Playgirl Magazine
October 1987

   The Essential Bronson Pinchot:
Not Your Average Guy Next Door

by Roberta Smoodin

Bronson Pinchot is not an alien life-form. A friend from his days at Yale says of him, "It doesnít seem to me that anyone influenced him. I think maybe sunspots, but not anyone human."

He is not an entertain-aholic either, one of those creatures that canít distinguish real life from performance.  In interviews, he seems capable of saying anything about anybody.  Says another friend, "When they put Bronson together, they left out the censor."

This is meant to imply that Bronson Pinchot is certainly not the guy next door.

At 27, with his cartoon characterís mobile face, his large and expressive eyes, his thinning hair, his wiry slightness (and the certainty with which he expounds on topics from acting to travel to picking up women to why our culture worships certain male types), Pinchot has both the boundless and innocent energy of a hyperactive puppy getting his first glimpse of open field, and a peculiarly theatrical, mannered attitude full of pique and irony and surprising candor.  Which is not meant to make him sound like a combination of Rin Tin Tin and Joan Crawford.  Pinchot is, instead, representative of another genre of American mythology, a genuine example of overnight success, the bit player who makes a splash, transforming, through sheer talent, a tiny role into stardom.

Everyone who saw Beverly Hills Cop remembers Serge, the art-gallery keeper who did the most astounding magic trick in contemporary cinema Ė he made Eddie Murphy disappear.  Serge was Bronson Pinchotís creation, for which he got paid $2,500.  The part, which originally was only a few lines long, grew into a whole scene.  Pinchotís accent (of unknown origin), sly mien and air of stupendous superiority made him more than an instantly recognizable actor Ė they made him a phenomenon.

Pinchotís subsequent success on the television series Perfect Strangers may seem to be an obvious offshoot of Sergeís appeal Ė his character, Balki, uses a similarly pan-European accent Ė but on the show, Pinchot gets to demonstrate that he can act other than dryly bitchy.  Balki is an innocent abroad whose body seems to be made out of rubber bands and pipe cleaners Ė a living, breathing Gumby more closely related to silent film comedians such as Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd than to the arch Serge.  One can only suspect that the projects Pinchot has in the works for future films will display more of his breadth, more of the possibilities inherent in his talent for exhibiting humanness through extreme strangeness.

At lunch in a very un-Hollywood health-food restaurant in West Los Angeles, Pinchot appears very unstrange.  He wears a high-school lettermanís-type jacket and jeans, and he seems almost shy at first.  Pinchot is starving, and immediately orders enough food to feed a vegetarian family of four, giving the waitress excruciating details about how he wants his side order of avocado and onion, his glass of carrot juice, his spinach salad, his lightly toasted bread.  The more rabbit food he eats, the more gregarious he becomes Ė a testament to clean living.

"Iím real specific about what I put in my body," Pinchot says, "and I make a lot of special requests in restaurants.  And when they make little mistakes, it sort of fós up your meal sometimes."

When asked why he pays so much attention to the foods he eats, Pinchot replies, edging into his All About Eve persona.

"Because my body is my oboe.  If I were a violinist, I wouldnít leave my violin on the front seat of my car.  I have a lot of energy, and I donít ever flop into bed at night, nor do I drag myself out of bed in the morning, and I donít ever say, ĎNo, Iím too tired,í to my friends.  I donít eat anything highly processed, and I donít eat white flour or refined sugar or any dairy products except goat cheese, which I have a psychological attachment to.  No caffeine or alcohol, ever.  Iíve never had alcohol or drugs."

Pinchot, born in New York and raised in Pasadena, California, was raised primarily by his mother Ė his father abandoned the family, which includes two brothers and a sister, when Pinchot was young.  The family faced a good deal of privation, and Pinchot claims to have grown up "on welfare."

"Unlike a lot of people with money, I understand every step of the way that itís a privilege, and that itís not coming to me, and that it feels good.  Itís a gift.  I mean, every time I sit down in a restaurant, Iím just thrilled, because as a kid we just couldnít go to restaurants.  Every time I go to a store and try on pants, and can decide whether or not I want them, if they cost three hundred dollars or fifty Ė thatís a privilege."

As an introverted, chubby, academically oriented high-school student, Pinchot won scholarships to colleges all over the country.  He decided to attend Yale, where he became interested in theater and began acting.  From that point on he had no doubts about what he should do with his life Ė Pinchot, who believes he was "born funny," was also born to act.

Now an outspoken extrovert, Pinchot loves to talk, and, when asked to describe the essential Bronson Pinchot, launches into a lengthy description.

"Thereís like three or four of them," he says. "One of them is a person who likes to sit still for three hours on a rock and stare at the ocean.  And one of them, without a doubt, must be the center of attention Ė the center of undivided attention.  Another is an incredibly altruistic, loving person, who goes and finds people in need and helps them.  I guess the fourth is a terribly acquisitive antique collector.  I guess those are the four."

Undoubtedly the one fourth of Pinchot that wants to be the undivided center of attention once said the following about Tom Cruise, with whom Pinchot appeared in Risky Business: "When I first met him, I couldnít believe there were people who called themselves actors whose main leisure-time activity was playing Pac Man."

When asked to comment further on his thoughts about the preeminent hunks of our time, Pinchot again dives into the subject matter with obvious glee.  "Iím very close in age to most of these people," he begins, "and about a million light years away from them in what Iím trying to do.  The young-hunk school of acting is to sit there and be photographed and smile and make women think about what it would be like to be in bed with them.  Thatís a phenomenon that was created by the movies.  Iím part of a tradition that says if women want to think about going to bed with me, and from the mail I get, I understand that they partially do, I couldnít be less interested in putting that into the show.  Itís absurd.  My first and last responsibility is to completely fulfill a character.  Thatís just a different approach.

"There are some people whose responsibility is to have a little cowlick and some sweat on their chest, and thatís fine.  That tradition is fine, it has validity.  It goes back to Valentino.  It says, ĎHere I am, and Iím prime USDA choice beef, and your mouth waters for me Ė what Iím doing doesnít matter all that much.í  You have to be born to that.  Itís a repulsive thing to aspire to, but if it comes naturally . . .

"I think itís fair to say that in the cases of both Matt Dillon and Tom Cruise, they didnít start out doing that.  It just became obvious . . . theyíd be stupid not to pursue it.  They were in their teens when they started, and someone turned around and said to them, ĎJesus C-----, women are going crazy for you.í  I like both of them, and think theyíre interesting people.  But theyíd be stupid not to walk around in towels in their movies, which they both do.  Itís a crime to willfully go against what youíre good at.  It would be irresponsible for me to decide Iím Mickey Rourke.  Mickey Rourke would be laughable doing Perfect Strangers, and I would be ridiculous doing Year of the Dragon."

Pinchot also likes to talk about his lovelornness, claiming to have had trouble with love since the breakup of his engagement to a soap-opera actress shortly before Beverly Hills Cop was released.

"Iím looking for one of two things in a woman," Pinchot claims.  "Either my mental and creative match Ė some very, very fascinating photographer or actress or choreographer, whom I could respect on that level.  Or some absolute, salt-of-the-earth farm girl from Austria whoís brilliant in that capacity, being a wonderful human being.  And nothing in between."

These seem to be pretty rarefied categories, guaranteeing Pinchot plenty of dateless Saturday nights.  "I know," he says, "Iím aware of it.  But Iím worth it.  Iíve always collected rare things.  When I was eleven, I used to collect first editions.  Now I collect impossible-to-find Scandinavian folk art.  So I donít think this is such a hard thing."

Pinchot has a much more down-to-earth approach, however, about meeting women.

"I think seventy-five percent of the time, it starts out with playful yet aggressive flirting.  Even if that means grabbing their behinds every time they walk by and then just acting as if that were cute.  Actually, seventy-five percent of the time I just grab their a---es until they finally turn around and say, ĎPut your money where your mouth is,í and then I do."  Pinchot does not think this is too aggressive or impolite an approach.  "I can get away with it," he says.  "Once in a blue moon, someone will say, ĎDonít do thatí or ĎI donít like that.í  But thatís rare.  I always pick the kind that I know are going to Ė " he indulges in a pregnant, mischievous pause, "Ėwant it eventually.  And, to tell you the truth, a high percentage of the time, women will ask me out, which I think is pretty charming.  Though itís never come as a complete f------g surprise.  When it does, I back off, because thatís a little weird.  But when youíve been hanging around with somebody, and itís clear that theyíre going to ask you out, I find it kind of cute when they do it."

Pinchot has equally pointed things to say about life in Hollywood and its denizens.

"A lot of actors who were doing commercials at eighteen and were film stars at twenty think that film is the only place to do good work," he says scornfully.  "But good work is where it happens Ė you can make good work happen wherever the hell you are if youíre worth your salt.  And if youíre not, fó you."

So much for actors.  What about actresses?

"Itís rare to find an actress who can forget about acting and sit down and talk about Ė " he pauses to find an appropriate allusion Ė "Rodin.  They can talk about Scorsese until the sun comes up, but they donít put much of a premium on talking about other aspects of the human experience besides movies of the week."

But when asked if he considers himself an intellectual, Pinchot balks.

"Iíve only heard that term used by extremely disappointed and stupid people, so I never use that term."

All of this talk makes Bronson Pinchot sound extremely bitchy Ė which he is, but his tone always has in it mischief, humor, irony and a powerful need to be irreverent Ė which he is the first to admit.  "Iím occasionally guilty of saying things because I love the sound of them.  Especially in interviews, when you know theyíll be printed.  Some people drink, and theyíre not afraid of that getting them into trouble.  I donít drink.  I donít smoke pot.  So Iíve got to do something," he says, his words heavy with Pinchotian irony.

Pinchot consumes all of his food with wolfish glee, orders a second enormous glass of carrot juice, relishes his healthful wheat toast.  From his bit parts in Beverly Hills Cop, Risky Business, The Flamingo Kid and After Hours to a starring role in a television series, from adolescent wallflower to extravagantly adorable adult, Pinchot has lived an extraordinary and lucky life, which now finds him in this California health-food restaurant, satiated for the moment, full of energy, his remarkable eyes full of life.

"Iím only twenty-seven," he says.  "If Iím thirty-seven and Iím directing my own movies and I have a wife and one and one-half kids, Iíll be very happy."

ROBERTA SMOODIN is a Los Angeles freelance writer who has authored three published novels and is working on a fourth, White Horse Cafť (Viking Press), to be published early next year.