Steve Martin for “The Pink Panther”

Steve Martin is as iconic an actor one can meet. A ferocious intellectual and a true comic artist, Martin finally returns to his roots and in top form playing the legendary Inspector Clouseau in al new Pink Panther. While many have scoffed at another Panther, reaction to the film has been positive and audiences are discovering how truly masterful Steve Martin is. As the classic actor met the media this past weekend, he did concede to Paul Fischer that it was no easy task to decide to step into some considerably legendary shoes.

Question: Could you talk a little bit about what reservations, if any, you had about revisiting a character that’s so well known?

Martin: Well that’s where it all starts, with reservations, not only for this film but actually for a lot of films. And, by the way, I don’t view it as a remake because it’s a totally new script – but you have these reservations and then, essentially in this case what happened was the ideas for gags overcame my reservations and I just secretly fiddled with the script that existed and thought, hmm, that’s kind of funny, that’s kind of funny, just privately. I still wasn’t going to do it and I ran into director Shawn Levy in a parking lot and he said, “Have you heard about this Pink Panther thing?” and I said, “Yeah I was actually fiddling with it a bit”. And I told him some of the gags and he said, “That sounds funny”, and I said, “Why are you interested in directing?” and he says, “Yeah”. And then we’re off and running. as soon as you have an ally that you trust it makes things much easier.

Question: So how hard is it to make this character your own and to completely divorce yourself of Sellers?

Martin: Well, it would have been harder to imitate Peter Sellers. I realised that Peter Sellers knew the character inside out and I figured, hmm, he could probably ad-lib all day as that character, and I thought that is the sign to me when I have it is when you can ad-lib all day as the character, and eventually that came. I first worked on the accent and then I worked on the outfit – the physical I didn’t have any problem with at all – and, finally when I realised, oh, I’m thinking like him now I felt very comfortable and I felt different from the great Peter Sellers.

Question: And what about the accent which just carries the film, how much was Elmer Fudd… (Laughter)

Martin: I’ll tell you, you’re right a bit about Elmer Fudd, but he didn’t come into my consciousness, but I had a very good accent coach named Jessica Drake and she gave me some tips, and she also said it’s actually a French thing to say, what is it – a little bit of a lipsa – that’s not it, it’s something else. It’s in the movie. You know what I’m talking about, the Elmer Fudd thing – the old wabbit. (Laughter)

Martin: So she actually came up with that and I thought that’s a very funny idea.

Question: Now, that was a striking moustache. How much attention did you pay to the design of the moustache?

Martin: Well, we didn’t know if I was going to wear a moustache, we were just in the sort of costume department trying on clothes and different ideas, and my makeup man came over with a pencil and he went – umhmumhmumhm – and he drew it on, and I thought, oh… suddenly it came to life. And then I did grow my own moustache, but I can’t stand that pasted on thing on your lip that never moves.

Question: How did you feel about going back to broad comedy after all this time?

Martin: Lovely. It was one of the reasons I wanted to do the film, I wanted to go back to broad comedy, and it was like here is a ready-made broad comedy. The character is so ready-made, it felt good. What I love about these kinds of comedies and our comedy The Pink Panther in particular, is that it’ll go from very physical to what I’ll call tiny, tiny little verbal jokes. So it’s all over the place. We’re always kind of coming at you – big, small, smart, dumb. You know?

Question: We always have to come up with catch phrases, so instead of a remake what would you call it – a re-imagining, an updating…

Martin: Well, it’s funny that you’d say that because the studio at first – this was when we were with MGM – insisted that it be called a re-imagining, and I said, “What does that mean?” (Laughter)

Martin: So it’s not officially a remake, because a remake to me is when you use the same script or the same story. So I don’t know what you’d call it – a play? It’s… I don’t know. I really don’t know, and who cares anyway it’s The Pink Panther movie.

Question: What qualities do you think you share with Clouseau, if any?

Martin: Qualities? Lust. (Laughter)

Martin: Well I don’t know. I just love his innocence. Now I don’t know how innocent I am anymore but I feel innocent a lot. And, in one sense Clouseau’s will to believe in his own, genius is what motivated me early on. Not genius but to naively believe you could do something. You know? And I think that Clouseau has that na├»ve belief that he can solve it. And my character on stage when I was doing stand-up early on had that in spades. he had great will, confidence and in that sense they’re kind of connected.

Question: How many of your original ideas are in the movie?

Martin: a lot. I don’t know how to enumerate them. I mean there are a few ideas that didn’t work and we re-shot little scenes to sort of bridge them so they could be cut, but you take a chance with comedy.

Question: You mentioned stand-up, do you ever miss doing stand-up?

Martin: No, I don’t. I do enjoy the occasional sort of 5-minute monologue; introduce somebody, the Oscars, just those little things.

Question: When your day was over did you find yourself slipping into that accent?

Martin: All the time. Oh, yeah. I almost lost my girlfriend over it. (Laughter)

Question: In what way?

Martin: Would you like to make love? (Laughter)

Question: Cheaper by the Dozen 2 was one of the big hits of the holiday season, you seem to be riding this crest of popularity. Do you think it’s because people just love you?

Martin: No. It’s not that. (Laughter)

Question: It’s like you’re more popular than you were…

Martin: Sometimes you just get lucky. I’ve never had three hits in a row. I don’t know if this will be a hit but, I think it might. But I’ve never had three hits in a row in my life. You have a hit and you can five flops, then you have a hit and you get to make five more flops because you’ve made a hit. (Laughter)

Question: A few years ago you said you were looking at your career and you said maybe you’d be happier just writing your “funny little plays”…

Martin: Well, my heart is so with The Pink Panther and I want it to be a hit so we can make another because all of us loved it. And it’s fun to play the character, and it’s fun to think as that guy – to think funny as that guy – and it’s fun to come up with things.

Question: Is there a magic number like a trilogy that you’d want to stop at – I mean if it becomes so successful you could keep on going forever, would you?

Martin: Well with hip replacements I could, yeah. (Laughter)

Martin: I would… I’ve often fantasised about this being my career – like two more of them.

Question: So this would be your franchise…

Martin: Well I would love it – secretly, but don’t tell anyone. (Laughter)

Question: Were you at all concerned when, the film’s release kept getting delayed and MGM…

Martin: Well we had to suffer a bit – and there’s nothing you can say… the film was made, was ready to go and then the studio was sold. And then, of course, you know this is a big release. I’m on every bus. they’re taking ads out on important television shows. They’re spending a lot of money to open this film, to promote it. And, so when a movie’s delayed in the internet’s mind there’s only one reason, it’s because it’s lousy. And so I hope that when people see the film – first I hope they love it, and we’re getting that kind of feedback already, that’s it’s got a good audience and people are enjoying it – and I hope we get a few apologies.

Question: There’s a sort of strange percentage of our country that seems to think that France has been our enemy for the last 4 or 5 years…

Martin: Right, I know.

Question: Does that sort of encourage you to make certain kinds of French jokes or does it sort of cause you to stray away from certain ones?

Martin: I don’t know that there are French jokes in the movie, There’s nothing anti-French, I don’t think, that I can think of. And that’s not where we come from, to try and insult a country. (Laughter)

Question: Does it encourage you to stay away from certain stereotypes.

Martin: No. Stereotypes? Well, you know… I mean that’s what Clouseau is I guess, I don’t know. No, I don’t think there’s anything, offensive in the movie about France.

Question: Would you talk about your writing style? How do you know when it is really funny? If you like laugh out loud?

Martin: That’s a good sign. Yeah.

Question: …and if at any time do you bounce it off of anyone or do you just know this is funny, this is going to be good.

Martin: Well I bounce a lot. If I write something and if I laugh that makes me feel good and then I’ll maybe call somebody and say what do you think about… or I’ll be at lunch and say what do you think of this? The strangest one was I was writing a monologue for the Mark Twain Awards actually and I didn’t have anything and I thought I’m going to write this. It was at night, I was having dinner by myself, had a little glass of wine. I wrote this monologue and I’m laughing and laughing. And then next day I read it to a friend who stared at me and, he was a comedian and he said, hmm… and, I threw it out. I realised I’d made a mistake. So laughter is not always the key.

Question: What do you see as being the main differences between this Clouseau and the Sellers Clouseau, because there seems to be a little bit more heart almost to this character?

Martin: Well we had the benefit of his performance, and his definition of the character. But if you’re talking about the heart aspect, that’s something I kind of bring to my performances. I don’t know if it’s good heart or bad heart, I’m just saying that I always like to find that little emotional moment like, whether it’s Cheaper by the Dozen or, Father of the Bride or Shopgirl. There’s something, that kind of runs through my work a bit. And I like to think of it as good sentimentality. I think sentimentality now means bad, but I think there’s good sentimentality, and I think that’s what this, movie brings a bit. I think the relationship between Jean Reno and myself is warm

Question: Did you ever meet Peter Sellers?

Martin: I did. I met him in 1980. I think that he said something really profound to me. I was in Hawaii and we were both promoting a film and I was coming off a sort of hot stand-up career, and you know the cycle of sort of criticism – discovery, enthusiasm, success, slaughter. Right? So I was coming off the sort of slaughter years of my stand-up career which I stopped in 1980 when I had just done ‘The Jerk’ and it wasn’t out. I was in Hawaii at a luau and it was at night and he came up to me and he was a god to me, and he said, ‘I know you’re under a lot of criticism right now, but I know what you’re doing.’ It was kind of breathtaking really. So I felt like there was like a little torch passed to me.

Question: Any film plans for ‘Picasso?’

Martin: No. They keep reading – there was, but it’s so complicated and it so boring. Right now it’s just going to remain a play.

Question: Was Kato something that you took out of the script?

Martin: No. In the script that I inherited Kato was gone already. And it’s just as well because I always viewed that as a great initial scene in one of the movies, I can’t remember. I think that it was ‘Shot In The Dark.’ And then they have this fight, and then when Kato answers the phone you realize that he’s his house boy essentially and that was it for me. I didn’t think that it stayed as funny. I don’t think that it would be so funny in the movie today.

Question: Are you writing already on another ‘Panther?’

Martin: No. We’ll wait until this opens.

Question: What do you get from writing plays and novellas that you don’t get from writing screenplays?

Martin: Well, the thing about a play and a novella is that it’s not collaborative. A screenplay is or a film is anyway. So if you write your – one thing about a play, when I was doing my plays and we would be rehearsing and an actor would say that they didn’t understand this line I could explain it. I knew exactly why the line was there which was such a comforting feeling and sometimes in a screenplay you go, ‘Oh, well I’m actually just trying to get to the next scene.’ There’s a little bit of cheating going. But you can’t cheat in a play or a novel. It’s up to you.

Question: Did you ever run into a block while you were you writing ‘Pink Panther?’

Martin: Not really. Writer’s block – I have a line on that. Oh, yeah I wrote it in an essay. Writer’s block is a fancy excuse for getting drunk. Writer’s block to me, if I’m so called blocked I just get up and walk away and do something else and focus on the problem a little bit and wait a couple of days and go back.

Question: Do you have an desire to direct?

Martin: No, I don’t. It’s so demanding. It’s so demanding and think about it – writing, directing and acting. That’s a choice that you don’t make casually.