The Fretts on Film Interview: Steve Guttenberg
Tonight I had the pleasure of moderating a career-retrospective Q&A with the one and only Steve Guttenberg, sponsored by the SAG Foundation. And I’ve gotta say, the Gute delivered with a plethora of great, often-profane anecdotes. The interview was filmed, so I’ll post the video when it’s ready, but in the meantime, here are a few highlights.
*Guttenberg recalled “getting my ass kicked” by the legendary John Houseman during a summer program at Juilliard. “He kept telling me I was the most horrible actor, but he said I was watchable. He said, ‘I don’t know what you’re doing, but I want to watch you.’ I learned so much from him.”
*He nearly got fired on his first on-screen job, a one-line role as a messenger in 1977’s disaster flick Rollercoaster. After Guttenberg screwed up 15 takes in a row, the director was ready to give him the ax—until veteran costar Richard Widmark intervened. “You can’t fire this kid—it’ll scar him for life,” Widmark said. “If he goes, I go.” The kid stayed in the picture.
*Guttenberg earned his SAG card after doing a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial with Col. Harland Sanders himself. The Colonel took a shine to the young actor, telling him, “Glutenberg, you remind me of my friend Chitlins. People used to call me ‘Chicken” and him ‘Chit,’ so together we were ‘Chicken Chit.'” After learning the secret of nailing a commercial audition—smile!—Guttenberg went on to do more TV ads, including this 1978 spot for Dentyne.
*He had quit the business and gone back to college at SUNY-Albany when his former agent called to encourage him to audition for The Boys from Brazil, opposite Gregory Peck, James Mason and Laurence Olivier. Guttenberg turned it down, then stumbled home drunk from a frat party and saw a poster for Patton, directed by Boys‘ Franklin J. Schaffner. He went in and landed a lead role. Sir Larry’s most memorable words: “I love fake noses!” (Alas, Guttenberg has never worn one.)
*Guttenberg knew he had a hit on his hands with Diner when he was sitting on the floor of writer-director Barry Levinson’s hotel room in Baltimore reading through the script, and realized he was surrounded by “cool guys”: Kevin Bacon, Daniel Stern, Paul Reiser and Tim Daly. “Then Mickey Rourke walked in wearing a white scarf, and he was the coolest of us all.”
*He also “smelled money” as soon as he read the script for Police Academy, although he admits he “went to the well a few too many times” by doing three sequels. “But they offered me stupid money,” he admitted. “And Police Academy made me, to some extent, so I owed it to them.” Guttenberg’s been approached about appearing in the planned reboot but hasn’t yet decided if he’ll participate. “Right now, the answer’s no,” he said. “But ‘no’ doesn’t really mean ‘no.'”
*Guttenberg went against his agent’s and manager’s advice by doing Cocoon. “They said, ‘Who’s going to want to see a movie about old people?'” he remembers. He loved working with the film’s venerable cast, soaking up wisdom from the likes of Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy, and Oscar-winner Don Ameche. “Jessica Tandy could be very street,” he chuckled. “She said to me, ‘It’s better to be shit in a hit than a hit in shit.” Words to live by.
*He’s excited about doing a proposed threequel to Three Men and a Baby called… Three Men and a Bride (the Little Lady’s all grown up): “If Ted Danson and Tom Selleck will do it, I’m in.” It’ll be like Father of the Bride times three!
*Guttenberg confessed he didn’t enjoy his experience on Dancing With the Stars. “I wasn’t working, and my managers thought it would be good to get my face out there.” But he was put off by the competitive aspect of the show. “I didn’t want to win,” he says. “I’m a team player.”
*Although it used to bother him when people poked fun at him, now Guttenberg is happy to join in the joke. He’s spoofed himself on Party Down and in a short for Funny or Die. “I know I’m a punchline, and I’m fine with that,” he says. Who helped him come to this realization? William Shatner, who once told him on a plane that it’s good to be known for something.
*Guttenberg just received his Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, not coincidentally right in front of the Police Activities League building. The ceremony was attended by his parents (his father, a New York city cop-turned-engineer-turned-accountant, and mother appeared in Guttenberg’s directorial debut, P.S. Your Cat is Dead) and friends including Jon Lovitz and Brett Ratner. Guttenberg joked that if his pal (and Police Academy 4 costar) David Spade had a star, he deserved one, too. No question about it: The Gute will always be a star in my book.
What’s your favorite Steve Guttenberg movie? C’mon, Short Circuit and Don’t Tell Her It’s Me fans—speak up!