circa early 1988
accents his different characters
by Bart Mills
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?
"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
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
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
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.'
didn't even mention me because they thought it would be too sad to mention this
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
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.
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."
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
"'Sara' was so
unimaginative and stiff and verbal," he said.
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
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."
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."