Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, January 07, 2006

Steve talks about his lovelife -- a bit

The Daily Telegraph (LONDON)
January 6, 2006 Friday
Yes, I had an affair with a shopgirl. Probably Steve Martin tells John Hiscock his new film isn't based on himself, but he has some romantic confessions to make

Steve Martin is reminiscing about a long-past love affair. It happened, he says wryly, "when I was still a celebrity'', and he and the woman talked about it later. "I asked her why she had slept with me, and she said, 'So I can tell my friends,''' he says with a smile, although he does not seem very amused.

The talk has turned inevitably to the actor-comedian's love life because his new film Shopgirl, which he adapted from his novella of the same name, deals with a bittersweet affair between Ray Porter, a rich, handsome, middle-aged bachelor, and Mirabelle, a lonely shop assistant he meets at the rarely frequented glove counter at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, where she works.

A serio-comic tale about the difficulty of connecting in the modern-day world, Shopgirl stars Martin as the smooth, self-possessed Porter, who woos the endearingly vulnerable Mirabelle (Claire Danes) with courtly determination and expensive gifts; but, when she falls for him, he is unwilling to commit himself to a serious relationship.

Martin is not saying how much of it is autobiographical, but he cautiously acknowledges: "As a man I've had many experiences in my life, and I certainly draw upon them. I've had those relationships. I have some experience in that area, but this is a role. Anything you make is partly autobiographical, but the story is not based on me. It's based on anecdotes from others and a lifetime of observation. It's an accumulation of interests, conversations and experience.

"The movie is about people learning about life - and themselves - through love. Love is a test.

"I've been through many stages in my life, and certainly one stage was like Ray Porter - being emotionally unavailable and afraid of intimacy. It's a brief stage, but it's a potent one. I was essentially on the road from age 25 until I was 40, and it's a very, very lonely life. You're in a town for one or two days and you're always packing a suitcase and you sort of adapt to that kind of life.

"Mirabelle is a pastiche of people I've known; and when you live in Los Angeles you drive around and you look at all these shop girls and kind of fantasise about their lives.''

Has he had an affair with a shop girl? "Probably.''

Steve Martin is notoriously uncomfortable in interviews and intensely dislikes talking about himself, so it is nothing short of extraordinary for him to be discussing, albeit reluctantly, past love affairs and emotional milestones in his life. But there are certain things that have to be done even if you're a celebrated actor, comedian, screenwriter, producer, playwright and author, and Martin knows that if he wants Shopgirl to be noticed he has to put on a brave face and courteously answer questions he would far rather ignore.

It is difficult to reconcile the quietly spoken, sophisticated, 60-year-old actor-writer with the hyperkinetic comedian who won laughs by sporting a fake arrow through his head and coining the catchphrase, "Well, excuuuuse me!'' His home is now a rambling ranch-style home in the Hollywood Hills, where he keeps his extensive art collection and works at his other profession as a writer. And his play Picasso at the Lapin Agile, his collection of humorous essays, his novels and his contributions to the venerable New Yorker magazine have placed him among the ranks of the respected literati.

"You go through different periods,'' explains Martin. "Earlier on it was comfortable for me to be crazy. Then you get a little older and get a little more in-depth. It's maturity, age, self-examination, experience - painful experience - and thinking about life.''

Like those of his Ray Porter character, Martin's own private relationships have not all been successful. His seven-year marriage to British actress Victoria Tennant collapsed in 1993 when she left him for an Australian actor. Shortly afterwards, he entered a short and ill-fated love affair with Anne Heche, who later declared herself a lesbian and briefly moved in with Ellen DeGeneres. Since then he has dated a number of different women, most recently Patty Marx, a writer, and he insists he is now "in a solid relationship''.

He learned his trade working at Disneyland, selling guidebooks and doing magic tricks for visitors while studying towards his goal of becoming a philosophy professor. He changed direction when he was offered a writing job in the late '60s on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour and soon began performing his own material in clubs and on television, later graduating to huge rock venues that would dwarf a less visual performer.

While his low-brow early movies gave little indication of career longevity, he developed into a leading comic and dramatic actor with films such as Pennies From Heaven, Roxanne, The Spanish Prisoner, Joe Gould's Secret and Novocaine. While comically manic in films such as The Jerk and All of Me, he was coolly unsympathetic in Grand Canyon and Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Although he won a Writers' Guild award for his 1988 screenplay for Roxanne, and became a Hollywood hyphenate by producing, writing and starring in LA Story in 1991, his focus began to change in the early 1990s when he wrote Picasso at the Lapin Agile. The comic fantasy about a meeting between the celebrated painter and Albert Einstein in a Paris bar in 1904 shortly before they achieved worldwide fame became a hit in Los Angles and opened off-Broadway to respectable reviews and box office, confirming Martin as a significant new voice on the theatre scene.

Martin then took a three-year break from acting to concentrate on his writing. Having published a collection of his humorous stories under the title Cruel Shoes, he followed it with Pure Drivel, a collection of his absurdist essays, and then Shopgirl, which made it on to many bestseller lists.

His screen version of Shopgirl sees him explore not only the intricacies of human relationships and the loneliness of LA existence, but the twin themes of beauty and the arts, two subjects of great importance to him.

"In times of crisis like Hurricane Katrina, beauty and the arts seem very insignificant, but in times of calm, they become very important to us and give us a kind of secular reason to live,'' he says.

"Everybody has their own taste and what makes it all go round is there's somebody for everybody. I remember once I was in Texas doing a film with Liam Neeson. We were sharing a house, and we were going for a walk in the afternoon and two girls came walking by.

"By the way, this was 20 years ago,'' he hurriedly adds. "I said to Liam, 'Wow, I thought that girl was so beautiful,' and he said, 'I liked the other one.''' Martin smiles and shrugs. "That's the way it works.''


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