May 21, 1988
Linn-Baker Finds the Asolo a Perfect Match
By Charlie Huisking - Staff Writer
Mark Linn-Baker is
no longer a stranger to Asolo State Theater officials. And if all goes
well, Sarasotans will be seeing a lot more of him.
As TV viewers know,
Linn-Baker stars with Bronson Pinchot in the ABC comedy series "Perfect
Strangers." But he was in Sarasota this week to talk with the Asolo
about another aspect of his professional life.
Linn-Baker is one of
the producing directors of the New York Stage and Film Company, a non-profit
organization that develops new plays and screenplays. The company's
projects include a Vassar College summer program that matches theater and film
students with professional guest artists. The guest writers, directors and
actors teach classes and collaborate with the students on new plays and short
films. Some of the plays have moved on to New York for off-Broadway
The company is
interested in establishing a similar program with the film and theater students
who will be studying at the new Asolo Performing Arts Center. The center,
set to open in 1989, will contain a film studio and a workshop theater.
with the Asolo's plans for the center," Linn-Baker said. "There
seems to be the possibility of a real good fit between our organizations.
The Asolo is interested in doing new works, and they could provide us with a
base that we need."
Linn-Baker's fans know him primarily through his roles in "Perfect
Strangers" and the 1982 film "My Favorite Year," most of his
experience has been on the stage, as both an actor and a director. He and
his colleagues founded the New York Stage and Film Company because they were
frustrated by the way new plays are produced in New York.
"New plays need
time to develop, but in New York you open after three weeks of rehearsal, and if
the reviews aren't good, that's it," said Max Mayer, a company producing
director who also met with the Asolo. "The program at Vassar gives us
the time to work with a new play, to explore its strengths and weaknesses."
Linn-Baker and his
colleagues say they are primarily interested in projects that clearly and
entertainingly confront the "emotional, political, intellectual and
spiritual issues of our times." No one would argue that the sitcom
"Perfect Strangers" has such lofty goals. But Linn-Baker, unlike
some theater-trained actors, doesn't look down upon television.
special satisfaction in live theater because as an actor you have the chance to
be the process of communication," he said. "We forget that in
film and television the actor is not really there -- it looks like he's there,
but he's not.
"But I also
enjoy doing television. There's a craft, a skill, a real facility involved
in doing a half-hour show and doing it well. I'm proud of our show, and I
think we turn out some very funny stuff."
Strangers," Linn-Baker plays newspaperman Larry Appleton. Pinchot
plays his cousin, Balki, the naive, odd-talking Mediterranean shepherd who has
been complicating Larry's life for three seasons. The obvious chemistry
between the two actors is a major reason for the show's success, and Linn-Baker
says the pair clicked immediately. "We didn't know each other when I
tested for the show," he said. "We shook hands and read a couple
of scripts aloud, and we just took off. It was really quite amazing."
said he and Pinchot have been a disappointment to the Hollywood press.
"We have become good friends, there's no jealousy or ego problems, we get
along fine and we enjoy what we're doing," he said. "We give
them nothing to write about."
Some have described
Linn-Baker as the straight man of the pair, but he's not sure he agrees.
"I guess I am in the sense that George Burns was the straight man to Gracie
Allen or Gleason was the straight man to Carney," he said. "But
ultimately it's team comedy. I think it's pretty balanced in terms of how
we score the laughs."
directed any episodes of "Perfect Strangers," but he and Pinchot are
involved in shaping each show. "We have a lot of leeway," he
said. "We work collaboratively with the writers. They'll give
us a script, we'll throw in our ideas, they'll take it back and study it.
Of course, this all has to happen fast, because we shoot it in a week."
looks back fondly on his film "My Favorite Year," which also featured
Peter O'Toole as a flamboyant star of a live TV series in the 50's. [Editor's
note - O'Toole was a movie star guest of the show, not the star of the series.]
"It was a wonderful experience to work with a great actor like
O'Toole," he said. "I wasn't inhibited by him, because I don't
find working with great people inhibiting. I think it just opens you up
that much more."