Unknown Publication
circa early 1988

  Bronson Pinchot accents his different characters

by Bart Mills
Press Correspondent

After the hour of talking while lying on his living room floor, after the drive in his Jeep to the restaurant and after the long health-food lunch, Bronson Pinchot asks the burning question: "So who did you expect to answer the door when you came to interview me?"

Had Pinchot been expected to perform as Balki, the saintly weirdo from "Perfect Strangers"?   Or should he have answered the door as Bobby, the psychic he plays in the movie he's making this summer, "Second Sight"?  What about the real Bronson Pinchot?

Pinchot keeps talking.

"What I find reclusive is that in every mediocre writer's brain there are two ideas: the actor is the character or he's not the character.  There's no other basket in there to collect the data.  It's either he's zany like Balki or he's intellectual, unlike Balki."

Like any butterfly with a brain that should someday be preserved in a jar of formaldehyde, Pinchot is both easy and hard to identify and pin down.  He can deliver the devastating quip, the generous compliment, the complex analysis, the introspective tidbit, the damaging revelation, the self-promoting remark, the loony look, the helpless giggle.  In a way, he is what he's doing at the time.

First, Balki.

After two highly-rated seasons on ABC's "Perfect Strangers," Pinchot has accomplished "something you can't set out to do, to do what Lucille Ball and Robin Williams did, to move a character into people's mythological center, to become vaguely folkloric."

The Balki in Pinchot is the actor in everybody -- the person for whom all experience is immediately vivid.  Pinchot found the character one day while staring at his shoe.

"We all see and feel the things Balki does," Pinchot said.  "Balki just acts on his feelings."

Balki, TV's most entertaining fish out of water since Mork from Ork, was originally described to Pinchot as "an immigrant working in a factory who would be real innocent.  That sounded nauseating.  I wasn't really saying no to Balki, I was saying no to doing an accent again."

Ah yes -- Serge.  Serge was the one-day part in "Beverly Hills Cop" that Pinchot turned into a ticket to stardom.  Serge, the gay Israeli gallery clerk, was a droll character with an odd accent that drew the camera away from Eddie Murphy for several entertaining scenes.

"I thought I was doing Serge internally, and everybody responded to his accent," Pinchot recalled.

Pinchot gives himself wholly to his parts.  More than one fan of "Beverly Hills Cop" thought Pinchot really was a gay Israeli gallery clerk.  When Pinchot was working on the stage in New York between his Yale and Hollywood periods, he was in a play with Kevin Bacon.

"I played such a geek that Kevin said, 'You make Pee-Wee Herman look like Tom Selleck.'

"The reviewers didn't even mention me because they thought it would be too sad to mention this total nerd.

"Everyone has their thing, and one of my things is an A-Z range.  I'm willing to be unattractive.  I'm willing to be . . . questionable."

And now, Bobby.

Bobby is a seer with long hair in Pinchot's first feature as the star, "Second Sight."  Bobby is employed by a cop (John Larroquette) to solve a series of crimes in Boston.  Bobby can channel missing persons -- anyone and everyone flying around in the ether is liable to take over Bobby's body.

"Bobby's like a fish flopping around on land," Pinchot said.  "He's a Mexican jumping bean.  His problem is that he can channel greater amounts of power than his body can handle.  He's a lightning rod for what's out there, and sometimes he jerks back and forth like a stick-shift car caught between gears."

Sometimes comics who can do zany go too far.

"I know what you mean.  The problem isn't going too far.  It's going too far too often.  There's no such thing as going too far as long as you come back.

"Dramatic actors, too, they'll go to the gut, go to the gut, go to the gut, and they're in pain, pain, pain, until you can't stand to watch any more, and you just want them to sit down, have a sip of coffee and flip the pages of a magazine and give you a rest."

Pinchot's comments are those of  self-confessed cultural snob.  TV to Pinchot is "All those people with blow-dried hair saying supposedly witty things to one another," as in the series he was in before "Perfect Strangers," "Sara."

"'Sara' was so unimaginative and stiff and verbal," he said.

"Unless you're George Bernard Shaw you shouldn't try to do verbal comedy.  Do behavioral comedy.  But there aren't a lot of people around who can do behavioral comedy, so I don't know why we don't all just drown ourselves."

He boasted, "I can't watch two seconds of television."

However, he does admit to being such a "Moonlighting" fan that he'll pay his masseuse to watch it with him rather than rub him down and distract him from Maddy and David.

A favorite Pinchot game is to challenge people to name the five greatest movies in history.  He will then claim never to have seen them.  The only Paul Newman movie he's seen is "Harry and Son," he said.

What does he do instead of eating popcorn?  He goes to the opera.  He studies antique catalogs.  He paid the rent when he was an unsuccessful actor in New York by selling his collection of "Wizard of Oz" posters, one a month.  On the occasion of his 29th birthday he bid at an auction of a signed copy of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."  Pinchot is not a child of mainstream America.

He grew up a recluse in South Pasadena, Calif.

"I was in my room a lot with my books and drawing and painting.  I was overweight to the point of obesity.  I didn't want to be looked at, which is funny because now I spend my life being looked at.  Then, I just wasn't ready."

Before Pinchot blossomed at Yale when he discovered the stage, he was the egghead nobody knew.

"I wasn't in sports or school politics, and I didn't go to the dances.  Then at the awards ceremony I went up and got all the honors, and it was 'Who is this guy?'

"I always knew I'd have some sort of triumph.  Even though I had repressed myself, I had confidence that I could turn people's heads.

"Now in L.A. sometimes I see people from high school, the football stars and the prom queens, and at the supermarket they're dumpy and dragging their kids around.  They come up to me shyly and I think, 'It's funny, you blossomed at 17 and I blossomed at 27, and that's all there is to it."