The Hollywood Reporter
Monday, September 26, 1988

 Celebrity Spotlight: Bronson Pinchot
by Paula Parisi

He raised eyebrows as the haughty art gallery dealer in "Beverly Hills Cop" and will raze buildings in his next film, "Second Sight," in which he portrays a "power psychic." Between those two roles, actor Bronson Pinchot made a permanent place for himself in the hearts of the American public as the winsome Greek emigrant Balki Bartokomous in ABCís hit series "Perfect Strangers," now entering its fourth year.

There have been few actors who could realize a character as complete as Pinchotís Balki Ė Bob Denverís Maynard G. Krebs, Robin Williamsí Mork from Ork. He makes it look so easy, however, that there are those who would underestimate his talent, but when it comes to combining well-thought-out characters with spontaneous, physical humor, Pinchot sits near the top of a small, selected heap.

"My comedy is not run of the mill," Pinchot says, hoisting his legs onto a huge oak desk as he settles in for our interview at his office on the Lorimar lot. "If Noel Coward came out of the grave and wrote his best work, I probably would not be the person to do it justice," he says rather modestly.

"Iím just being honest. I need to do a certain kind of comedy which is not grown on trees. Itís got to be physical and itís got to be behavioral, and I operate best Ė or am most happy Ė in the realm of, ĎWait a minute, is he really going to do this,í or ĎWhat is he doing!í And you get the audience to come with you there Ė thatís what I enjoy."

Trained for his acting career at Yale, which he attended on scholarship, the Pasadena-bred Pinchot expresses himself in an articulate, thoughtful manner that reveals his literary inclinations. He is an avid reader, mostly of "huge, 19th-century novels," and collects letters of Charles Dickens and manuscript fragments of Victor Hugo.

His other great passion is antique furniture, and, although he lives in Malibu, he has a home in Hollywood that houses his collection of 18th- and 19th-century painted Scandinavian furniture. "I go up there during the day and look at the view and write at my 1776 table, and then I leave and go sleep in Malibu.

"My assistant Natalie said, and pretty astutely I think, that the Hollywood house, with the wood floors and high ceilings and antiques, is the me thatís just about ready to leave, and the beach, with just glass and tile floor and white walls, is the me Iím about to become," he muses, his huge hazel eyes looking as if theyíve absorbed some of the Pacific.

"Sheís probably right, because in the first flush of success I did go kind of hog wild, and now I sort of feel like cleaning out, kind of like Elton John did." Although Pinchot, now 29, worked as an actor for years, landing small parts in "Risky Business," "The Flamingo Kid" and "Hot Resort," it wasnít until he was offered a part in "Beverly Hills Cop" that Pinchot essentially became an overnight sensation.

His initial reaction to being offered the part was one of hurt and upset because it was such a small role. "I had played bigger parts and thought I was going downhill," he remembers with the humor of hindsight. "But my instinct said, if I can make sparks fly with Eddie Murphy it could be great, because he is so extremely funny, so my gut was to go with it."

As fate would have it, the brief scene Ė from which Pinchot fashioned from the three-word description "gay art dealer," the sublime Serge, with his outrageous accent and eccentric mannerisms Ė was long enough for the young upstart to steal the show from Murphy, vaulting him into the stratosphere of success.

"I knew a lot of people would see the film. The best I thought would happen was that a lot of people would see me being funny in it and that the next time I went to an audition it would be easier for me because people would be familiar with that role. I never dreamed that after that movie there would be no auditions, that people would call and say, ĎCome to my office, I want to do a series with you.í That was impossible to envision."

Pinchot says "Strangers" producers Tom Miller and Bob Boyett noted his name on the credit list and scribbled it down on a parking ticket ("which they still have"), calling to offer him the lead in a series then called "Greenhorn" several days later. At first, he refused, wary of getting typecast into a that-actor-who-does-accents mold. But after three months of deliberation and a trip to Balkiís native Greece, he reconsidered.

As if to dispel the accent thing, Pinchot plays a straight-talking, if a bit strange, detective in "Second Sight," a 1989 release from Warner Brothers. The film, directed by Joel Zwick of "Strangers" also stars John Larroquette and Bess Armstrong. Zwick, who makes his feature film directorial debut with "Second Sight," was recommended by the series star, who wanted someone he felt comfortable working with.

Lensed on location in Boston, "Second Sight" is Ė excluding a bit part in Martin Scorseseís "After Hours" Ė Pinchotís first film since "Beverly Hills Cop." The plot centers on a rather unorthodox detective agency that uses Pinchotís unusual psychic abilities to solve crimes. When his powers go on the fritz, strange things begin to happen. "In one scene Iím trying to find out if these criminals are in a building and Iím bouncing brain waves against it, but, because I donít gauge my own powers correctly, I bring the whole building down. Iím out of kilter like that."

Pinchot, who helped rewrite the role for "a gentler humor," said he found the character appealing because the psychicís strange abilities gave him "comic carte blanche." "When somebody pitches a character to me and thereís a huge, huge possibility, an excuse written into the character for original behavior, I get excited," the actor enthused. "Thatís why ĎPerfect Strangersí is so great. Heís from a minute country no oneís ever heard of Ė magic words to me because that means I can basically get away with anything. Itís exciting and there arenít many roles like that around anymore. ĎSecond Sightí offered one of them."

Though he has dropped the accent, Pinchot isnít interested in dropping the comic touch to segue into serious drama. "If you have a skill, itís hard to throw it away. There are people that can play the violin, and there are people who can play the violin on a tightrope, and if you can play the violin and walk a tightrope at the same time, itís hard to come down and play it on flat earth, and if you can act and be funny at the same time, itís hard to say ĎOK, Iíll do this straight.

"When people ask, ĎDonít you have an urge to do dramatic stuff?í itís kind of like saying ĎDonít you want to bake a chocolate cake without the sugar?í Not really, no I donít. Iíd rather bake a chocolate cake that taste like chocolate and have everybody grab for a piece."