Monday, September 26, 1988
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."