Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Monday, December 12, 2005

Steve interview for Australian opening of Shopgirl

December 10, 2005 Saturday
Mr Versatile

WHEN not in front of the camera, Steve Martin is at the typewriter coming up with film scripts, humourous essays published in prestigious magazines like The New Yorker, stage plays and books.

His latest film Shopgirl, the story of Mirabelle, a smart but emotionally fragile shop assistant (Claire Danes) romantically divided between Ray, a wealthy older man (played by Martin), and a sweet but unfocused slacker named Jeremy (Rushmore's Jason Schwartzman), is based on his first novel.

And even though Martin's skill as a writer was undisputed long before the book was published in 2001 he was still plagued with doubt during the process of putting it all down on paper.

"I started it and stopped in disappointment," Martin said about the creation of Shopgirl. "And then I picked it up again and liked it and kept going. I had gotten some negative feedback from someone I shouldn't have allowed to read it, because I was very nervous, you know. It was essentially my first prose work, and I was afraid of making a fool of myself."

Seems odd that someone of Martin's stature should be concerned about such things, especially given the course of his development as an artist over the years. "I always thought that writing for my comedy act was writing," he said.

"When I was in high school and college, I loved poetry. And I was very moved by certain poems and certain sentences. And then I became a comedian and a comedy writer and that was a whole other form. After I'd done my comedy act during the late Seventies, I started writing a screenplay for The Jerk. And that went on and I started writing more screenplays."

Martin's writing progressed to include his stage play Picasso at the Lapin Agile. "The play had more, let's say, thoughtful passages," he said. "And those thoughtful passages encouraged me to be able to write. For example, in [his short-story collection] Pure Drivel there are a few stories that are more thoughtful, and I have these thoughtful sentences. And those few sentences encouraged me to be able to write Shopgirl."

There's been much speculation about an autobiographical aspect to Shopgirl, with many reviewers striving to draw parallels between the charming but remote Ray Porter and Martin himself (who is known for shunning the spotlight). Martin sidesteps such claims.

"Everything is culled from every source: my life, other people's lives. There's a lot of stuff going on. So there's a lot of experience, whether it's my own or somebody else's," Martin said.

"I wanted this story to be about three people who are actually quite nice. In spite of that, they're still paying, even though everyone's trying to do their best in a way. The way it's written, first you explore Mirabelle and then you explore Jeremy and then you explore Ray Porter. They start interacting but there are chapters dedicated to who they are, especially Ray Porter.

"Now I absolutely knew what to say about Mirabelle. But when I got to Ray Porter, it was much harder. Being a man myself, I didn't know what was interesting. I knew what was interesting about being a woman. But being a man, I was like, 'Is that common knowledge?'"

When it came to bringing Shopgirl to the screen, Martin had another actor in mind for Ray - "The first person I asked was Tom Hanks," he said. "I thought he was really the perfect guy to play it" - before taking on the role himself. However, selecting Danes for the central role of Mirabelle was an easy decision.

"As soon as we had lunch, Claire didn't have to speak before we knew she was exactly right for it," Martin said. "Claire is naturally beautiful as opposed to unnaturally beautiful in Hollywood. She had a quiet solitude. There was something about the simplicity of Claire's performance that was amazing."

Simplicity would appear to be the key to telling the story of Shopgirl. "Basically, the book is about small moments and the movie is about small moments, which are the biggest," Martin said.

There's also a sweetly melancholy feel to the story, which leads one to wonder about Martin - whether he's the kind of funny person who's really crying on the inside.

He admits that he's not always on "the light side, but I am a happy person. You go through periods of your life where you're skewed more dark and you're skewed more light. Right now, I'm sort of dead in the middle."


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