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