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Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Martin in 'Bowfinger'
Robert Downey Jr. and Steve Martin in 'Bowfinger'

Martin outdoes himself
playing loser in 'Bowfinger'

By Brian Conant

After successful runs on the big screen as a jerk, a dirty rotten scoundrel and a fire chief with a hideously large nose, it's safe to say that Steve Martin knows how to play the loser. It's a good thing, too, because his newest role, as the title character in "Bowfinger" might be the biggest loser he has portrayed yet.

"Yeah, this guy is a real loser," admitted the actor with a chuckle at recent press event, "but I think the most enchanting characters are ... losers and guys with hopes and dreams. There is a mantra in Hollywood where they say, 'Make the character likeable,' but I think what they don't understand is that [losers] are likeable people who are longing to be where somebody else is. They are so vulnerable."

In the film Bobby Bowfinger is a bankrupt movie producer-director who takes one last shot at fame and fortune by directing a movie that stars the biggest name in the business -- without that actor's knowledge.

"It was an idea I had carried around in my head for about 10 years, and then one day a couple of years ago I thought, 'Now is the time to write it,' and I sat in my back yard and wrote it and I gave it to (producer) Brian Grazer, and he said, 'Let's do it.'"

While it's not hard to picture Martin playing the loser when films like "The Jerk" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" have made him one of the biggest box-office draws in Hollywood, it is hard to think of Martin himself as a loser.

The actor began his career in Hollywood as an Emmy-winning writer for the Smothers Brothers television show, and while most of the public know him as the star of such films as "Parenthood," "Father of the Bride" and "The Out-of-Towners," he also wrote "Roxanne," "L.A. Story" and "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," a play currently on a nationwide tour.

Yet despite his many successes, Martin admitted that at times even the guy behind some of Hollywood's most successful comedies has insecurities -- and he had a good deal of anxiety when he submitted the script for "Bowfinger" to Grazer for approval.

"It's scary, because you don't want to be rejected on any level of your life, ever. So when I gave it to Brian, who has to think about the bottom line, about whether it will make money and whether it is funny or not, it is really flattering when they come back and say yes."

When Grazer, the producer of blockbuster films like "Liar, Liar" "Ransom" and "The Nutty Professor" green-lighted the film, Martin went straight to work.

"The first [thing] I said was there are two ways to make this movie: low budget or high budget. And they came back and said high budget, which I thought was hilarious," recalled the actor.

The best "accidental" decision (or so claimed Martin) made in the course of the film's production came when Grazer suggested Eddie Murphy for the dual role of Kit and Jiff Ramsey; the big name action star Bobby Bowfinger harasses, and his bumbling bespectacled brother.

Martin said he was happy to make a few changes to the script to accommodate Murphy, and Eddie was likewise "enthusiastic from the beginning and full of good ideas."

With talented and experienced director Frank Oz ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," "In & Out") on board to direct, there was no shortage of great ideas during filming and production.

Not-so-casual observer Heather Graham, who plays a starlet Bowfinger employs to help make his movie, said that though there were many creative minds at work on "Bowfinger," there was little conflict.

"There were no power struggles, everybody worked well together, but at the same time everybody knew it was Steve's deal."

And though he tried to shy away from making the film too pointed or personal, Martin admitted that "When you write about something you have been doing for 35 years you are loaded with ideas, cliches and stereotypes, which is what a movie like this is best built on, as unfair as it might be.

"What we are doing here is not a parody or satire of Hollywood. I want the audience to understand the film without any prior knowledge of the movie business. We just wanted it to be fun, so I kept the writing in that direction."

Though in the movie, Martin plays a director, he has tried to avoid getting behind the camera in real life.

"I don't really lust for directing," he said, adding that he once had a stint directing a television show.

"It was fun, I loved it. I also lost five pounds in one day. I don't know how Woody Allen does it," he said, "to write, act and direct? Who do you talk to?"

Martin said that though the buzz for "Bowfinger" is good, he will not use numbers to evaluate his film's success. "The real test of a movie is not box office but its longevity. The fact that something is still playing years later on a comedy channel -- that is when I know I have done a successful movie, when people are still watching it down the road."

What Martin will be doing by the time "Bowfinger" is on cable is hard to tell, but his immediate future will be focused on "Shopgirl," a novella he is writing.

His recent serious role in David Mamet's "The Spanish Prisoner" has raised questions about the possibility of more dramatic turn in Martin's role choices, but the actor said he does not pursue the serious roles, they instead often come to him.

He admits he doesn't pursue dramatic roles, because "I know I would get rejected a lot."

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