People still approach him on the street and ask for his autograph (they don’t get it—he hands them a preprinted card instead). They plead with him to do the shtick they remember from his many appearances on “The Tonight Show” and “Saturday Night Live.”
Steve Martin refuses. Long gone are his days onstage in his trademark white suit with a fake arrow sticking through his head. The new Steve Martin plays an evangelist, an architect, a producer or a sentimental dad in hit Hollywood movies. The wild and crazy Steve Martin has given way to the mature and sedate Steve Martin, right?
Maybe yes, and maybe no. During Johnny Carson’s final week hosting “The Tonight Show” last spring, Martin appeared in a turban in front of a tiny placard that announced one of his many alter egos, the Great Flydini. After reciting the requisite magic words and unzipping his pants, he conjured forth an egg, then a telephone, then a puppet singing like Pavarotti, all through his fly.
The Great Flydini, of course, is vintage Martin, a throwback to his earlier days of offbeat, zany comedy. His new movie, “Leap of Faith,” is strictly a dramatic role. Perhaps only Robin Williams has accomplished what Martin has—achieving fame as a stand-up comic and translating it into success as a serious actor. But Martin hasn’t stopped there. He has also written some of his most successful movies, including “Roxanne” and “L.A. Story.”
His acting work is eclectic: He played romantic leads (in “Roxanne” and in 1992’s “Housesitter”), earnest and endearing dads (in “Parenthood” and “Father of the Bride”) and semi-straight men (to John Candy in “Planes, Trains and Automobiles,” to Lily Tomlin in “All of Me” and to Michael Caine in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels”). He stole the show in “Little Shop of Horrors” (in which he played a mad drill-wielding dentist) and “Grand Canyon” (in which he portrayed a movie producer whose artistic sensibilities were insulted when the blood and guts were cut from one of his films). In other movies he sang and danced (“Pennies from Heaven”) and read the weather (“L.A. Story”). Some were comedies with a bit of drama and others were dramas with some comedy.
Most of Martin’s movies have done well at the box office and he has won numerous awards—though the Oscar has eluded him, even when he was rumored to be a shoe-in for best actor for “Roxanne.” Time called him “this decade’s most charming and resourceful comic actor,” and Entertainment Weekly estimated that audiences have spent three quarters of a billion dollars to see his movies.
As a child, Martin had no plans to become an actor. He was born in Waco, Texas, and raised in southern California, where his father worked as a real estate salesman. Fortune brought the family to live in Garden Grove, an Orange County suburb in the shadow of Disneyland, where the young Martin found work selling guidebooks and, later, hand buzzers and fake vomit in a gift shop.
As a college student at Cal State-Long Beach, Martin earned money performing at Knott’s Berry Farm, where he did magic tricks and sang, accompanying himself on the banjo. But show business was just a hobby; Martin planned to teach philosophy after graduation.
Instead, a girlfriend helped him get his first Hollywood job, as a writer for “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.” He wrote hundreds of skits, won an Emmy and went on to write for shows hosted by Sonny and Cher, Pat Paulsen and Glen Campbell.
Although his agent predicted he would fail as a performer, Martin left television writing to take his stand-up act on the road. Stand-up comedy was still in its dark ages then—it would be a few years before comedy clubs started springing up across the country—and Martin had little choice but to serve as the opener for such acts as the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Linda Ronstadt.
Those audiences, unfortunately, were not particularly receptive to comedy, so Martin made another career change. In 1975 he decided his days as an opening act were over and his days as a headliner should begin. He started touring small music clubs as a solo act, losing money and trying to establish his oddball brand of comedy with audiences around the country. His move paid off: Rave reviews in Miami and San Francisco gave his career a gigantic boost, and he was finally invited to appear on television talk shows, including “The Tonight Show.”
No one quite knew what to make of Martin. He wasn’t political or topical along the lines of George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Robert Klein or Richard Pryor. He did gags and one-liners with props (the fake arrow through his head, balloons). Much of his comedy was physical, in the tradition of Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers.
Even Lorne Michaels, the executive producer of “Saturday Night Live,” was confused. “His act seemed too conventionally show business,” Michaels said. “It was so new it looked old.” At first, Michaels dismissed Martin as too unhip for “SNL.” But he later relented, and Martin became the show’s most popular guest host. Soon, Martin was playing 20,000-seat arenas.
His comedy records sold millions and won Grammys, and he had a best-selling book in 1977, “Cruel Shoes.” A film he made (“The Absent-Minded Waiter,” which he showed during his concerts) was nominated for an Academy Award. He had become, as Carl Reiner said, “the first rock-star comedian.”
As abruptly as he had started headlining, Martin quit stand-up for a movie career. In “The Jerk,” directed by Reiner, a friend from his “Smothers Brothers” days, he played the title role, the adopted son of a black share-cropper. Although the movie was trashed by reviewers, who called it sophomoric, The New York Times, in a TV listing for “The Jerk,” recently called it “a sophisticated comedy.”
Since “The Jerk,” Martin has been in at least one movie a year. He has also had a run on Broadway in “Waiting for Godot,” opposite Robin Williams, and has continued to pop up on “Saturday Night Live,” where his comedy seems as antic and silly as ever.
Offscreen, his life is quiet and busy. He met his wife of the past six years, Victoria Tennant, on the set of “All of Me.” The British-born actress, goddaughter of Laurence Olivier, was also his co-star in “L.A. Story,” which he wrote and co-produced. When he’s not on location, he lives with Tennant in Beverly Hills. The couple also has an apartment in New York City.
Although Martin hates the glitz of Hollywood, he counts many fellow actors among his good friends. He is an avid art collector whose taste runs from a David Hockney portrait of Andy Warhol to works by Roy Lichtenstein and Stanton Macdonald-Wright. He says he’s not political, though he and Victoria traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with servicemen sent to fight the Gulf war.
In his 20th and latest movie, “Leap of Faith,” Martin portrays a con man evangelist managed by Debra Winger. It’s a far cry from his first role in “The Jerk,” when he was the subject of an earlier “Playboy Interview.” In that interview, he wondered aloud if he was going to last.
Martin did more than last, he soared. Now, 13 years later, he has become one of the exclusive group of subjects that Playboy has interviewed twice (joining Fidel Castro, Robin Williams and Gore Vidal). Contributing editor David Sheff, who conducted last month’s interview with Sharon Stone, was sent to Los Angeles to face off with Martin. Here is his report:
“Martin uses the restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills as his living room for business meetings and interviews. It’s a hotel that’s teeming with movie stars. As Martin drove into the parking lot in his steel-blue BMW, Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were slipping into a Porsche and Sam Shepard was reclaiming his Jeep. Later, Ron Howard and Harvey Keitel wandered through the lobby.
“Martin was given the best table in the restaurant, and the waiter was unfazed when he ordered ‘Just water,’ since he had already eaten lunch.
“At first, Martin was anything but relaxed, though he eased up by our final session. Still, he fidgeted, folding his napkin, rocking in place and drumming his fingers on the linen tablecloth. Today, it seems as though Martin no longer feels he needs to hide behind a joke. Offstage, he doesn’t try to be funny, at least not on cue. That’s a significant change for him. He told Playboy in 1980, ‘I’ll be funny when there’s a question I don’t want to answer.’ Instead, he spoke candidly, albeit cautiously, and chose his words carefully. There were many subjects he was reluctant to speak about—‘because I don’t have to,’ he said. He usually relented, but it was often like pulling teeth—as if I were the demented dentist he played in ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’”
Playboy: Why are we here and not at your house?
Martin: I don’t do interviews at home because I’m a private person. I don’t want the house talked about or described. It’s an intrusion into our lives.
Playboy: Did something make you gun-shy?
Martin: I’ve always tried to separate my home life from my work. I did a few things early on when I was living in apartments, and I’ve done some things in my New York apartment, but the story becomes about art on the walls and bath towels. All the articles about Johnny Carson said that he survived with his dignity intact, as if that were a rare thing in Hollywood. Well, he almost never did interviews and he never showed his house in Architectural Digest. That’s the way to do it.
Martin: But you sort of get trapped.
Playboy: How? It would seem that you are successful enough now to call the shots.
Martin: Incumbent on an actor who makes movies is publicizing the movies. You have to do it. It’s something that you deal with, like autographs.
Playboy: But you give out business cards instead of autographs.
Martin: It’s a way to deal with it quickly and not to be rude. Most of the times that people ask for autographs, it’s a way of proving that they saw you. I know this from when I asked for autographs. People always want to know, “What’s he like? Did he say anything funny? Was he nice?” You have thirty seconds to be all those things. My card covers it all: It says that you found me nice, you found me funny and you found me charming and friendly.
Playboy: Do some people get mad? Do they want more than a card?
Martin: No, they like it, though occasionally somebody yells at me.
Playboy: Whose autographs have you asked for?
Martin: Bobby Fischer, Jerry Lewis and Earl Scruggs.
Playboy: Were they funny, charming, nice and friendly?
Martin: All of those things.
Playboy: Why did you want their autographs in particular?
Martin: Earl Scruggs was the first guy I ever heard play the five-string banjo, which motivated me to pick it up. Bobby Fischer was a legendary hero—I play chess a bit, too. I grew up watching Jerry Lewis.
Playboy: It sounds as if you haven’t much liked the trappings of celebrity.
Martin: At the same time, I wouldn’t want to go back to the years of struggle. I recently visited Paris and it was perfect. You have enough fame to get into restaurants but not enough that you’re constantly bothered.
Playboy: Do you ever tell people to leave you alone?
Martin: Yeah, I do.
Playboy: Do they get angry?
Martin: You can’t please everybody. It really used to bother me to think that I had made somebody mad. Now I realize that it’s inevitable, so I draw the line. That’s why I don’t talk about things that are personal to me.
Playboy: Are you shocked at how personal the press can get? What have you thought about the Woody and Mia soap opera?
Martin: It feels as if it’s so much their business that I’m opinionless.
Playboy: Just the other day, at a press conference, you were asked if you were America’s next Woody Allen and you said, “I haven’t slept with one of Mia’s daughters yet.”
Martin: Yes, and I regret having said that. The fact is, I like them both.
Playboy: Do you often stay home because you don’t want to deal with the attention?
Martin: No. There are places we can go where we won’t be bothered. It’s like having a hump. You have it, so you deal with it. You sort of ask for it if you do this kind of career.
Playboy: Particularly when you succeed in such visible media as stand-up, television and movies. Do you have a favorite of those?
Martin: Movies, because that’s what I’m doing now.
Playboy: How do you choose your movies?
Martin: A lot of people think we actually make decisions about what we want to do next. But it’s really about what is offered. More often, you make choices by what comes to you at the time.
Playboy: Can’t you do whatever kind of movie you want to do?
Martin: It has to exist. Finding something that is well-written is extremely difficult.
Playboy: Is that why you write scripts? Does that make you less dependent on what’s available?
Martin: Yeah, but the ones I write are not career moves. They’re, “I want to write this.” Or, “I think this would be a good movie.”
Playboy: What is a career move?
Martin: When you say to yourself, “I want to do a drama with a showy role and I’m going to make sure that no one else shines in the movie.” [laughs] A legitimate career move is, “I want to show them that I can do more than pratfalls, so I’m going to do something that will show that.” It usually doesn’t work out that way, but you try anyway.
Playboy: What’s an example of a legitimate career move?
Martin: Parenthood. I wanted to show that I could play a real person.
Playboy: You had never played a real person before that?
Martin: I had played a real person in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, but in Parenthood I was really a real person. Up until then, I think, the comedy was carrying the acting, not the other way around.
Playboy: Meaning what?
Martin: Meaning that I didn’t play characters as much as I did jokes and gags and gave looks.
Playboy: How do you feel about those who think that your goofier roles are your finest?
Martin: I’m glad people like them. It’s funny because they used to be considered stupid. I’m interested in what I’m doing now, comedy, but comedy within the confines of real characters.
Playboy: Is it easier when you’re in someone else’s movie and reading someone else’s lines?
Martin: Yes. I love doing scripts I didn’t write because I am only a hired actor and I have only that one thing to worry about. If I write it, I have another whole set of problems.
Playboy: Then why do you write?
Martin: It gives you something to do when you’re off, for one thing. You don’t want to just sit there. Mainly, I am a writer. I just am.
Playboy: When you are in someone else’s movie, do you change lines and come up with jokes, or do you stick to what’s written?
Martin: It depends. Grand Canyon was a writer’s script, written by Larry Kasdan. I didn’t add a line. In a movie like that, you play the character as honestly as you can. In other movies you always try to think of jokes. That’s what I’m good at. Maybe that’s why they hire me.
Playboy: In Grand Canyon you played a cynical Hollywood producer who has had a momentary lapse and has imagined making socially conscious movies. He comes to his senses and realizes that he would go on making what people want—insipid violence. Was he typical of the kinds of people you run across in Hollywood?
Martin: For all the talk about those people, I don’t run into them much. I don’t think I’d be around very long if I did.
Playboy: Was your Grand Canyon character a caricature?
Martin: No, not at all. There are people with crass taste who know that violence sells. They also justify what they’re doing. Victoria and I argue about them. I don’t think they’re evil. I think it’s a question of style.
Playboy: What is your wife’s view?
Martin: She equates that behavior with some kind of moral flaw. But it’s not murder, lying, cheating or stealing. You may not like it, but it’s not a horrible thing. You hear all the time that good films are no longer being made. It’s baloney. They say moviemakers care more about money than movies. They’re right about that. Movies cost twenty-five or thirty million dollars. How can you ask them not to care? It’s a question of money and it always has been.
Playboy: Did Robert Altman, in The Player, go too far in portraying the movie business’s ruthlessness?
Martin: The movie business gets a lot of attention because of movie stars, and people tolerate bad behavior in movies more than they would in other businesses. In any business, one’s power is defined by one’s position. In advertising or banking, you know who you control. In the movie business, it’s amorphous. The producer may have the power, or the star may, or the director or the studio—it changes. Since it is undefined, everyone vies for power. It’s all about bluff, seeing what you can get away with. There is also this insecurity. No one can be completely confident, because even geniuses fail in this business. Except me. [Laughs]
Playboy: Is everyone insecure?
Martin: The truth is that no one knows what they’re doing in show business. A painting is one person’s vision. In show business, you need this unpredictable animal called the audience. Ultimately, no one knows how to do it right every time. If we did, we’d always make hits. Our insecurities are such that we always put it on others—that they know. You begin to think you need these other people. If they happen to be behaving badly, you still think you need them. It gives people enormous power. All the time we hear, “So-and-so is the only one who can play this part.” Once you start thinking that way, you’re screwed.
Playboy: Screwed how?
Martin: If you have been shooting a movie for three weeks and an actor or actress decides to show up late, you can’t fire them. You’ve already shot three weeks. If somebody wants to behave badly—unless you want to reshoot the entire movie—you can’t fire them.
Playboy: Do actors, perhaps, have the most power of all?
Martin: It all depends. But one thing seems to be true: The worse the behavior, the smaller the talent.
Playboy: And how easy are you to work with?
Martin: I’ve always been pretty easy. I come from television writing.
Playboy: What makes TV writers so saintly?
Martin: Five guys sit in a room and shoot out ideas. It is friendly but brutal. Your ideas are shot down all the time. It humbles you.
Playboy: In The Player, Altman suggested that the art is lost when moviemakers have to modify their movies depending on audience responses. Do you disagree?
Martin: I don’t think you can ignore the audience. At the same time, you can’t cut the picture for the audience.
Playboy: At least that’s not a wishy-washy answer.
Martin: [Laughs] I mean you can’t just give an audience what it wants. An audience won’t be fooled. It has to be challenged and surprised. On the other hand, testing is valuable because we have to be sure we’re communicating what we want to communicate. If audiences don’t get an important plot point, you’ve lost them. For comedy, it’s really important to test. The great jokes—the ones we love the most—don’t always work. When you screen a comedy for an audience, it’s a new day. It’s like starting over.
Playboy: Why can’t filmmakers trust themselves?
Martin: Maybe movies are too big. There are too many factors to consider. We just never know if we’re seeing things objectively. Our best jokes fall flat.
Playboy: What’s one of your favorite jokes that didn’t work?
Martin: In The Jerk, I play a gas station attendant. A carload of criminals comes in for gas and I don’t want them to escape. So I tie their car to a fireplug, which in turn is attached to a church. The criminals drive away and the church rips in half. [laughs] I thought, This is going to kill them. The movie came out and the audience watched the church being dragged down the road—there were chuckles, but it was no big thing.
Playboy: Is it devastating when a joke doesn’t work?
Martin: They don’t all have to work. I think it was too big to get a laugh. The real laughs always come from something very small and surprising—although another one they didn’t get in The Jerk is when I’m hitchhiking to St. Louis. My character’s name is Navin Johnson. A guy pulls over in his car and asks, “St. Louis?” and I go, “Uh, no, Navin Johnson.” I told the line to Carl Reiner [the movie’s writer and director] and we laughed for forty-five minutes. It’s so stupid! But in the movie, it just kind of goes away.
Playboy: If you’re in a theater and you hear nothing at one of your favorite jokes—or worse, if you hear a groan—how do you feel?
Martin: It depends. What’s really satisfying is when one person gets it. It’s quiet except for someone laughing alone. There’s usually something that strikes people, at least someone, as peculiar. In Sophie’s Choice—
Playboy: A very funny movie.
Martin: Well, no, but there is a great line. Struggling with the language, Sophie says, “Why don’t you wear your cocksucker suit?” Ten minutes later I’m still laughing. By then it’s embarrassing. People are looking at me.
Playboy: You cited lines in The Jerk that didn’t quite work. Do you view the movie as a failure?
Martin: No. It did what I was trying to do at the time. It put my comedy act into a movie. When I look at it now, I think I yelled through the entire movie. But I like it.
Playboy: Which of your movies are your personal favorites?
Martin: I like the simple, elegant comedies that ten years from now will come on channel five and you’ll go, “Hey, that’s funny.” An example is Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which did OK when it came out. But as time went on, more and more people came up to me—they rented it or saw it on TV. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is another one. So is Roxanne. It did fine when it came out. As time goes on, you can see it again and it holds up.
Playboy: Are you good at anticipating the reaction to a movie?
Martin: Yes, although the thing that has changed is the number of sources of criticism. There are a million reviewers now. There are the TV shows, big papers, small papers, twelve cable channels. You used to get a clean sweep—all bad or all good. Now you can’t. Now there’s a bell curve because there are so many opinions, from stupid opinions to brilliant ones.
Playboy: The stupid ones being the negative reviews, the brilliant ones praising you?
Playboy: Is your confidence level such that you know when something’s good, no matter what the reviewers say?
Martin: No. But I realize that their opinion isn’t the final opinion. The final opinion comes five or ten years later. Is the movie still around? Are people watching it? Or did it come and go? I picked up The New York Timesthe other day and was so pleased to see that The Jerk, which was vilified when it came out—it got ninety-nine percent bad reviews—was described as an “eccentric, sophisticated comedy.” It was moronic. Now it’s sophisticated.
Playboy: Do you have a special place in your heart for Roxanne, the first movie you wrote on your own?
Martin: Yeah, because it was a real struggle to write it. I was very fearful of it.
Playboy: Fearful of what?
Martin: It was my first solo screenplay and, in addition, I was taking on a classic. It took me a while to write it—four or five years. There was a great deal of self-doubt.
Playboy: Why tackle Cyrano de Bergerac?
Martin: It’s very emotional and the humor comes out of the emotions. Nothing is better. As you’re getting a joke, you’re crying.
Playboy: Did you view it as a risky idea? Wasn’t it like remaking Gone with the Wind?
Martin: I didn’t know if I was capable of doing it. The humor had to be updated because of the nineteenth century references—stuff about the Greek gods, for instance, who no one pays much attention to anymore. At the worst, though, I knew it was a place for some good one-liners.
Playboy: Was it tough to persuade a studio to make the movie?
Martin: I told the first executive I saw that it was an update of Cyrano de Bergerac and he asked, “What’s Cyrano de Bergerac?” I had to pitch Cyrano, which is sort of like pitching Romeo and Juliet. The second studio I went to was Columbia, where I saw Guy McElwaine, who was then the president. I told him it was an update of Cyrano de Bergerac and he stood up, went to the window and began reciting lines from the play. He gave me the go-ahead.
Playboy: Were you a fan of the other Cyrano movies?
Martin: I liked Gérard Depardieu’s Cyrano. The Jose Ferrer Cyrano was fabulous. He won an Oscar for it. I met him and told him how great I thought the performance was and he said, “All I remember is how bad I was.”
Playboy: Are you generous when you view your movies?
Martin: No. I can’t stand to look at myself.
Martin: Occasionally. But it has to come as a surprise, like flipping through the channels and suddenly you see a moment and say, “Hey, that was OK.”
Playboy: You also wrote L.A. Story by yourself. How much does the movie show of your real life?
Martin: My life kind of looks like that. Those houses and the restaurants are places I would find myself. It’s funny that it ended up being considered this L.A. movie when I really set out just to make a love story that happened to be set in L.A.
Playboy: But much of the humor is about L.A. Where else could freeway signs spout spiritual riddles?
Martin: That’s true. It’s a fun city to make fun of. It’s not hard to do.
Playboy: Because it was a love story starring you and your wife, people said the movie was an homage to Victoria. One reviewer called it a love letter to her.
Martin: That would be awful if it was. I don’t want to spend seventeen million dollars of someone else’s money on an homage to my wife. I’ll do that at home with a box of candy. You could take another actress and put her in there and tell the same story. The movie was an allegory about romance—how it feels. It happened to star my wife. I wanted to movieize that state.
Playboy: As opposed to the state of love?
Martin: Yes. They’re very different. This is about the first blush of romance. As opposed to L.A. Story II, which, if there were one—don’t worry, there won’t be—would be The Married Years. After romance is love: trust and knowing the person. You love for different reasons.
Playboy: At which stage is your relationship with Victoria?
Martin: Definitely a love story. I never really had long-term, steady girlfriends until Victoria. It’s really because of Victoria that I understood what it meant to be married.
Playboy: What does it mean?
Martin: I can’t describe it specifically, but it is more about an attitude. We’re a couple forever. I came from the philosophy that it lasts as long as it lasts. As soon as you accept the vision that it is going to work forever, it can. I once went to a psychiatrist who said that your emotions follow your intentions. If your intent is to last forever, your emotions go that way. Once I saw that, I could see that it can last forever. As our marriage goes on, I like her more and more and admire her more and more. Romance is about a feeling and marriage is about so much more: the intellectual, the compassionate, the friendship. It has to do with a way of life, too, a circle of friends. Part of the deal is that you strive to be together as much as possible. We’ve been together for eight years and we recently took a vacation in which we spent seven weeks essentially in one room. And it was great. It was, like, better than ever. [Laughs] I’d better be careful. People say, “We have this perfect marriage” and two weeks later they’re divorced.
Playboy: But not you?
Martin: Not us.
Playboy: You said that L.A. Story wasn’t about Los Angeles—it was just set there. But Victoria said that L.A. is unmistakably you—“like Baltimore is unmistakably Barry Levinson or New York is unmistakably Woody Allen.” What do you think?
Martin: I guess I’m thought of as a West Coast comedian. My style seems to warrant that label. There’s probably something California in me.
Playboy: What are the California things?
Martin: I don’t know. Lack of ethnicity. I have no accent.
Playboy: You made another Los Angeles movie, Larry Kasdan’s Grand Canyon.
Martin: When I read the script, I told Larry that it was L.A. Story: The Dark Side.
Playboy: The film was prophetic.
Martin: When the movie was first screened, people complained that it didn’t present L.A. in a nice light. It was spooky how much it revealed.
Playboy: Since the riots, are the worlds portrayed in the movies more opposed?
Martin: I don’t think so. That’s the problem. L.A. is not where I live. I live in West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. It’s a different place.
Playboy: Did the riots blur the lines?
Martin: The problems are definitely encroaching. In that way the riots were good because they made us look. There will be action. But as to understanding that part of town, I’m too well off and too happy even to have a comment, even to pretend to understand it.
Playboy: That may be honest, but it’s a limited view. The message in Grand Canyon was that you can make a difference in other people’s lives.
Martin: It was and you can, but the problems are enormous. First is to understand that all our talking about it doesn’t do anything.
Playboy: Do you get involved? Have you done political benefits?
Martin: Politics really doesn’t interest me. Except to get mad.
Playboy: Do you get really mad?
Martin: I do.
Playboy: What makes you maddest?
Martin: Politicians who have an answer for everything. When I was in college, studying philosophy, I had an answer for everything. People get that way in their religion, too. You can ask a Christian, “If Adam and Eve were the first people on earth and they had three sons, where did everybody else come from?” and they’ll give you an answer. Well, all those answers don’t begin to touch the real problems. That makes me mad. The problems are bigger and different from the quick answers we are given.
Playboy: If you don’t work for candidates, how about for causes?
Martin: I haven’t done a lot, but I will do more as I get older, when there’s more time. I’ve done benefits, though.
Playboy: In 1982, you said you were going to vote for George McGovern. Have your politics changed since then?
Martin: Everything that’s happened to me could be predicted. As I get older, I get more conservative. I’m certainly not on the right, but on issues such as taxes I don’t know where I am. I’ve always been a Democrat, but I don’t even know what that means anymore. Gore Vidal said we don’t have a two-party system, it’s a one-party system with different factions. I think it’s true.
Playboy: You made a strong political statement when you visited the Persian Gulf before the war.
Martin: It wasn’t a political trip. It was humanitarian. If there was a political motivation, then I’m saying I’m for war. Being an old Sixties guy I can’t say that. Still, I know that it was hot out there. The soldiers needed some people to tell them that we were thinking about them. I wanted to see some of them and show them that they were not estranged from the country.
Playboy: You have said that you never would have fought in Vietnam—you would have gone to Canada. Was part of your motivation to go to the Gulf guilt over your position during Vietnam?
Martin: It’s better to talk about after Vietnam. The vets came home and were hated. It seemed wrong. The war wasn’t their fault. Even if you were against the Gulf war, you couldn’t take it out on the soldiers. That’s why I felt good about going.
Playboy: What was the experience like?
Martin: It was incredible to one day be walking down the streets of New York and the next flying in an open helicopter over a camel train. You land and it’s not pretend.
Playboy: Press reports said the State Department stopped you from performing.
Martin: No. There were several reasons I didn’t perform. I didn’t have anything to perform and the Saudis were very nervous. They don’t know what entertainers mean. The main thing was that they didn’t want to collect ten thousand people in one place. It would have been very dangerous. Instead, I flew to places where they had a little stage set up. Sometimes I just signed autographs and posed for pictures.
Playboy: Were you there when the fighting began?
Martin: No. It was still chilling, though. We were instructed in how to mix in Saudi Arabian society. Never expose the bottom of your foot. Never look at a man’s wife or talk about a man’s wife. Victoria and I were in a car and she had taken her Army fatigue jacket off and was wearing a T-shirt. A guard stopped us and went crazy. He screamed, “Women shouldn’t be dressed like that.” It was a whole ordeal to get back to the base.
Playboy: Do you feel good about having gone there?
Martin: Absolutely. It was an incredible experience. You can’t just go from movie to movie.
Playboy: When you look back on your life, do you see where your sense of comedy came from?
Martin: No, I don’t. I was just always interested in it.
Playboy: What brought your parents to California from Texas?
Martin: This was the promised land. Texas was too hot and humid.
Playboy: So when did you think about performing?
Martin: All I know is that I always loved comedy, whether it was on TV or in magic shows or movies. Milton Berle. Laurel and Hardy. Jerry Lewis. Jack Benny. There are lots of names. Steve Allen. Lenny Bruce. I loved anybody who made me laugh. They made me want to do it.
Playboy: Are they your most important influences?
Martin: They all are. And Buster Keaton, Jackie Gleason, Chaplin.
Playboy: Did you have a favorite?
Martin: Cary Grant, I guess. He was such a delectable comedian because it all seemed so effortless.
Playboy: Do you think of him when you act in movies?
Martin: Sometimes. He’s an ideal. I would never hope to be that good. I love what he did in Arsenic and Old Lace.He was just very big, very broad. His smoothest stuff is really broad. Big, goofy takes.
Playboy: Do you ever wonder what would have been different had your family not moved west?
Martin: I do. It was one of those twists of fate. I wouldn’t have had the proximity to show business or the outlets. It’s impossible to think of what I would have been.
Playboy: Does a lot of the drive to perform have to do with the recognition?
Martin: I’ve never been able to analyze that part of it. The main thing I think about is making the thing, the performance or the movie or whatever it is. All that other stuff is subconscious.
Playboy: What was your first act at Knott’s Berry Farm?
Martin: We did a play and then they had what they called olio acts, a singer or comedian would do four or five minutes. I was going to college at the time. I planned to be a professor and all that. I was very serious about it.
Playboy: Was your interest in philosophy theoretical or personal?
Martin: It started out as personal and became academic because you realize that the personal thing will never be answered.
Playboy: What personal things were you trying to answer?
Martin: I was just looking to the future. When you get into college, you realize the world is a lot bigger than you thought it was. Particularly in the Sixties.
Playboy: Were you involved in the student movement?
Martin: Yeah, although I wasn’t that involved. I was on its side, let’s put it that way. It didn’t quite hit Long Beach, where I went to school.
Playboy: Was your college life serious or more in the tradition of Animal House?
Martin: Very serious. One or two friends. Small, enclosed, not part of the social scene at all. I missed the Beatles. I wasn’t listening to the music. I just studied and on evenings and weekends worked at Knott’s Berry Farm.
Playboy: What diverted you from a career as a philosophy professor?
Martin: I realized I would never know if I could have been a performer if I didn’t try it. My girlfriend at the time was a dancer on the Smothers Brothers show. We met and fell in love in college. She gave some of the material I’d written in college to Mason Williams, who was the head writer. They went for it. It was a miracle because the material wasn’t that good. They just wanted writers under thirty because of the Sixties thing. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Playboy: How brutal is TV writing?
Martin: Actually it was a great job. I wrote with about five other writers. Sparks flew. I love collaborating.
Playboy: But you do it less and less.
Martin: The only reason I don’t collaborate on my scripts anymore is that I don’t want to have a meeting. I want to work when I want to. Still, it was great.
Playboy: Do you have people you bounce things off of now?
Martin: It’s different each time. Frank Oz. Carl Reiner. We spark off each other. We share this odd thing of appreciating each other’s twisted visions. Carl came up with one of my favorite lines. He just said it one day and I said, “That’s too fabulous.” I called him about five years later and said the line would go perfect in L.A. Story and asked him if I could use it.
Playboy: What was the line?
Martin: “I could never be a woman because I’d just sit around the house all day and play with my breasts.”
Playboy: We remember another great joke about breasts in that movie.
Martin: I was filming a sex scene with Sarah Jessica Parker and I didn’t have a line. It was just a basic sex scene. I thought, There’s something wrong here. It looks like Steve Martin is feeling up Sarah Jessica Parker. It needs something. So I came up with the line. I had him feel her up and ask, “Hey, what’s wrong with your breasts?” She said, “They’re real.” You never know where it comes from. I was so happy when I found the line. It made the scene.
Playboy: Most of the sex in your movies is fairly discreet and subtle. Does that reflect your sensibility?
Martin: I think that there’s something nice about watching Richard Gere and Kim Basinger having sex, but there’s not something nice about watching Groucho Marx and somebody else having sex.
Playboy: You see yourself as Groucho?
Martin: I’ve never been known as a sexy star. I feel kind of silly humping onscreen. Also, something bothers me about it: the idea that if I did a heavy sex scene, it would be Steve Martin doing it.
Playboy: As opposed to?
Martin: As opposed to the character. Bernadette Peters said it to me first: “I’m not going to do a nude scene because when you take off your blouse you’re not the character anymore, you’re Bernadette Peters with her blouse off.”
Playboy: Do you object when other actors do it?
Martin: Definitely not. Believe me, I’d love to be in a great sexy scene or have a fabulous screen kiss. But the movie has to engender it and I’m not in those kinds of movies.
Playboy: In The Man with Two Brains, Kathleen Turner let you suck her finger. Did you at least enjoy that?
Martin: It was all very pleasant. But if we were doing that scene now, she’d have to wear a little finger condom.
Playboy: When you have to climb into a bed and make out with a relative stranger, is it the same as acting any other part of a script?
Martin: It’s different because it’s more tense. You’re kissing someone you hardly know. Victoria had a scene once on her first day of shooting a movie in Berlin or somewhere like that. She flew in and the male actor flew in, they came onto the set at noon and had to do a sex scene against a wall. So yes, it’s weird. Victoria says that Michael Caine has a great attitude about it. If he has to do a sex scene, he gets in bed with his boots on, shoots in some mouth spray and says, “OK, ready.” He uses humor to diffuse the tension.
Playboy: Who has been your favorite movie kiss?
Martin: John Candy.
Playboy: Of course! Now that you’ve brought it up, let’s talk about romance. Did lots of women throw themselves at you when you were on the road?
Martin: It didn’t happen. It always happened to the other guys, I guess. I’ve always been a loner type, so that never bothered me. The fact is, when you’re finally a big enough star, you become very isolated. I suppose the people who want to throw themselves at you can’t get to you. Also there was something very unsexy about groupies.
Playboy: So we can assume you didn’t go on the road to meet women. Why did you leave your life as a TV writer?
Martin: I just knew I had to quit writing for television and go on the road. I was a bit frustrated because I’d write the material and they’d kill it. I wanted to be able to show my work and not have it go through a committee. I decided to go on the road.
Playboy: As a stand-up comedian.
Martin: Yes. So I did it and lost money on every performance. I was working as an opening act for bands like the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. They were great but the audiences were rock-and-roll audiences and not friendly to comedy. That’s when I decided to headline, even if it meant a big drop in income and the risk that nobody would show up.
Playboy: What made you think you could get away with it?
Martin: All I knew is that I could have opened for a million bands and nothing would have ever changed. I would open and be killing the audience—killing them—and the singer would come on and would do fine. In the review the singer would get three quarters of the column and I’d get one sentence. You have to be the headliner to get the attention. So I went to Florida and got into a club and got a rave review. It was the first time I was ever singled out as an entity. I worked in a few other clubs around the country when I started to get some rave reviews. It just started to happen.
Playboy: You were part of the wave that brought stand-up comedy into the mainstream. Now there are comedy clubs everywhere.
Martin: The Comedy Store came into existence after I had my success. I played music clubs. I think it would be very rough out there now. God, to find something original.…
Playboy: On the other hand, there’s an audience that goes to comedy clubs to laugh. When you were playing music clubs, audiences didn’t always know what you were trying to do up there.
Martin: I think of that as an advantage. They didn’t know what to expect. If I was going out there now, I’d perform anywhere except comedy clubs. It becomes too homogenized. You should be like Andy Kaufman, off by yourself going nuts. At least it’s different from what everyone else is doing.
Playboy: In those early years, who was doing it besides you?
Martin: George Carlin, Robert Klein, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin. Robin Williams came a little after me—at least with his success.
Playboy: What changed so that comedy became such a big business?
Martin: It was a practical question. They could put on a show with only one guy. There didn’t need to be a band or sets. The background was a wall. For me it was great because I didn’t have to audition. Once I auditioned for a TV show and couldn’t stand leaving it in someone else’s hands. With stand-up—or whatever it was that I was doing—it was up to the audience, not to a producer or a writer or somebody else.
Playboy: Carrie Fisher said that Robin Williams, on stage, was possessed, manic, while you were more in control, more disciplined. Is that accurate?
Martin: There was a time when all this was being developed that I was very undisciplined. It was about freeing yourself and finding new things. There was a time when the act was very spontaneous. You can’t come up with two, three or four hours of material being rigid. You know, there’s this thing about Robin being spontaneous, but he had material, too. It all looks spontaneous. That was the point. There was a time when I was walking out in the audience, picking up objects and ad-libbing, not knowing where I was going. I used to do forty minutes after the show was over, in the audience or out in the street.
Playboy: Did you ever die onstage?
Martin: About three times I did a joke and then, twenty minutes later, I did it again. I just forgot. I remember driving through Utah at night with some friends. We stopped in the middle of the desert and just sat there. Without the roar of the car and the conversation, a wave of silence came over us. It was shocking. That’s what it was like when I did the joke the second time. It just dies. All this silence hits you.
Playboy: How do you view your stand-up days?
Martin: It was hard work but that was the funniest I ever was. I was new, the audience hadn’t quite gotten it yet. You could still blow their minds.
Playboy: Was that the goal—to blow their minds?
Martin: Any way you could.
Playboy: Are you nostalgic for it?
Martin: Not at all. I don’t like talking about it because I’d rather have the memory as a good one than look back and realize that it wasn’t so good after all. At the time, you feel good about it because that’s what show business is: getting hot, getting cold, getting hot again, getting cold, getting hot. But there’s nothing quite like getting hot for the first time.
Playboy: How does stand-up compare with acting?
Martin: In the movie business, you can be subject to variables. They might not like the movie. Doing stand-up the variables are drunks yelling through your show. You might not even have the chance to get it right.
Playboy: There’s no buffer between you and an audience when you’re doing stand-up. If they don’t like your stand-up, they don’t like you.
Martin: No, that isn’t it. With stand-up, I had to go to Detroit, to Baltimore. With movies, the movie goes to Detroit, to Baltimore. I stay home. It stays the same. You did it as best as you could and it doesn’t change from night to night.
Playboy: Is there a quantifiable difference in the kinds of expression in both forms?
Martin: In movies it’s richer. First, I was sick of doing the same thing every night. But also, the range of emotions is greater for me in the movies. Larger stories can be told. With stand-up, I felt as if I didn’t have anything else to say. My early act had a definite point of view. It had a feeling of new. I don’t have any of that in me.
Playboy: Is stand-up comedy a young man’s game?
Martin: For me. But I don’t mean to be minimizing those days. I feel like I resurrected a kind of comedy, even a kind of fun. I believe I was the first to be doing anticomedy, when the joke is nonsense and it is how outrageous you can get.
Playboy: When was the first time you did your stand-up on television?
Martin: Oh, I did all the TV shows—Steve Allen, Della Reese, Merv Griffin, Virginia Graham. I lived on those shows—not financially, but I was always billed, “as seen on the Steve Allen Show.”
Playboy: Do you remember your first time on The Tonight Show?
Martin: Yes. I did a magic act. I did a magic act the last time I was on, too. The Great Flydini.
Playboy: In which you materialize objects from the fly of your pants. Was it emotional for you when Carson retired?
Martin: It was. There was a sense of passing. I was on the show so many times that I found myself sitting on the panel conversing, in a sense, as a peer. There was a feeling of accomplishment and disbelief.
Playboy: Were you nervous?
Martin: The first time I was because it all came down to this. In a weird sense I felt that same feeling the last time I was on the show. Flydini is a very difficult act to perform. I had to practice for three days. There’s always a chance you will blow it when you’re out there.
Playboy: What could happen?
Martin: Everything could fall apart inside your pants. When it came time for the show in Carson’s last week, I came out and was nervous for about a minute and then you have a job to do.
Playboy: What do you think is going to happen with The Tonight Show?
Martin: I don’t know. There will never be anyone like Carson. He influenced a lot of us. His timing is precise. All comedians praise him because he is so good at setting us up for our bits. It truly was an end to an era.
Playboy: Did you ever want to be the new host?
Martin: I had a fantasy fifteen years ago, but not now.
Playboy: What do you think of Jay Leno?
Martin: I think he’ll do great. He does a good job.
Playboy: You also reached a huge audience from appearances on Saturday Night Live. What do you remember most about that time?
Martin: It was very exciting. No matter how petty this sounds, you feel as if you’re in the avant-garde for that little while. It was the coming together of two avant-gardes, myself and the show. It was good times.
Playboy: What are your favorite moments when you look back to your time on SNL?
Martin: I like some of the monologs I did with Bill Murray. He’s the fastest adlib I ever saw. I was doing a monolog and I called him up out of the audience. We rehearsed it, and on the air I asked him something I had never said in rehearsal: “Have you ever been on TV before?” He said, “Once at a ball game in a long shot.” I enjoyed working with him and with Gilda Radner. There were a lot of high points. Working with Dan Aykroyd was one.
Playboy: Did you know John Belushi well?
Martin: Vaguely, not well. He was a big personality. Before he died, just after he finished Continental Divide, he was at my house in Beverly Hills. He said, “I just did this movie and it’s like a whole new acting thing for me. Now I see where I want to go.”
Martin: He had a vision that he could become an actor beyond his stand-up and SNL. He realized he really had a future. And then he died.
Playboy: Was it devastating?
Martin: Devastating? No, because I wasn’t that close to him. It seemed so much a part of the mystique and persona. I remember seeing him standing in the middle of a street in New York. He was directing traffic, shouting, trying to get a taxi, and you could tell he was doing it for show, because he thought he should. He was living the myth. That was my impression.
Playboy: Did his death cause you to reevaluate your own life?
Martin: I had nothing to do with that kind of lifestyle.
Martin: No. I never got close.
Playboy: You never had to learn about drugs and alcohol the hard way?
Martin: No. When I was about twenty, I smoked some marijuana. That was about it. I think some personalities are just addictive. John felt like it was his duty to do it. I have no sense of that. I noticed the difference in the times that I allowed myself to drink and the times I didn’t. There was a big difference in my energy and how I slept. Those guys were doing it all the time. It had to take a toll.
Playboy: So you have what might be called a nonaddictive personality?
Martin: I wouldn’t call myself nonaddictive. I’m obsessive.
Playboy: Was it a conscious decision to stop doing stand-up and start making films?
Martin: I just decided to do it. I still had some stand-up bookings, but I knew that there was only one way to go as a stand-up and that was down.
Playboy: Many stand-up comedians fail when they try to get into the movies.
Martin: I guess I had enough residual power from stand-up that I could do those five or six films that it takes to learn your craft. I thought it would be an easy transition, but it wasn’t.
Playboy: What did you have to learn?
Martin: Movie comedy. It is very different from stand-up.
Playboy: How so?
Martin: I can’t describe it because it’s subconscious. It’s more about acting. In the early movies, the comedy was way more important than the acting. Then, as I got older and I learned more, it was about learning to let the acting support the comedy. But all this is bullshit. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just saying that something happens that makes you better.
Playboy: When Roxanne came out, there was a lot of talk that you might win an Academy Award. Did you care about that?
Martin: It’s hard to answer. No decision is ever made in my life for the Academy. I wasn’t expecting anything because I’m not Academy material. Being Academy material is like a hurricane. It just happens. It has its own course. There’s nothing you can do to affect it.
Playboy: Have you been overlooked because of your roots in comedy?
Martin: Yes. I came from silly stand-up. But then, as with Roxanne, people start talking, “Oh, it’s a cinch”—theL.A. Times said it was a shoe-in—it becomes kind of puzzling.
Playboy: Do you think the bias against comedy is changing a bit?
Martin: Well, it certainly changed for Robin Williams. I mean, he’s very nominatable.
Playboy: What made that happen?
Martin: I don’t know. He did a remarkable thing. He turned his film career completely around. He once commented that he used to get scripts with my fingerprints on them. He doesn’t anymore. He turned it around through drama, though, not comedies. Good Morning, Vietnam, which was sort of both, and Awakenings andThe Fisher King.
Playboy: Both of your careers were built around comedy. Is there more at stake when you do dramas, as you do when you play a preacher in Leap of Faith? Are you intimidated by dramas?
Martin: Not at all. I have had enough drama in the movies I’ve done, starting with Planes, Trains and Automobilesand Roxanne. Leap of Faith is a drama, though there is some showy stuff. I’m a con artist evangelist. When you’re preaching and yelling and singing and dancing and all that, it’s very much a show. I’m not asking the audience to sit there while I do Hamlet.
Playboy: There’s still a question of how far to go—how crazy a preacher to be.
Martin: Yes, but it’s a dramatic question. It’s not a comedic question. In this case, I didn’t have to go bigger than the character. Evangelists go pretty big on their own.
Playboy: Is your character modeled after any evangelist? Maybe Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker?
Martin: Swaggart and Bakker were con men but they were also sincere. This guy’s not sincere at all.
Playboy: There were reports of trouble on the set—the producer was fired and your agent was canned for not taking better care of you.
Martin: I saw that report and it was unfortunate since it wasn’t true. The producer left because he had a dispute with the studio over money. My agent left the agency because of long-standing problems. None of it had anything to do with me.
Playboy: Tom Smothers said that when you stop being funny, you reveal very little about yourself. Is it true?
Martin: Was he talking about me or about comedians in general?
Martin: Yeah, I think that’s probably true. You go through a time when you become famous and the demands are constant. Then everyone starts to get offended about what you’re not doing. When they get around you, they stand and look at you, waiting for you to do that thing that they know. When it happens once or twice, it’s fine, but when it’s constant, you start to get mad and you actively withhold that thing to show to yourself that you’re not a puppet.
Playboy: How about when you’re not around fans who want you to perform for them? How about when you are on your own, with friends.
Martin: Perhaps. I have a quiet side and it can certainly appear. I have no idea what generates it. It’s not depression. It’s a kind of shyness or maybe insecurity. Around my friends I never feel that way. Not my really close friends. But they number, like, four.
Playboy: Who are your best friends?
Martin: Marty Short. Chevy Chase. Lome Michaels. Paul Simon. Kevin Kline. Some of the people you meet in show business are just so fantastic. It’s great when you meet someone who’s clever, creative and on the same wavelength.
Playboy: Is that why so many of your friends are also actors?
Martin: They’re just the kind of people you meet. I met most of them in movies. There are Rick Moranis, Larry and Meg Kasdan, Frank Oz. Tom Hanks—he’s a very, very funny guy. I had dinner the other night with him and Ron Howard and their families. They’re the people in comedy I like to hang around with. Their comedy is different from what they do on-screen. It’s more sarcastic or satiric. Marty Short, for example, can do an impression of an assistant director he just worked with. You’ve never met him, but it’s hysterically funny. Glenne Headly has that ability, too. You know who else? Phoebe Cates and Kevin Kline. Chevy and Marty Short and I hang out a lot since we got to be good friends while doing Three Amigos. In real life they are some of the funniest people there are.
Playboy: Would a dinner conversation among the three of you sound like the dialog from a movie?
Martin: It would be much hipper.
Playboy: Is there a sort of comedy cocksmanship when you’re together, with each trying to outdo the others with cleverness?
Martin: In the circles I run in it’s not about outdoing the other guy, it’s about building on the other guy and then he builds on you. That’s when it’s best. It’s just about being funny. It’s like the comedy god entered the room and you want to see how far you can go with him.
Playboy: Do you have to be careful not to lose touch with ordinary life when you’re rich and famous?
Martin: We have our problems, too, and they’re just as real as anybody else’s problems and, for the most part, they’re probably the same. Maybe you don’t have to worry about paying a bill, but we’re not stupid and we can figure out what it would be like not to be able to pay a bill.
I saw The Last Boy Scout on laser disc. It’s very ugly. It’s about a family falling apart. The wife is having an affair and the husband is a detective who’s always at work. The daughter is just plain repellent. Her language is horrible. Toward the end of the movie she supplies the gun to her dad to blow away the people. Early on, the wife is trying to get a rise out of her husband and she says something like, “You don’t care about me. Why don’t you just say, ‘Sarah, fuck you. I’ll spit in your face if I ever catch you with another man again.’” By the end of the movie, this has become the love theme. When he says to her, “Fuck you, I’ll spit in your face if I ever see you with another man,” she melts.
I’m thinking, Is there a world out there I don’t know about? Is that the way a lot of people are in this ugly, ugly world? Well, I don’t know about those problems. I know about the problems in Parenthood.
Playboy: But you have no children.
Martin: Well, I know those kinds of people, so I understand them.
Playboy: Do you want kids?
Martin: It’s not something I talk about.
Playboy: You once said that any time you get the urge to have children, all you have to do is spend some time with one.
Martin: Yes, but since then lots of my friends have had children. I have seen what it means to people. So who knows? But I don’t want to go into it.
Playboy: Let’s talk about your art collection then. That’s safer.
Martin: I don’t talk about that, either. Talking about personal parts of your life cheapens them, I think. I collect art but I’d rather not talk about it.
Playboy: Was roller-skating through the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in LA. Story a boyhood fantasy?
Martin: It was wonderful but very scary, too. The floor is very slippery and you don’t want to crash into any of those paintings.
Playboy: You donated an enormous canvas to the museum, didn’t you?
Martin: It’s not something I want to talk about.
Playboy: Excuuuuuuse us.
Playboy: How does it feel to have your lines—such as that one—find their way into the vernacular?
Martin: It’s sort of funny but it’s not anything to be really proud of. It’s pop.
Playboy: Where did some of them come from? How about that one: “Well, excuuuuuuse me”?
Martin: When I was fifteen, I worked at this shop in Disneyland. A woman there from New Orleans always said, “Well, excuse me for livin’.” It came from that. It was never meant to be a catchphrase. The routine was always about getting mad over nothing. For instance, I’d get mad at the spotlight operator because he went to a blue spot when it was supposed to be a white spot. It always made me laugh when entertainers were so self-important that they freak out over these things.
Playboy: How about the “wild and crazy guy” line?
Martin: It all started with the idea of playing a folk hero that was completely contrary to the way I look. The folk hero was a rambling man—you know, “Lord, I was born a ramblin’ man,” from the song. It struck me as funny because of the contrast—somebody who considered himself wild, but who was anything but. One of theSNL writers took the line from my act and used it in his sketch for Danny [Aykroyd] and me. I think the idea was Danny’s. That’s how the Czech brothers became the two wild and crazy guys. After millions of nights ad-libbing on stage, some things stick.
Playboy: Your wife said you have spent years living down that phrase. Are you ever wild and crazy anymore?
Martin: Hanging around with friends, never because people want me to be.
Playboy: Is it difficult being Steve Martin, as opposed to another famous person, because people expect you to be funny?
Martin: Yes, although I don’t give in to it. Worse than that is that people laugh at things you say that aren’t meant to be funny at all. And yeah, a lot of people want me to, like, go back and do routines I did when I was twenty. They want me to be the wild and crazy guy. People point their cameras and say, “Act crazy.” But hey, what do they want from me? I’m forty-six, you know.
Playboy: At forty-six, you’re playing the father of the bride. Was it a jolt to find that you’re no longer cast as the groom?
Martin: There’s that moment where you go, “I can’t play a father!” and you start counting and you realize, “Oh. I guess I can.” I think one of the secrets of maturing in the movie business is knowing when something is over and something new is beginning.
Playboy: Is there a bittersweet aspect to the idea of maturing?
Martin: No, it feels good. About the stuff in the past? I did it. There’s a certain satisfaction in making it through all those years and still being around, knowing that you were not a flash in the pan.
Playboy: Was that a big fear?
Martin: When you’re a sudden hit like I was, the first thing that enters your head is, when’s it going to be over?
Playboy: Have you joined those people in show business who, in spite of good years and bad years, won’t go away?
Martin: Well, maybe. I never like to take things for granted, but I feel way more at peace with that question. It doesn’t now depend on your latest hit or flop.
Playboy: Many of your recent movies, such as Father of the Bride and last summer’s Housesitter, came on quietly yet earned more than the so-called big movies. What is it about them?
Martin: They deliver. They’re nice. Certain audiences feel too sophisticated and will never like them. But otherwise, it’s hard not to like those movies, unless you’ve got a chip on your shoulder. I’ve been happy with them. I am happy to realize I’m now a young older leading man. It’s nice to know you can be funny, even at forty-six.