Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Tuesday, November 01, 2005

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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