Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A new interview -- newsflash: Steve likes tuna :)
Inspecting Clouseau
Steve Martin chats with Current about philosophy, tuna sandwiches and the real meaning of bootylicious

Summer 2006 issue - Steve Martin has been making people cry from laughter since before most of us college-aged kids were crying for diaper changes. From “Saturday Night Live” to “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” to his latest role as Inspector Clouseau in “The Pink Panther,” he has been a comedy fixture who constantly reinvents himself to master his roles. Below, he expounds on the study of philosophy, the power of the media, the process of writing—and the meaning of life. Well, not exactly. But there is something in there about his favorite sandwich. Dig in!

1) Your latest film, “The Pink Panther,” stars Beyoncé Knowles. Were you familiar with her work before you met her?
Not completely, but of course I did get familiar with it when I knew she was going to do the movie and I really, really liked it. She’s a fantastic performer...I worked with her on the set and she would sing there live.

2) After working with her, can you define the word “bootylicious”?
Doesn’t it describe a woman who is delectable?

3) Can you pinpoint the moment when you knew you had to pursue your chosen path?
I was in college [at Santa Ana College] and I had to make a decision whether to finish school or take a job as a writer for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” And I decided to take the job. (The “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” starring Tom and Dick Smothers, aired on CBS, ABC, and NBC from 1967-1975. One of the more controversial television shows of its time, “Smothers Brothers” content was largely political with a comedic bent. Martin worked as a staff writer for the show in 1975, its final year on the air.)

4) You studied philosophy in college before you dropped out. What appealed to you about the discipline, and who is your favorite philosopher?
It was very romantic. You’re honing in on the reason we’re here and the nature of the universe, etc. The philosopher that interested me the most I would say is either David Hume, who was a British empiricist, or Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was one of the early semanticists, analyzing language as it relates to meaning.

5) You attended college in the mid-1960s. Did you partake in any of the college-aged activities so many current students wish they had been able to experience (read: everything from political protests to Jimi Hendrix to free love)?
When I was a writer for “Smothers Brothers,” we were very protest-y. So I did my protesting on television. And I attended some anti-war rallies, but mostly I was a bystander. (“Smothers Brothers” often poked fun at controversial issues which ranged from religion to politics, and had numerous battles with CBS over censorship. The debate got so fierce that in 1969 CBS kicked the show off the air, and it moved to ABC.)

6) Did someone act as your mentor when you were up-and-coming?
[Jack] Benny, [Stan] Laurel and [Oliver] Hardy, and Jerry Lewis.
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7) Who is your favorite character in fiction?
Fiction? Cyrano de Bergerac! (Martin starred as the large-nosed C.D. Bales in the 1987 hit “Roxanne,” a modernization of the French play “Cyrano de Bergerac.” C.D., unable to win Roxanne (Darryl Hannah) because of his incredibly large nose, helps his attractive, yet bumbling, friend win her over, but Darryl proves the world wrong in the end—showing that not all blondes are superficial!)

8) How do you see the function of the critic, if at all?
I think there are two functions for a critic. One is to comment intellectually and constructively on artwork or movies, and the other is to inform the public whether or not they might enjoy a certain movie. In other words, if a critic goes to a movie and the audience is laughing and laughing and laughing, it’s unfair of them to come out and say: You won’t laugh. (Janet Maslin, writing for the New York Times in 1986, reviewed the college favorite “Three Amigos” grudgingly, noting that “the laughs are by no means wall to wall, and there are some lengthy dry stretches.” Try telling that to the giggling bunch of stoners down the hall, trying to imitate the Three Amigos salute.)

9) Having written for The New Yorker, completed two screenplays (“L.A. Story” and “Roxanne”), a play (“The Underpants”), and a novella (“Shopgirl”), you have been able to write in a variety of different media. Do you enjoy one more than the others?
I really enjoy writing prose because it finally doesn’t have to be tested in front of an audience like a screenplay or a play does. You just sort of get it the way you exactly want it, and then you’re done. You’re not vulnerable to an audience’s nightly moods.

10) You have been pegged as a comedic actor by many. How does your approach change when you sit down to write/act in a more serious dramatic piece of work?
It’s simple. In a comedy you’re allowed to do things that are exaggerated, and slightly unreal. And in drama, you’re not, unless it specifically calls for it, obviously. Basically that’s the way it goes.

11) Many of your movies are made directly for a younger audience, or at least directly involve family dramas. How do you find you interact with children on the set?
It’s very enjoyable. I always say I get the best of the children—they’re at work, they’re in a good mood, they’re being taken care of. And then of course their parents have to take them home at night when they’re tired and cranky. But I really enjoy the kids on the set. (“The Muppet Movie,” “Parenthood,” “Father of the Bride,” “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the list goes on...)

12) You are an avid art collector and a trustee of the L.A. County Museum of Art. Is there a specific work to which you return repeatedly for inspiration?
Anything by Edward Hopper.
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13) What was the most embarrassing experience of your professional life?
I guess it would be the night I walked out for an encore to play the banjo and I hit my banjo neck on the side of the stage and it broke my banjo in half and I was standing there, the neck dangling down from the banjo just by the strings.

14) Many people may not know that you are quite the banjo player. How did you become interested in folk music? Do you bring your banjo to sets when you are working on films?
Folk music was very popular when I was in my early teens, and then I heard the banjo sound on some records played by Earl Scruggs. My [high school] girlfriend’s father had a banjo, and he let me borrow it, and that’s how I got started. I always [bring my banjo with me on the set]! (Give Earl Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” a listen.)

15) What is your favorite sandwich?
A tuna sandwich.

16) What do you wish you’d known at our age?
That it’s possible, very possible, to rebound from failure...when you’re younger and you fail, you feel like it’s the end of the world. But time goes on and things are forgotten.

Thanks to KMT, the best of contributors


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