Steve Martin for “Cheaper by the Dozen”

Steve Martin was unusually relaxed when he met the press while promoting his latest film, Cheaper by the Dozen. Not one of Martin’s favourite activities, he rarely talks to the print media, perhaps because, he says, it’s all rather generic, “Because you don’t want insult anybody you work with? Because sometimes stories are too intimate and there is a tendency to come out a little boring,” Martin says, smilingly. “With a movie like this, what do you say? ‘It was fun. We had a good time. The kids were great. We laughed. We cried. It’s a nice movie.’ What else is there to say?” Obviously there are no skeletons in Mr Martin’s closet that we can dwell upon. “Very few or maybe just a couple. I don’t even HAVE a skeleton inside me.”

Very loosely based on the 1940s autobiographical book of the same name, Cheaper by the Dozen is a family comedy starring Martin and Bonnie Hunt as parents of 12, who move from their picturesque country town to the big city when the former is offered a dream job. Martin, who doesn’t have any children, was coy when asked if he could relate to the family aspects of this story. “I related to it as a group party. All the kids were sweet, kind and good, so it’s a cross between a movie and a festival. Or a picnic, I should say.” Martin clearly didn’t agree with W.C. Fields’ philosophy of not working with animals and children. “I recently read his biography and there was some question as to whether he really thought that or not. He made a lot of movies with kids very successfully, so doesn’t bother me.” And Martin has worked with kids before, notably in the likes of Parenthood. “I’ve worked with a lot of kids. I don’t recognize them, so when I see them maybe 10 years later, I go ‘ooop’ because they are completely different, of course.” As for working with children, and in this case 12 that ranged in age from about 5 to early twenties, Martin says he prefers to “go slow with kids. Suddenly there is a big face in your face and you’re 3 or 4 years old and I always try to take it easy and just kind of kid with them a little bit at first but don’t spend too much time with them.”

In these days of smaller families being the norm, Martin doesn’t see Cheaper as a Dozen as some commercial for mass procreation. “I don’t think it will influence people to say ‘lets have 12 kids, honey’ but I think it will remind parents and children of the value of their families. Obviously as you’re raising kids you’re thinking ‘why did I do this?’, and the kids are going ‘why don’t they just let me do what I want?’ It’s a reminder of the strength, importance or the goodness of family. People who are struggling with their parenthood or their childhood might go out with a little more boost to keep them going.”

Asked if he is surprised as to why he has no children, Martin merely smiles. “I wonder why I don’t because they are very, very sweet. Sometimes they’re just, fascinating and cute even though I know there is the dark side.”

In a career spanning over 30 years, Steve Martin remains a true Hollywood icon, yet even now, he is discovering a new lease on professional life. Meet Steve Martin, novelist. His debut book, Shopgirl, was a smash hit, and has just been turned into a movie. Martin concedes that to some extent he takes his writing more seriously than his acting, “In the sense that writing is about gearing up your mind and getting into a space, while acting, because I’m now so experienced at it, is really letting things fall away, not being nervous and not thinking too hard about it.” His latest novel, The Pleasure of his Company, was just published, and the actor denies that its central protagonist, Daniel Pecan Cambridge, a gentle soul suffering from a mild mix of autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder, is anything like its creator. “He’s a character that I kind of extrapolated from my own experiences, multiplied by a hundred but I’m not really obsessive/compulsive at all.” Martin adds that his writing, and a need to write, merely comes from life and words, he says. “Sometimes the beauty of a word can kick you off into a sentence or even a whole idea or even sometimes a title. Sometimes you want to work something out that’s going on in your own head or sometimes you just want to be funny, such as when I wrote [the screenplay] Bowfinger, I thought ‘I just want to write a funny comedy with big jokes and no romance and no kissing at the end. There is no running at each other on the beach in slow motion, just laughs.”

For decades, we have seen Steve Martin metamorphose from the wild and crazy guy in The Jerk and man with Two Brains, through to an accomplished actor in Parenthood and Novocaine. And in between, Martin switches between more disciplined and reality-based acting in Shopgirl, to absurdist comedy in the likes of Looney Tunes and his next film, The Birth of Inspector Clouseau. The actor thrives on both. “I’m having great joy doing Shopgirl, which is a very dead-earnest character and I also had great fun doing Loony Tunes. I just hope I don’t mix them up,” he adds laughingly.

As for Clouseau, Martin says he agonized before finally agreeing to do what could mean the revival of a classic franchise. “I turned it down a couple of times and then what changed my mind was, I started working on the script and began coming up with jokes and gags that I liked, so now we have a semblance of a script that I really, really like.” The actor is unconcerned into stepping into the shoes of the legendary Peter Sellers. “If I were stepping into his shoes I would be very scared but I feel it is going to be different.” But can he convince lovers of the original that his Clouseau will be different to his predecessor? “Well I have to convince myself, so I think if the gags are fresh everything will be fine.” Martin also scoffs at those John Cleese/Jackie Chan casting rumours. “There are so many rumors it’s strange, especially the one regarding Jackie Chan, but that’s not a done deal at all, nor is it even an idea.”

As to the future, Martin says he’s booked for the next year and a half, so no sequel to Bringing Down the House any time soon, or for that matter, taking another stab at hosting the Oscars. “I think I’ve done it. It’s quite a physiological pressure,” he concedes. “It’s not any more physiological than just doing stand up on television but you’re preparing for 3 months and my mind just goes right to it. I’d be talking to you but I’ll be thinking about another line for the Oscars.”

One would imagine that Steve Martin is something of a workaholic but he doesn’t see his life that way, arguing that for him, “every day is a day off.” But when not acting or writing, this raconteur, author and actor, merely loves to “read or write and in the evening, have dinner again with friends. Lazy days”.