The Sacramento Bee
July 1, 1986

Desperate Actor Didn't Mean to be Such a Big Hit
By Bob Wisehart

EDDIE MURPHY hardly knew what hit him.  In a brief encounter with Murphy's streetwise detective in "Beverly Hills Cop"' as the wispy Serge -- the espresso-serving art gallery assistant with an undecipherable accent that sounded like a cross between Truman Capote and Tweety Pie -- Bronson Pinchot didn't just steal the scene, he pilfered the movie.

In the nick of time, too.  The $2,500 that Pinchot earned for his two scenes came at a time when "I was so desperate for money I'd tried to get a job delivering the Los Angeles Times at 4 in the morning.  And they turned me down."

Newspapers lost a carrier but ABC gained a hit.  In tandem with Mark Linn- Baker, Pinchot's "Perfect Strangers" cracked the top 10 with a half-dozen episodes this spring and is one of ABC's few solid contenders in the fall.

The show required another accent, but at these wages (more than three times his "Beverly Hills Cop" earnings per episode) he'd learn Serbo-Croatian.  Pinchot plays Balki, a naive shepherd from a fictitious Mediterranean country who moves in with his American Cousin (Linn-Baker), an aspiring photojournalist.

The old fish-out-of-water story, even if the fish has a funny accent, isn't exactly a shining new idea.  But In the hands of Pinchot and Linn-Baker, the rubber-faced actor who more than held his own against Peter O'Toole in "My Favorite Year," "Perfect Strangers" is genuinely funny if not terribly original.

The series' trek to the airwaves illustrates the giant role pure luck plays in who winds up with what.  When "Perfect Strangers" was pitched to CBS, the show was turned down because it already had a deal for a similar series based on "Moscow on the Hudson."  Toying with an option on the "wild and crazy guys" characters made famous by Dan Aykroyd and Steve Martin on "Saturday Night Live," NBC declined, too.

By default, that left ABC, which took the show only after a long, hard sell.  Pinchot, 26, said he picked up his "incredibly sensitive" ear for accents from his father, a Russian born in New York and raised in Paris who shortened the family name from Poncharavsky.

"He went to three or four movies a day to learn English," Pinchot said In an interview in Los Angeles recently.  "I remember him speaking like this '30s movie star, but with about four different accents all at once."

The family moved to Pasadena when Pinchot was a boy.  Along the way he became interested in painting, landed a scholarship to Yale and tried out for a few University plays before the acting bug got him for keeps.  After graduation, a casting director spotted him in an off-Broadway play and he was hired to play Tom Cruise's preppy friend in "Risky Business," followed by "Hot Resorts," (sic) which he dismissed as a "youth trash movie."  The rest he owes to Serge, including "The Flamingo Kid," "After Hours" and the short- lived series "Sara," in which he played a gay lawyer.

The parts have been offbeat, but at a skinny 5-foot-9, with a nose that could open envelopes and a hairline losing the battle for territory, Pinchot conceded that he's not exactly traditional leading-man material.

Along with his reputation as an artful scene-stealer came the discovery that entire casts turn pale when he shows up on the set.

Not that Pinchot does it on purpose.

"It's grotesque to see somebody try to steal a scene," he said.  "When you see it on the screen It looks terrible.  Trying guarantees it won't happen."

Until the reviews came in for "Beverly Hills Cop," scene stealing was the last thing on his mind.  Pinchot feared that he'd made a fool of himself.

"I thought it (his performance) was a piece of crap," he said.  "I mean, I didn't really get it.  I didn't like the way I looked and I didn't like the (camera) angle.  I was doing the talk shows to help the movie and I saw the clip over and over.  It wasn't until about the 20th time that I finally understood what everybody was talking about."

As Serge might put it (or is that Balki?), "Dun't be stewpeed."