Recently, Steve Guttenberg
appeared at New York's Upright Citizens' Brigade (UCB) Theater for an installment of "Inside Joke," a live talk show about the craft of comedy. Certainly there's much to be learned in the arena of humor from the star of films such as Police Academy
, Short Circuit
, and Three Men and a Little Lady
, but The Gute also has much to say on the subjects of community, fame, and responsibility, not to mention some info on a few forthcoming acting roles and a book.
How did your appearance at the UCB Theater go?
I had the best time and now that I'm back in Manhattan, I'm looking forward to catching up with those guys. They were so funny and hospitable and I had a great, great time.
Are you planning on doing something with the UCB Theater?
I'd love to do something there. They're a bunch of smart, funny people. I have some material I'd like to work out.
What sort of material?
I have a few things I've written and I'd like to try them out, see if the audiences like it. A couple screenplays and I've got a book I'm writing I'd like to talk about and maybe even some comedy material. Just creative stuff.
What can you tell me about your book?
I'm not supposed to talk too much about it, but it's about Hollywood. I've got a great publisher. I'm already 40 pages in, and it's going to be about 250 pages in the end.
What inspired you to write a book?
I've always written. It's just a great, creative outlet. The great part about writing is that you don't have to ask anyone's permission to do it. If you're a director, an actor, a cameraman, or a grip, you need permission to hone your skill, but if you write you can just sit there with a blank piece of paper, a cup of coffee, and you just write. If no one likes it, you just write some more. It's a tremendous creative experience. If you want to write about the South of France, write about the South of France, if you want to write the Byzantine Empire, Michelangelo, or Mayor Bloomberg go right ahead. It's just tremendous freedom.
Because of your celebrity status, do you get approached by people asking you to read what they've written?
I do, constantly, and I always take the scripts and I always read them. I think that there's a great responsibility between artists to support each other in the community. Montgomery Clift
said something wonderful about show business. "It's a wonderful art, but a lousy business." Between artists, we need to look at it as an art and not a business. I read everything, just how Pavarotti
listened to Bocelli
. It's up to the businessman to be coldhearted, it's up to us artists to be warmhearted.
How many scripts do you think you've read?
Let's see, thirty a year, well, I'd say upwards of 200 unsolicited scripts.
Have you helped any of them?
I just worked with the guys at UCB. I saw Guttenberg: The Musical
, loved it, and asked them how I could help. I did some press, I went on Youtube, and I told everyone I knew.
Was that also the case with this "Making Changes" film that you did?
Yeah, I really believed in the filmmaker and what he wanted to do. It's a story about homeless people in Venice and I just wanted to help.
Was that decision at all inspired by your own charitable efforts?
I have a real passion for helping those that have fallen. I suppose that if I didn't have a philanthropic nature I'd still be attracted to helping an artist, but I don't think this particular role had anything to do with my connection with foster kids or the homeless, although I couldn't ignore it. It was about helping another artist.
What inspired to start your own charity with Guttenhouse as opposed to just donating to an existing charity?
I feel that there's a great deal of hypocrisy amongst the Glitterati, the celebratory social culture that we have. I volunteered at the Astrodome for a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina and everyday I'd see another celebrity come in with their hand held by a press person who was showing them around. You see it all the time. There's so many actors, actresses, and pop artists who don't really know what the charity it is that they're involved in is all about.
A lot of times, people get honored because they can fill tables and that raises money for the charity, but there is a bit of hypocrisy to it because you often hear celebrities say, "I didn't know much about the ABC Charity until last week, but then I witness the ABC Charity and I was so touched by it. Thank you for honoring me."
There's also the concern about how much of the proceeds go to covering advertising and administrative costs.
That's a real shame. I went to a charitable event this summer, which was advertised as a charity for an organization. Afterward, I heard that the organization got 1% of the money. Out of $30 million, maybe the organization got $300,000.
You've done two interviews recently at these sort of events where it seemed like you were just having fun with the press people.
Sure. I try to lie as much as I can during an interview when I feel that the interviewer is not sincere. When you go to these events, you feel like what it must feel like to be a girl at a dance where there's five girls to every guy. The guys are totally bullshitting you, but still looking over your shoulder at the next pretty girl. It's the same way when you're a celebrity and there's a bunch of celebrities at the event and they're just talking to you for the time being until someone better comes along. And I'm not insecure about it, but I do know the reality of the situation. I'm not insecure about knowing my height, but I know that if Goldberg from the Wrestling Federation came into my room and wanted to push me out of the way I know that there's very little chance of me holding my own against a 300-pound guy.
I know that if I'm at an event and Brad Pitt
walks in, the press is going to walk over me to get to Brad, so I like to have my fun with them. Sometimes I can't understand how someone doesn't get that I'm messing with them. How could you not when I say something so ridiculous? The fact is, they're just taking stuff down while waiting for Tom Cruise
to walk in.
It sounds like a lot of fun.
It is. I've got a real license to say whatever I want because they're going to listen to me. If I'm talking, they can't just walk away because that would be completely rude. When you're talking with an asshole, it's really fun to mess with them because assholes are usually also morons. You get the chance to really screw with them, then they go home, type it up, and say, "What did he just say?"
What do you think of the press?
I think that the press has some responsibility to have some good manners because we've become a society of media. Everybody compares their husband, girlfriend, wife, or child to what's in a magazine, on television, in the movies, or on a billboard. I just came back from Italy and it was truly wonderful to see people who weren't obsessed with Britney Spears
' or Lindsay Lohan's
problems. The press is feeding a drug to the audience. There's got to be some responsibility in the press because while they're there to educate and entertain, they shouldn't forget to educate. It's the new religion. US
magazine might be bigger than the Catholic Church. I don't know if most Catholics know what art is in the Vatican museum, but they probably know when Lindsey Lohan went into rehab.
Listen, I'm a celebrity, I want to make a great living, and I know the power of the press and I'm going to use them in my own way, but I also know that life is short and I do have some responsibility because as an actor I'm a model for behavior. When you're an actor, you're going to be copied by people. Look at Bogart
and Lauren Bacall
. They smoked a cigarette in a certain way and then everyone started smoking it that way. I may have my funny moments, but I try to, when it's important, emulate people who I admire like Michael Caine
or George Clooney
, who I think has a great way of handling the media. I think there's a responsibility, and I think that the media and some of the entertainment forget that people emulate them and copy their moves.
When you first became a public figure, was it difficult to give up your privacy and anonymity?
No, and I've actually had this conversation with several actors that I admire, older guys. They said, "It's an honor to be an actor and to be famous and when someone comes up to you to say, 'hello,' you need to be kind to them because A, you don't know how much guts it takes to come up to somebody famous. That person might have been waiting two hours to muster the guts to come up and say 'hello.' The other thing is that you might be the only famous person that they meet in their whole life and how you treat them is something they'll carry with them their entire lives. It's something they'll tell other people about other actors. If you're a jerk, they'll say all actors are jerks, if you're a good guy they'll say actors are good." I hope that when I'm in that situation, I treat fame like the gift that it is.
I'm always surprised when I see people say, "No photograph, no autographs, leave me alone." Why'd you become an actor, then? It's like being a doctor and getting a call at two in the morning, "Someone's having a baby!" and going, "Oh, I don't want to go in." It's an honor to go to medical school and it's an honor to be famous, and it's something that should be treated with some dignity. I'm grateful everyday for it and have always tried to keep a good attitude about it.
There's a great letter that Frank Sinatra
wrote to George Michael
. He was complaining about never being left alone when he went to a restaurant or walked down the street, so Frank Sinatra wrote this great letter that said, "Dear George, listen paly, I know you're bothered by people coming up and saying hello, but don't you remember the days when you rode the bus, you had to load your own instruments, and you played in those dive bars, and nobody came? Don't you remember walking down the street and nobody cared? Don't you remember waiting on line at the airport to get on a commercial flight, buddy boy? Because I do. And if you don't like it, one of these days they won't come up to you anymore, they won't bother you anymore and you won't like that that much. And believe me, I know." It's a great letter. Why would you kick people in the face for buying what you're selling? It's like having a store and when people come in going, "Oh, great, customers."
I'm impressed that you had so much of the letter memorized.
I've read it a lot. It's one of the most amazing light bulbs to go off in my head because, believe me, there will come a time when they won't come up to you anymore. Look at US
magazine from 10 years ago and you'll see that most of those people aren't in the game anymore. We all know it. So when someone asks you for a picture, you give it; give it gladly.
Do you think fame is a goal worth striving for, like getting involved in comedy just for the sake of being famous?
It's not up to me to say what your goal should be. Some people do things just to make money. There are doctors who became doctors just to make a lot of money. There are politicians who became politicians just to become powerful. Personally, I like acting. It's fun, but fame is a great juice of that meat. It's gold dust off the gold. What artist doesn't ever think about being famous? About walking down the street and people coming up to you saying, "Mr. Picasso, may I have your autograph. Mr. Bocelli, could you sign this? Mr. Matisse, could you spare a minute?" A friend of mine was doing a documentary about the American dream and he said, "The American dream is no longer having a car in every garage, a chicken in every pot, or a white picket fence. Today, the American dream is to be on television." Ask a little kid what they want to be and most kids say they want to be on television, a sports star, or a pop star. Why? To be famous. Why? So people can fill your empty vessel up with love. "I love you Madonna
, I love you Picasso, I love you Dali." But you really need to have a passion for your art.
When you were growing up, was it always your aspiration to be an actor?
Yeah, since I was about 12 years old. It seemed like a great life. We had a family friend who was an actor who'd show up to the house in a great car, with beautiful women, he always had money, was happy, and was always laughing. I asked, "What does he do," and my mother said, "He's an actor," and I asked, "What's an actor?" because I thought everyone on the TV was for real. I didn't know they were actors, but then I realized they were, so I started taking lessons, went to theater school, started joining troupes, and realized what a great experience it was. It's a great sense of accomplishment to do a scene that works.
Have you ever been really enraged by a photographer or journalist?
No. I've had fame since I've been about 21 and I've always given those guys respect because if they take my picture I know that they're making money, it's going to help my career, and someone in Iowa with nothing to do might get a little charge out of it. I never understand why people are upset about the paparazzi. Go work at a bank then and no one will try to take your picture, and you won't have to worry.
Outside of what we discussed, are there any projects that you're involved in or contemplating?
I did two interesting things. I just finished a Law and Order: Criminal Intent
. The whole cast is amazing. Just an incredible group and they make great shows. Then, I just finished a movie with Jessica Simpson
called Major Movie Star
, and she was really delightful to work with. Incredibly charismatic, and I found her to be very well prepared to work. I read a lot of negative things about her, you know, tall trees catch a lot of wind, but I found her to be wonderful and it was a great experience.
Was this one of those straight from the headlines episodes?
They actually said not to say anything about it, but it was interesting. Very, very interesting.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer