In New Martin-Moranis Flick, Style Makes the Man

FILM INTERVIEW

STEVE MARTIN fans may be shocked at his appearance in his new movie, ``My Blue Heaven.'' He plays Vinnie Antonelli, a mob-connected gangster gone undercover in the federal government's witness relocation program. Martin's familiar shock of white hair is an upswept thicket of brown hair leveled at the top like the deck of an aircraft carrier. His accustomed casual white suit has been replaced by sharkskin ensembles with satin-lined jackets with exaggerated shoulders, peaked lapels, and narrowed waists. ``It's a radical departure from what's in,'' Martin jokes during a recent interview, where his white hair is back and he's dressed in his familiar rumpled white jacket and trousers - the sole touch of color being a vibrant green shirt. ``It all hugged you so tight, pulled in at the waist and flaired out everywhere else. I thought - hey, this could really come back....''

By contrast, his costar, Rick Moranis (as FBI man Barney Coopersmith), who is also on hand to make this a joint interview, manages to look unassuming in his expensive sport-jacket-and-slacks combination. ``In the movie next to this guy,'' says Moranis, picking up the thread of conversation, ``I'm an uptight FBI man, a one-suit, standard-issue guy. But as he gets to know his charge, Vinnie, he lightens up. You know that because he dresses better.''

Clothes indeed do make the man in ``My Blue Heaven.'' Consider the scene where Martin takes Moranis to an expensive shop to jazz up his nondescript wardrobe. ``It's very difficult to change Barney,'' says Martin, repeating his line from the picture. ``I know this. But sometimes you have to change from the outside in.''

Moranis adds that during the making of ``My Blue Heaven'' ``we were so much under the gun for time, we'd just go to the makeup room and allow the characters to develop right there in front of the mirror. And the day that Steve did his wardrobe tests for Vinnie was the day you could see his character begin to emerge. He put these wild clothes on, you see, did the hair, and everything snapped into place.''

Here, as in all of Martin's films, it's also a dance step that helps bring his role alive. And it's a step that will set back the lambada on its spiked heels. Martin dances several times - once with Moranis. Like other memorable dance sequences in his ``Saturday Night Live'' sketches and in ``Pennies from Heaven,'' these are sheer poetry in motion.

Director Herbert Ross ``always makes these scenes more elaborate than you would have thought,'' says Martin. ``I mean, when I say, `dance,' I mean, oh, we'll do a little thing here. But when Herb says it, he sees a number, the sort of thing that gets you stiff in all the muscles afterward. He's done it all as a dancer, you know. So he takes this Merengue thing, changes it from a stiff-backed tango into a slinky dance - and there you are.''

I ask Moranis, whimsically, if this is the first time he and Martin have danced together. ``The first time on camera,'' he fires back without missing a beat. ``We did a lot of dancing after hours on `Parenthood' and `Little Shop [of Horrors],' though,'' he says straight-faced.

But I pursue this line of questioning, convinced Martin could be one of the finest informal dancers in the business.

``Look,'' he says, leaning forward, his voice serious, his eyes twinkling. ``I'm not a dancer. I'm not a singer. I'm not a musician. I don't even think of myself as a standup comic anymore. But I've sung, played music, and danced. I'm not an actor; but I've done that, too! And that's the way I think of myself.''

Then, what do you do? I ask, falling into the trap. ``I dunno,'' he says. ``I might be a good salesman in a store.''

One thing for sure, both he and Moranis are through with their days as standup comics.

``Do I miss it?'' mocks Martin, smiling broadly. ``You mean, do I miss going to a different town every night? Going to a small hotel room in a little town and not being able to go out? And going on and doing an hour show and going home again and getting on a plane that night and going to another city?''

A long pause. I'm waiting for it - and then - ``Nahhhhhh!''

No, Martin is determined to pursue more dramatic roles to follow up those in ``Parenthood'' and the stage production several months ago of ``Waiting for Godot.'' ``These things got me started, really,'' Martin says, glancing sidelong at Moranis. ``I've heard I'm up for the lead in `Presumed Innocent,''' referring to the newly released Harrison Ford film. I might get it. That's a role I'd really like to do.''

``You'd be great in that,'' Moranis replies.

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