as you've said also about life, these small moments. These, these little moments that you see between you and Claire.

Well, that's what the book, the book was about with the very tiny moments in a relationship that are so powerful. And that's what we tried to preserve in the movie, the small moments that mean so, so much to people. Like in the book it says that it's sometimes, you know, the horrible things that happen to us aren't as tragic as the tiny upturned phrase at the end of a word.


You know.

Mm. Well, I love how you work with, with Claire Danes. And we, we want to show...

She's brilliant in the movie.

You guys work so, so well together. I want to set it up here because, let's just say, it's, this is a he said/she said moment.

Right. I don't know where the clip starts, but I can set up a little bit.

Okay. Good.

It's - it's, I think it's the night after they first make love and Ray Porter, the character I play, makes a little speech that says, you know, we're just, we're just kind of seeing each other...


...right now. And he says I've been traveling a little bit too much. And in his head he's saying, I'm still traveling. And in her head she's hearing, he wants to stop traveling.


But that's only an example of this, of what goes on in the scene.

That was a perfect setup for this clip.


Perfect. Let's take a look.


I told her there was no possibility that this was a long-term relationship. She's just, you know, she's really too young for me.

He said he wants to give it a try.

And I said that even though this is not long-term, I still want to see her.

And she understood?

Oh, yeah.

So, he was really taken with you?

Yeah, it seemed like it.

So you were really clear with her that this relationship has no future?


Oh, we've all been there.

It's cruel, isn't it?

Yeah, it is cruel.


But you've said that this story is, is about the successes and failures that you've had in your own life when it comes to relationships.

And other people. Not just mine...

And other - but not...

...but, yeah.




Is there anything that you know for sure now in your life about relationships? Is there any certainty that you know?

Well, I think none is perfect. So, although I do have friends who seem to have thriving, thriving relationships and you always hope for, for the perfect one, but you really have to, I think, forgive and get along and make allowances for people and your partner.

That's wonderful. And...

If you keep striving for perfection, it probably won't happen.

It just, it just, it just is frustrating.


But congratulations. Mark Twain, the award...

Ah, thanks.

...that you received, is going to air later this week. I think tomorrow on PBS.

I think tomorrow night. The Mark Twain.

That's just terrific.

I was a little disappointed to find out it was a look-alike contest. But, yeah.

But I don't think Mark Twain ever had socks like that.

He might have.

I mean, those are, those are great, great socks - you're known for.

Well, these are actually pretty, I'm not really known for them. I'd hate to think that I'm known for socks, but...

They match our carpet very well. So, we...

Well, well, that's, that was why I wore them.

We appreciate that.

Yeah. I actually got them, I got them from a piece of the carpet.

Yeah. Well, thank you. You, you are our first interview here in our new downstairs studio. Steve Martin.

(inaudible). Thank you.

(inaudible). Congratulations and...

Thank you very much.

...continued success to you.

Thank you.

Thank you very much. "Shopgirl" in theaters now. Coming up next, our special series, a new series on prodigies. How did this six year-old get the dance moves of someone three times his age? Gee. We'll meet him when we come back. So, come on back to 'Good Morning America."

That's good.

An interesting new interview

Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Florida)
November 11, 2005, Friday
Is his 'Shopgirl' character the real Steve Martin? (He says no)
By Roger Moore

Steve Martin is in a relationship now, thank you.

Not saying with whom, but that should shut down nagging questions about his actually being the character he plays so close to the vest in his new book-turned-movie "Shopgirl."

The character in question? A wealthy, aloof and lonely art lover who dates a much younger woman.

The film isn't autobiographical, though it gives those who follow showbiz gossip room to whisper.

"Shopgirl" is a dry, occasionally funny, mostly bittersweet tale of a love triangle, putting Martin and Jason Schwartzman, 25, in competition for Claire Danes, a sad, lonely glove clerk.

Danes, 26, accidentally gets at that "big question" _ older man, much younger woman _ when she talks about worshipping Martin, 60, "for as long as I've been conscious. He's been an icon since before I was born."

And now he's your love interest in a movie.

Martin professes no concern for that, or for the movie's box-office chances in the face of reviews that are calling it "melancholy" (The Hollywood Reporter) and "glum" (Toronto Globe & Mail).

It is Martin's picture, and his is the performance being compared to Bill Murray's Oscar-nominated turn in "Lost in Translation." He spoke from his home in Los Angeles.

Question: Where did this story come from?

Steve Martin: (Chuckling.) I was married for 10 years, and then I was single for 10 years. Big-time single guy. I just became interested in this subject, who knows why?

What I was really interested in was writing something. Once I had the idea of the gloves, which is the first big event in the book, where he buys gloves from a shopgirl and then sends them to her, I tested it on a few writers who said, 'That's an interesting start to a relationship.' I knew I could get a book out of it.

Q: So it wasn't just you, seeing some beautiful young woman standing at a counter at Saks and wondering where she came from, what she wanted out of this lonely city where you live?

Martin: There are a lot of girls in L.A., pretty girls who have descended on this city for show-business or whatever dreams. There are gathering centers of such women; malls and department stores like Fred Segal's in L.A. ("Where the stars shop," its ads say) are filled with young women like this who have migrated here.

In L.A., there's a promise, a hope that they'll be noticed. Maybe in the small town where they're from, there's no hope.

Q: What would Mirabelle, the shopgirl, see in these two men who end up competing for her affections? One's old enough to be her father, the other's an uncouth child.

Martin: That's very simple. When someone pays attention to you, there's almost always a response, especially if lonely. You could be just flattered, or in certain cases you might be disgusted. But generally, if somebody pays serious attention to you, there's something compelling about it, whether you're male or female, if you're thinking it's more than just a 'pick-up' or something.

Mirabelle meets an older man who takes her to a nice restaurant, flatters her and treats her well, with dignity, and she's just come off a relationship where she wasn't treated with dignity. She understood that Jeremy (Schwartzman) was young, but she was really lonely when she met him. But she has no abiding interest in him until he comes back changed.

Q: That's an interesting dilemma that you set up for Mirabelle, a young man who has no means and no class but who's willing to change to impress her, versus the older, more fully formed richer man who says upfront, 'This is me. Take it or leave it.'

Martin: Whose relationship is so perfect that there isn't somebody going, 'Why's she with him?' Ray is what he is.

Jeremy, all he changes is his etiquette, not his inner soul. That's what romantic self-help books teach you, how to behave properly, things not to say.

When Ray Porter tells her things such as 'I'm not looking for a permanent relationship,' these conversations don't mean anything. Because the subconscious says, 'Yeah, but you're here with me. You seem interested.' Men, and maybe women too, think that all you have to do is say something like 'not looking for a permanent relationship' once, and that's the way it is. That's not it at all. If someone says, 'I never want to be in love,' and you sense that they're falling for you, you don't believe what they said.

And many relationships start with 'No, I'm not interested in seeing you.' People can grow on you.

Q: Why play Ray yourself?

Martin: Well, I wrote the book. I wrote the screenplay. And I'm an actor. I need the work.

I knew I was going to be on the set every day anyway. We went to Tom Hanks early on but he was busy. And once he turned it down, I'm the right age, and I understand the character because I wrote the book.

Q: You've been one of the sharper observers of Los Angeles over the years. What did you discover about the city, the people there and your feelings about them in writing this?

Martin: I've lived in L.A. almost my whole life. I find the city can be very poetic, and I don't even know what that means. There are some days when you're on the freeway, and you're up 30 feet on an overpass, and you look out, it's dusk and the stars are twinkling and the houses are twinkling and the sunset is glowing and there's an airplane or two coming in, lined up for LAX, and it's just magic.

I grew up here. It's the briar patch to me.

Q: How important is it for you to be taken seriously?

Martin: There's a little semantic slip there. Does doing a serious movie mean that you want to be taken seriously? But I want to be taken seriously as a comedian!

I have no interest in that whole 'Drama is serious, comedy is silly' thing. One's not higher or lower than the other. I just do comedies and dramas, movies and books and plays just for variety.

Q: Ever any worry that, because of the void in what we really know about you, a very private person, that we would all jump to conclusions, seeing this wealthy, artistically tuned-in millionaire as being you by another name?

Martin: That's unimportant to me. They look at "Father of the Bride" and go, 'How can you not have children?' All performance comes from somewhere within, unless you're playing Hannibal Lecter.

Q: And yet having written this yourself, from a particular place in your life ...

Martin: Yeah, but I've written many things. I wrote "Bowfinger," but that doesn't make me a loser-producer. Hahaha!
Thursday, November 10, 2005

Steve in Premiere Magazine

The Premiere Interview
The Good Humor Man
Oct. 2005
Sure, he was once a wild and crazy guy. But now Steve Martin--comedian, actor, and writer—is happier talking ‘Shopgirl’ and starring in family-friendly fare.
By Fred Schruers

Some years ago, Steve Martin praised comedian Jack Benny in an interview: “He had the courage to wait,” Martin said. Over the years, it’s become more and more evident just how important creative patience has been for Martin. His upcoming film ‘Shopgirl’—adapted from his best-selling novella of the same title—rigorously keeps to its own stately but fascinating beat.

Martin will insist the story and the film belong to Clare Dane’s titular Mirabelle. But next to her in many frames is Martin’s Ray Porter, a wealthy businessman with an almost arctic reserve that clearly masks much deeper feelings.

Steve Martin, of course, can be described in the same terms. Though we met him as the manic stand-up comic, time has shown that persona to be a canny fabrication. His first blip in cinema was the 1977 short, The Absent-Minded Waiter, and when he starred in The Jerk two years later, he won instant acceptance that has persisted. Early next year, Martin will take a turn as Inspector Clouseau in an update of Peter Seller’s legendary Pink Panther series. He seems hopeful it will launch him, at 60, into a new and revivifying franchise.

Not that Martin necessarily needs the help—his sunshiny family comedies like Parenthood, Father of the Bride and its sequel, followed by Cheaper by the Dozen and its sequel, have positioned him as an indispensable éminence blanc atop a kinder, gentler genre Hollywood desperately needs in its current slump. We spoke withy Martin in a quiet Manhattan hotel, during a break from shooting the Cheaper sequel in Toronto, and he lived up to his billing as a polite, even courtly lunch companion—and also as a hard man, despite what’s perhaps his best performance to date, in Shopgirl, to compliment.

Claire Danes has said she was playing out a love story in Shopgirl that she felt was quite autobiographical for you. That’s not something you’re emphasizing?

I definitely downplay it, because it is largely fiction. There are almost no incidents in the book that occurred in life. Certainly [I’m] represented by several relationships, different passages, times in my life, people I’ve talked to, stories I’ve heard.

I think men who recognize themselves in your character, Ray Porter, may be your most fascinated—not to say guilt-ridden—audience. For instance, Ray wants to have sex, even as Mirabelle’s having a meltdown about their relationship.

He decides against it, but—yeah, it’s interesting. I think men think it’s a cure-all. [laughs]

At one stage in the film, things that in the book were interior monologues become confessions to a psychiatrist.

I hate to use a shrink in a movie. It’s kind of an easy way out. But there had to be a moment in the film, just for good storytelling, where it’s fully explained that he has no intention of carrying [the relationship] further. Usually those kind of conversations are done with confidants in the movie, but he had no confidants. And it’s certainly legitimate for a guy like him at his age to have a shrink. But also I think the director did a brilliant thing: He never cut to the shrink.

The critics remarked when the book came out that it was the work of a man striving to become thoroughly immersed in female psychology.

It’s hard to say why I became interested in the psychology of women. I didn’t do it voluntarily—it just occurred. When I was writing the book, writing the women parts was much easier than writing the men parts. Because writing about a woman, I know what’s interesting to me to show or reveal or describe. But when I’m writing about a man, I don’t know. Because I am one, I didn’t know what was interesting about us.

I have a friend who’s a scientist working with, I think it was hedgehogs—and she is on the way to discovering the differences in orientation—how men and women find things and locate themselves. Men see big landmarks, women see particular details that they remember. Hence, they’re always in conflict bout how to get there in the car.

Around 1980, there was a stage where you felt a malaise about your career. Pennies From Heaven seemed to pull you out of that, creatively.

That just had to do with being tired, I think. I was doing my stand-up career and doing a movie, and it had all been very, very successful. And you just take a deep breath and go, “So, what? I keep doing the same thing? Or do something different?” It was a creative standstill in a way.

So you took on a dark Dennis Potter piece that required heaps of dancing. The challenge seemed to reinvigorate you.

I read a book in college called Psychology in Art, and it said Picasso continually shifted, [but] Chagall pained the same thing his whole life. It’s just two different ways of operating. And both successful, just a different mind-set. I guess I have the shifting, shifting or learning something new. I’ve always found I do better as a beginning than I do as an experienced worker.

You said to a caller on a radio show who asked when you’d do a stand-up tour again, “Never. You can mark that on your calendar.” Why such a permanent repudiation of the gift that made your name?

One, you have to do it all the time in order to be good at it—I’m not prepared to go on the road. And by the time I quit, I found the audience just…I like precision of comedy, and the audience just wouldn’t allow that anymore. Years later, I thought, “Oh, I realize what happened. They thought it was a party.” I was doing something else. I thought I was doing my comedy act that they would appreciate. But it had turned into a party.

There was a degree of anger and alienation embodied by that guy in the white suit with the balloon animals, and by the Wild and Crazy Guys as well.

I don’t think it’s alienation; I think it was the silliness of arrogance. It’s like when people become so self-important, I always find that really, really funny.

You hosted the Oscar telecast when the relatively new Iraq war was boiling over nastily.

Oh, it was the worst. That day, there was a story—that they were executing army personnel, you know—whoa. I just resolved, I have to put that in another room.

You opened with a gag about how they’d turned down the glitz factor, getting a big laugh because they so clearly hadn’t. But you avoided anything portentous.

My philosophy came from a couple occasions in my life. In 1963, I was working at the Birdcage Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm. We had a show that night, a comedy show. And Kennedy was shot. Everyone was just stunned. We were debating whether to do a show or not. It was decided by others, yes, we’re going to do the show. And we thought, this is going to be horrible. We went out, it was the biggest laughs that we had had in a long, long time. Almost a contrary response. And I always remembered that.

I thought something has to be acknowledged, and then we’re going to move on. And the other reason I wanted to do that was that they told me ahead of time that the show was going to be broadcast to wherever the troops were. And so I thought, if I’m a soldier sitting there, do I want look at a somber ceremony? No, I want a big show.

I have a theory that certain comics—notably you and Bill Murray—find much of their humor in twisting things that are commonplace in an inspired but familiar, smart-aleck way.

I feel differently from Bill Murray. He’s got a real gift of a special kind. He’s just the coolest. I play a different thing. But he’s just got a great, I-don’t-care attitude. Jack Nicholson has it. Actually, it’s something I used in my early stand-up days, which was, I’m going to make them think I don’t care. If you’ve got that going, the audience is very relaxed. They go with you; you don’t look like you’re trying to please them or that it’s their job to like you.

Maybe part of that approach is the portrayal of sheerly insincere stage personas?

Well, I was a witness to ‘50s show business, which was built on insincerity. Lounge singers and Vegas acts and kind of super-polished. So it was the first thing a would-be iconoclast would puncture, go after.

By the time you had a few pictures under your belt, you gave in more to the underbelly of all that—your inner Jerry Lewis. At one stage in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Michael Caine is laughing in the take. Do you remember that day?

I pulled him down on a bed, I know that.

And you’re throwing your leg over him. That kind of stuff’s got to be pretty much an homage to Jerry Lewis.

Well, I’m always “homaging” Jerry Lewis, you know—[he] affected so much comedy, and especially me and my friends. I’m not saying it’s one hundred percent; it might be ten percent or twenty percent, but it made you love comedy. You kind of grew up with Jerry Lewis. There are things that are just brilliant in his movies. It didn’t always work as a whole, but neither do mine or anybody else’s, you know. So I can see sources of bits in my own work that…There’s an echo in your head of where things come from.

The Jerk still gets laughs on repeated viewings—that was your film breakthrough.

I didn’t know how it was going to work but everything [up until then] had worked. So I had no reason to think it wouldn’t. I wrote the script with Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias, and some of it was from my act, like the “I was born a poor black child” and that bit—“I don’t need anything, just this.” I knew the kind of story I wanted to tell.

It’s like everybody came on for their cameos and seemed to be comically inspired—like, today’s my day. Was it like a movie circus?

The movie is a circus anyway. The tents and trucks…Everybody got—caught the spirit. Carl Reiner was just great. He contributed a lot to the script, too, uncredited of course, ‘cause directors don’t get credit. But it was just nothing but fun. I was in love with Bernadette Peters, and everybody was happy and pleasant; nobody was difficult.

Victoria Tennant [Martin’s ex-wife] was the perfect person for L.A. Story. Was she he inspiration?

I wouldn’t call her the inspiration. People think that, but I was just interested in a love story set in L.A. And I waned to use her as an actress. So I kind of had to have an English story. But really the premise of L.A. Story was its surrealism.

I think one thing people remember is our hero just popping caps out of the car window—

That is a very elaborate thing to shoot, too. You have to shut down a freeway. We did it in Bowfinger but only on a Sunday morning, a little tiny stretch of highway.

It’s been rumored that you find your renewed vigor as a box office draw somehow aggravating.

I phrase it like this—my career was nicely closing up, then a terrible thing happened: I had a hit. [laughs] I had to get back in show business.

Apparently you didn’t rush right to the starting gate for the first, latter-day Cheaper by the Dozen?

My instinct was no, no. Remake that? No. By the way, these aren’t remakes; it’s like a new script, just the same premise, is all. And I turned it down. But the ending did get me. Then I talked to the director, Shawn Levy, and I really, really liked him. And then, I was saying, okay, all right. And I had no idea it was going to turn out to be so popular.

I do appreciate that it’s a wholesome film. Of course, I have no problems with violence, crudity, sex, language, anything—except when it’s done wrong. And I’ve felt a lot of movies were just grotesque, and kind of disgusting, because they’re done wrong. I mean they’re not from the heart, they’re just sort of, I don’t know the right word, it’s like research-driven.

A lot of that research seems to be backfiring lately. The studios have made some wrong guesses—as an actor you hope not to get swept up in a mistake.

If [the script] doesn’t feel good, you have to feel like it’s going to become good. And then you have to say, well, who’s in it? I’m not looking to make just a studio comedy for no reason right now. I mean, Cheaper by the Dozen 2 had a reason—the first one was a bit hit. And I was in it, and the studio wanted to make it again. So in a way you have a business obligation to the people who financed the first movie to do it again. And it was a good script, so…

You’ve said of Queen Latifah, with whom you also had a hit, that what’s good for the Queen is good for Steve. She’s become one of your key onscreen partners along with Goldie Hawn, Diane Keaton, and Bonnie Hunt.

Those women are delightful. Each has a different personality. Diane is coming from a very instinctive place, to the point that she never does a bad take. It might be different. It’s never bad or untrue. And Goldie, her own personality is so lively and so infectiously fun. She’s very smart, and works from her own personality and her intellect at the same time, working out bits and contributing. Bonnie is a director-writer, and she’s coming from that a lot. She’s also incredibly quick, so she’s got that improve thing going with her director sense.

All of these women have shorthand. Meaning that we can communicate, we get it, you’ve got timing together. We understand what the other is doing. You don’t have to go, “oh, yeah, I think I got it.” It’s like Eugene Levy and I have shorthand.

You got a really nice payday out of The Pink Panther. Were you simply the right guy at the right time to take on a classic that Peter Sellers had such a good run with?

There’s two things you risk. One is a gigantic failure, and the other is a gigantic success. If it’s a gigantic success you become completely identified with that character. So I looked at it and I thought, well, you know what, I like that character. And especially now having made one, I’m hoping it’s a giant hit so we can make another one, ‘cause I love dressing up like him and talking like him, and I love everything about it. I like the people I’m working with and I wouldn’t mind—you know, I’m going to be 60—so not a bad way to end up…

You talked about directing in an interview many years ago, and I haven’t seen it mentioned since.

I have no interest. That’s like taking on a war. You really have no life for awhile, even for a year and a half. And I like my life, lying around, going home, having dinners with friends. That’s too much to give up.

As a producer of Shopgirl, you were on the set enough to make your opinions felt—a very collaborative process with the director. The next best thing to directing it.

I put myself in because I because I thought, well, I went to the trouble of writing it, I might as well be in it. But no, my interest really is in continuing Pink Panther, working with people I have good rapport with, working with directors I like. That’s really the fun of it now. Because the outcome of something is unpredictable.

Finally, is there an artistic byword that you remind yourself of as you embark on projects, whether writing or acting?

Well, David Mamet said it: “No art comes from the conscious mind.” I like that.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

How Steve got Shopgirl made
Home > Movies > Hollywood News
Why Steve Martin went to Amritraj
Arthur J Pais in New York | November 08, 2005 16:56 IST

Ashok AmritrajHollywood worships Steve Martin when he acts in laugh riots like Cheaper By The Dozen and Bringing Down The House. But when he tried to make a wry, low-keyed, romantic film, Martin found few friends in showbiz.

Martin's latest, Shopgirl, based on his own bestselling novella about a young woman torn between two men with contrasting personalities and money, could not have been made at all but for Ashok Amritraj stepping in, says the veteran comedian.

The low-budget film, directed by Anand Tucker, jumped to the ninth place on American box-office chart over the weekend from the 12th and grossed a handsome $2.5 million, though it is only playing in about 450 theaters.

For Amritraj, who is entering his 25th year in Hollywood as a producer, the weekend set a record. The family drama Dreamer starring Kurt Russell and Dakota Fanning that he co-produced was at number six on the chart, its third week on the top 10.

Both films had premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September and both opened on October 23. While Dreamer, a co-production with Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks, opened in about 1,500 theaters, Shopgirl, made with Disney, opened in a handful of New York and Los Angeles theaters.

In the coming weeks, Shopgirl is going for several more expansions. It has been creating quite a bit of Oscar buzz for Claire Danes and is also expected to get quite a number of Golden Globe nominations.

"It is not every week that an independent producer gets to see two of his films on the Top 10 chart," said Amritraj in a telephone interview from his Hollywood office. "And how many independent producers are there who will have two films at a prestigious festival and have them roll out on the same day few weeks later?"

Many producers in Hollywood take less risks as they grow older, he said, adding it was the opposite with him.

Anand Tucker"When Steve called me after we had worked together on Bringing Down The House and told me about the Shopgirl script, he also added that he knew I am not usually associated with such films," Amritraj says. Bringing Down The House, a loud mainstream comedy which Amritraj co-produced, grossed a healthy $200 million worldwide two years ago.

Steve Martin had also known that though Amritraj made big and broadly mainstream films such as Bandits (with Bruce Willis), he also made occasionally low-keyed emotional dramas such as Moonlight Mile with Oscar winners Dustin Hoffman and Susan Sarandon.

"I read the Shopgirl script overnight and I did not want to put it down," Amritraj recalls. "I was laughing one moment, and the next, there were tears in my eyes."

Martin plays a fabulously wealthy man who pursues a twenty-something woman (Claire Danes) who is emotionally insecure and is quite lonely. Chasing her is someone her own age, but the young man (Jason Schwartzman) has no decent job. And what is worse, he just does not seem to be romantic enough.

Steve MartinImmediately after he had read the script, Amritraj took it to Disney and the studio offered to be a partner, provided Amritraj raised the money -- reportedly $20 million.

It is too early to declare Shopgirl a hit. But if it expands well in the next three weeks at its current pace, it could end up with about $25 million in the theaters, and hopefully with more when it hits the DVD road.

Reviews for the film have been nearly ecstatic though some newspapers such as Daily News in New York and Hollywood Reporter have panned the movie.

"Even I have been surprised with the reviews and they have been far more positive than I had expected ," Amritraj said. He laughed for a minute before adding, "Of course, we deserved them."

He added: "The New York Times review was fantastic. It was a love letter." The Times called the film 'an elegant and exquisitely tailored romantic comedy.'

ShopgirlRoger Ebert, one of America's most popular and respected critics, called it 'a tender and perceptive film.'

Amritraj knows too well that some films that show ample promise in a limited release turn out to be disappointing when they add hundreds of screens.

"But what we hear on a daily basis has been very encouraging for Shopgirl," he says. "It is a smart, romantic comedy, a fable anyone can relate to."

Even then, the delicately made film may not be everyone's idea of weekend fun. But it holds high hopes of turning into an art-house hit, or a sleeper hit which stays around for a long time while flashy films, big-budgeted films like Doom live up to their title.

"I have been in Hollywood for a long, long time," says Amritraj who has produced or co-produced over 70 films in the past 25 years. "But it is only when I get to make films such as Dreamer and Shopgirl in the same year do I understand how blessed I have been."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Paternal-esque love

New York Observer
October 31, 2005
CULTURE; Rex Reed, Pg. 20
Happy Danes! Shopgirl Shines
Rex Reed

Mr. Martin is a babe magnet for the kind of girl who wants a lover and a dad all rolled into one.

In the sudden plethora of faceless film stars with more publicity than talent, Claire Danes is a shining exception. With her wistful and querulous combination of distant longing and in-the-moment sensitivity, she is never less than totally committed to every role. Usually erasing her leading men from memory in a single radiant smile, she has a wan but intelligent beauty, and she can act. Shopgirl, adapted by Steve Martin from his novella, is about a May-December love affair between an older man (sensibly and attractively played by Mr. Martin, with plenty of sincerity and no shtick) and a girl young enough to be his daughter. They share the screen, but the movie is really more of a valentine to Claire Danes. She accepts it gracefully.

Lonely and unfocused, college graduate Mirabelle Buttersfield (Ms. Danes) moves from Vermont to Los Angeles to pursue an art career, but to pay off her student loan she is forced to take a job selling gloves at Saks. During the day, she watches waxed zombies from Beverly Hills stretching their mitts into elegant leather she can't afford; at night, she goes home to a modest little apartment where her cat eats better than she does. Suddenly, there are two men in her life--well, make that one man and a hairy doofus who shows no sign of ever passing puberty. The older man is Ray Porter, a wealthy, successful and divorced Lochinvar who is charming, odd, coldly distant and played with exquisite elegance by Mr. Martin. (Why not? He created the role for himself and studied all the angles.) Ray sizes up Mirabelle at Saks and showers her with gifts, offering the reassuring warmth of a father figure without the promise of any long-term commitment.

Simultaneously, she is also romanced by a cretin she meets in a laundromat named Jeremy, played by the almost terminally creepy Jason Schwartzman, who specializes in freaks who speak in grunts and appear to be submental. Small wonder she chooses the older man, since the audience has already chosen him for her. Jeremy is a meathead slacker whose job is a blank (something about designing logos) and whose future is even bleaker. Ray knows how to make a wallflower feel like a debutante, and when he takes her to bed, she sees visions of security that shopgirls on breadline budgets only dream about. But Ray is dogged by problems of his own. He's afraid of women once they've been seduced, he can't show true tenderness, and there's always a glint in his eye in a crowded room that suggests he may be looking for the next best thing. Only as the film progresses and Ms. Danes grows from Bridget Jones to Anna Karenina do we see how vulnerable Mirabelle really is and how deeply Ray lets her down. The fact that she eventually reunites with the oafish Jeremy is a letdown (she deserves better), but even he seems to have taken a toddler's step toward maturity: He buys a razor and a toothbrush.

Carefully constructed by Mr. Martin, the Shopgirl screenplay retains the author's sophisticated literary sensibility and is well served by director Anand Tucker to give a realistic picture of a young woman floating in the cheesy neon pudding of Los Angeles, where individuals struggle to forge meaningful relationships in an atmosphere of superficial values. The fact that the film takes its time involving you in the lives of its characters is to Mr. Martin's credit. The leisurely pace is comforting as cashmere. I liked Shopgirl a lot, mainly because its heart is in the right place and because it is so refreshingly unpretentious.

Ms. Danes never makes a wrong move. The camera responds accordingly, caressing her movements, gazing adoringly into her moist eyes and enhancing her talent the way Frank Borzage celebrated Margaret Sullavan in the close-ups. For Mr. Martin, this is a welcome change of pace after years of regrettably dumb comedies that rely on sight gags for laughs instead of human foibles. I've always preferred his serious side; from the evidence of his books, he's a thoughtful man, and in the character of Ray he has drawn from his best instincts as an actor. Ray is wise and nurturing, but weak when it comes to emotional strength; he's a man who feels deeply but can't show it except in material ways. (What a disaster this movie would be with a blank cartridge like Bill Murray in the lead.) Classy and suave, Mr. Martin is a babe magnet for the kind of girl who wants a lover and a dad all rolled into one, but how many bottles of perfume does it take to make her feel needed? Although he loves Mirabelle in his way, Ray's kind of love doesn't have forever written on it. When she sees the light, I get the feeling that her heartbreak will be temporary.

Jeremy appeals in a different way, because he loves her unselfishly. He might be an idiot, but he wants all of her, not just little fragments. Shopgirl seems to be saying that not loving in the same tempo will undeniably lead to loss, but in a cockeyed reversal of the sexes, it's reassuring to see a movie in which it's the older man who dumps the younger girl instead of the other way around. There are no villains and no victims here, just likeable people, bruised by their own sensitivity. The people at Disney's Touchstone Pictures haven't got a clue how to release, sell, market or publicize a film this special, so it will probably get lost in the overcrowded autumn shuffle. This will be a shame, of course. Soft and muted and irresistibly warm, Shopgirl is a feel-good movie that lingers.

Another interview -- it adds something

The Sunday Oregonian (Portland, Oregon)
October 30, 2005 Sunday
Sunrise Edition
Sunday Features (O!); Pg. O7
Steve Martin: from `The Jerk' to the philosopher king of comedy
SHAWN LEVY, The Oregonian

Meet Steve Martin, author: "I'm involved in every sentence in the book, let's put it that way. And I care about every one. And if there's any kind of error --whether it's grammatical, tonal or syntactical --I am appalled."

Meet Steve Martin, producer: "I sat in on every audition. . . . But the director really did the music, even though we agreed on the tone of the music from the start."

Meet Steve Martin, confessor: "I think there's a lot of men like this. Certainly I've been one --not any more. But there are passages in our lives when men are --and it's a cliche --cooler and less willing to be corralled."

And, oh, yes, meet Steve Martin, comic genius: "I learned something early on from Jack Benny: If the other person gets the laugh, it's good for you both."

In all these personae and more, Martin has been a staple of American pop culture since the '70s: in movies, television, stand-up and record albums, as host of the Oscars, and as a writer of comic sketches, plays and short fiction. It's this last role that he's highlighting now as he shepherds the film version of his 2001 novella "Shopgirl" to theaters.

Martin wrote the adaptation and produced the film, and he stars as Ray Porter, a remote and restless middle-aged man who gets involved romantically with Mirabelle Butterfield, a young department store salesgirl and sometime artist who is also being courted by Jeremy, a puppyish dreamer closer to her age.

The film features Claire Danes ("Romeo & Juliet") and Jason Schwartzman ("Rushmore") in the other leads. It's a dreamy, jazzy film that will put some viewers in mind of "Lost in Translation," and, as he makes clear in a phone call from New York, it's a very personal project for Martin.

"I always felt parental toward this movie, and still do," he says. "I guess you always pretend you don't have a stake in it until you have a heart attack six months later. But I do have an emotional stake in this."

Martin has written others of his own films --"The Jerk," "Roxanne," "L.A. Story" and "Bowfinger" among them. But here, he admits, his connection to the material ran even deeper. "Every character," he says, "is either part of me or someone I've seen or talked to."

He developed his script with his own production company and hired English director Anand Tucker when he felt that the director shared his affection for the material. "In a way," he recalls, "he chose us. He was sent the script as a qualified director, having made the beautiful movie 'Hilary and Jackie.' And he really responded to it in a significant way. . . . He definitely had the feel for it."

That feel comes through, especially in the film's many lovely shots of the Los Angeles cityscape. Martin was born in Texas but mostly raised and educated in Southern California, and he is one of those proud Angelenos who doesn't apologize for the comforts and beauties of his hometown. Indeed, as he did in "L.A. Story," which was directed by another Brit, Mick Jackson, he paints something of a love poem to the city in "Shopgirl."

How did he manage to bring out the inner Angeleno of a pair of Englishmen?

"I think that both of those directors came to L.A. and took a deep breath," he says. "L.A. is fantastic after the darkness and coldness and grayness of England. Suddenly you're in this sunny and happy --basically happy --place. Not that England is not, but you get the idea. And there are a lot of passages in the book that describe the beauty of L.A. I mean, here's Mirabelle, who's got this sort of low-rent apartment, and the view it commands is of the entire city. from the inner city to the palisades to the ocean."

But even with the perfect leading lady, perfect location and perfect director, Martin felt the film lacked something to be complete: an actor other than him in the role of Ray.

"I feel like I'm standing in where a lot of actors could have," he says. "In fact, I did ask Tom Hanks, who was busy. And then after I went to Tom, I thought, 'Well, I'm gonna be on the set anyway; might as well be wearing make-up.' "

He's refreshingly unafraid to not be funny. Indeed, as the author of the material, he knows exactly what he shouldn't be doing: "I look at this film and I think, 'This isn't about me being funny at all; this is about the movie; it's not about my performance; this is about the girl, this is about the tone, this is about the story.' "

But at the same time, he's enough of a pro to understand how "Shopgirl" fits into the bigger picture of all the Steve Martins we have known through the years.

"I always remind myself that I know everything I've done," he says. "So when I do something with this tone, I think, 'Well, that's just another thing in this tone.' But everybody else doesn't know everything I've done. They see one out of every 10 things, if that. So it might be a surprise to some people. But I always think that if the thing works, it's no problem for anybody."

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