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MARTIN, STEVE: Bowfinger

Although it aims a couple of insider barbs at the industry, Bowfinger is a film that just wants to have fun, its creator, Steve Martin, tells our European correspondent, JORN ROSSING JENSEN, at the Deauville Film Festival in France in late 1999. Plus, he reveals how he almost starred in Eyes Wide Shut . . .

Q: How would you describe your film, Bowfinger?
A: It's about an outsider group of Hollywood hopefuls who are very short on money but very long on desire; Bobby Bowfinger (Martin) is a nearly bankrupt movie producer-director about to take one last shot at fame and fortune. With a motley crew of aspiring misfits, he embarks on an ingenious scheme to trick the biggest name in the business, Kit Ramsey (Murphy), to play the lead in his production. Everybody will understand it without knowing the slightest about the movie business.

Q: You don't have the feeling that you have stepped on somebody's toes ?
A: Actually no, but the question has come up so many times that maybe I did. I have had a strong reaction to the film in Hollywood - I have got more telephone calls than ever before, but none has been negative. Bowfinger shows a side of Hollywood that the real professionals know - when they see it they think it's funny. And it is indeed a very liberal place. I had a soundman working for me. One day he was wearing a dress and a wig, and as I understand it, that is the way he will work for the rest of his life. Where else than in Hollywood would that be accepted? Certainly not in a stockbroker firm.

Q: And it looks like filmmaking is a lot of fun in Hollywood. . . .
A: Los Angeles really is. It is a sunny, bright, relaxed, easygoing - and absurd - place with a lot of great restaurants. New York is classy and elegant, LA is a real stew.

Q: is it really possible to make a film like Bowfinger tries to?
A: In the 1980s people would make guerilla films for US$25,000, which they cashed from four or five credit cards. You can still see filmmakers steal shots in New York City, sitting in a wheelchair with the camera on their lap, shooting the actress walking down 5th Avenue, among a lot of free extras. It is also not unusual that everybody and the caterer donate their work to the film against a piece of the eventual profits.

Q: What is this guy Bowfinger like?
A: He is like an immigrant filmmaker who arrived at Hollywood in the 1920s, a sort of Frank Capra, who got off the train and just had his own will. Except Capra was talented, and Bowfinger isn't. No, no, I did not have Ed Wood in mind, when I wrote the story. Wood was an auteur in his own mind, Bowfinger is just a guy who wants to become a success and get rich.

Q: And he lies about his age. Do you?
A: Never. I am 26, as you know. In Hollywood age seems to matter only to women, but it certainly influences yourself in your own life. When you cross 50 you can no longer keep pretending you are 20. You feel you want to acclimate yourself, there are adjustments to be made - you have to renew yourself. At least that is how I think of it.

Q: Was it easy to work with Eddie Murphy?
A: He is very different to me - he is really about character, and works a lot to create these incredibly complicated people, while I am more into ideas and absurdity. Still, our styles do not conflict and our common goal is the same - to make the audience laugh. It was nice to watch him shift between his two roles - from Jiff, who is shy and retiring, to Kit, who is aggressive and paranoid. And when he is really funny, I - as the writer - have to thank him sincerely, because I get the credit. We very much stuck to the script, but with time and location booked, we could both do night-before additions and improvise.

Q: Do you still have things that you want to get done?
A: I have just had a new book out, I am finishing a novel, and I would like to write another play or another film. I know there is something out there waiting to be done, but I do not know what it is, and that is what I love about it.

Q: Don't you want to direct a film?
A: If I can get Frank Oz to direct it, why should I do it - it will be much better. I have myself never felt the urge, I do not want the hassle, the problems with the budget and all that. Oz and I have a very special relationship. We share the same view of comedy and silliness - it must be both smart and stupid - and we want the audience laugh.

Q: There always seems to be a little sadness in your film characters?|
A: I guess everything in life has some sadness in it, even the highest comedy, and it certainly adds a dimension of humanity to it. In the early 1980s, when I was on an acting assignment in London, I got a call from Stanley Kubrick, who invited me to his house. He said he liked my work, and he gave me Dream Rhapsody to consider - it later became Eyes Wide Shut with Tom Cruise in the part he wanted me to play. No, no, not with Nicole Kidman then. She must have been 10 or 11. Kubrick knew how to make comedy out of drama. Dr. Strangelove was a serious book, when he got it, and that was why he knew it would work as a comedy.

Q: You ever thought of returning to stand-up comedy?
A: Not any more. You cannot do stand-up comedy for a week or two, you have to do it every night, and I do not want to dedicate myself to one or two hectic years of travelling and performing. I like the quiet life.

Q: Did you ever die on stage as a comic?
A: Oh yes, and you get so depressed. But you have to tell yourself that there is always another night. And when I started out I was told that if sometimes the audience doesn't laugh, look at the waitresses. They see you night after night, and if they are laughing, you know you are doing well.

Q: Were you initially shy as so many other comedians were?
A: A lot of performers are shy - I have been, too - but it is a way of overcoming shyness by stepping from the back of the room up to the front. I have always been a comedian, as a child I did magic. My first idols you probably never heard of [deadpan] - Jerry Lewis and Laurel and Hardy.

Q: When did you start writing?
A: Actually I have been writing all my life, but it has escalated during the last 10 years. When I was younger, I met a lot of wise people with observations and anecdotes. I did not have any. As I grew older I realised I actually had something to say. And writing enables me to discover something new about myself and other people. My screenplays have always been developed with myself in mind. When working on them I tend to forget I am the actor to perform in them, so when I finally read them I often ask myself 'Oh, how am I gonna do this?' The worst example was Roxanne, which I - honestly - had never thought I was going to be involved in.

Q: Your first play for the stage was about Picasso; why him?
A: Because his life spanned almost the entire 20th century, and symbolised both its sublime, beautiful accomplishments and its anxiety and absolute horror. He is a very intriguing personality.

Q: Does being funny ever become a routine?
A: You have to work on that, because if it becomes a routine, it gets boring, and if it is boring to you, it is definitely boring to the audience. Again you have to renew yourself, and that was one of the reasons why I started writing.

Q: And switching into more serious work?
A: You're thinking of the Mamet film, Spanish Prisoner? I want to do another project with him - he is a genius, so energetic, I love his writing, and he is so funny to be with, he likes to play practical jokes. When you are a writer - or anything else - you sometimes meet a person who is smarter than you. You know how hard it is, and you go on, 'Oh he is working on a whole other planet, I wonder what that must be like.' But there is room for anyone, and I do have something he hasn't.

Q: Which is?
A: A big house in Beverly Hills.

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A couple of years ago US writer-actor Steve Martin concluded that "as you get older, it's harder to be silly on the screen." At 54 he is still devoted to comedy but his career has recently diversified to take an even serious turn. The former stand-up comedian had his first modern dramatic role in Lawrence Kasdan's Grand Canyon, followed by David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner.

At the same time he has developed a life as a writer, winning a Writers Guild Award for his Roxanne screenplay (1987), and has written scripts such as L. A. Story, A Simple Twist of Fate and - Bowfinger. A regular contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Times, he has published several books, including a collection of short pieces in Pure Drivel. His first stage play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, has completed a successful run off-Broadway New York to be produced internationally.

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Bowfinger is written by Steve Martin, who co-stars with Eddie Murphy (in two roles), Heather Graham (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me) and Christine Baranski; it opens in Australia December 26, 1999.

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