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Cultrure: Comedy star turns into a mild and crazy guy; Steve Martin tells Alison Jones why comedy acting is child's play.

For a man with no children Steve Martin must have something about this wild and crazy guy that simply says 'dad'.

Some of his finest hours have been spent playing the part of a loving yet endearingly hapless pater familias, in Parenthood, in Father and the Bride, even in Planes, Trains and Automobiles when he was a man just trying to get back to his family for the holidays.

Now he is facing his biggest challenge yet, as the head of a household of no less than 12 children, including Superboy himself, Tom Welling (who plays Clark Kent in the series Smallville)

'I've played fathers so many times it is like being one,' laughs Steve. 'I've had children of every age and I get to do everything but the dirty work. Their parents have to take them home and deal with all that.'

Although he has been married, to British actress Victoria Tennant from 1986 to 1994, they did not have any little Martins.

He is now in a steady relationship (with a woman who works outside show business) but remains evasive when asked whether he would like to become a father himself. Instead he contents himself with playing Uncle Steve to his nieces, nephews and grandnieces and grandnephews.

Unlike WC Fields, who roundly advised actors never to work with children or animals, Steve has developed an amused tolerance for the antics of the pint sized performers.

'It's sweet and funny. They were treated like Gods - somebody walks you to the set and walks you back and 'can I get you some water'.

'The kids were bright and sunny. They wouldn't say one-liners, they were just funny. They didn't come off like professionals. They come off like kids.'

And like real kids they occasionally became bored with the repetitive process of film-making. One of the movie's out-takes includes one of the children saying 'I don't want to do it anymore'.

'That was the youngest, and who could blame them? I don't want to do it again either. I just do it.'

However, where there is a child actor there is usually a showbiz parent lurking in the background. In Steve's experience they tend to fall into one of two catagories

'I've seen parents who were putting the kids into showbusiness and they were doing it for themselves and I've also seen parents, like on this film, it was because the kids wanted to do it.

'I'm kind of against it generally but I changed my mind on this movie because they were being educated and having fun. They were still very normal and excited about everything.

'I did a movie, A Simple Twist of Fate (a modern version of the story Silas Marner about a recluse who adopts a baby girl who wanders into his house during a snowstorm). I was working with two twins. They were about three and they were delightful.

'I asked the parents 'why are your children so fabulous' and she looked surprised and said 'Well we raised them with humour' and I thought 'gee that's a great answer',

'There are so many things that you can say through humour, which, if you say directly, can be harsh.'

Steve's own family did not push him into showbusiness, rather it was a slow organic process.

'I grew up in Orange County, California, which was very new and fresh and crimeless. Disneyland had just opened and everything was sunny and bright.

'It was the perfect 50s family of four, very typical, a housewife, father working, school.

'There wasn't much for them to say about me wanting to be an actor. Showbusiness isn't a career choice. It happens. You audition at a nightclub and you either get it or you don't. It's such a slow slow process.'

He started out doing party turns such as juggling , tap-dancing, magic tricks and balloon sculpting. He also learned the banjo and occasionally plays with his friend and fellow celebrity banjo player, Billy Connolly.

After majoring in Philosophy and Theater at university he briefly considered becoming a philosophy professor before starting to write for stand-up comedians.

Eventually allowed to perform himself he became famous as an absurdest, his act a devastating parody of second rate comics.

From there he slipped into films, scoring a hit with the cult favourite The Jerk. Though seen primarily as a master of both slapstick, in films like All of Me and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and withering wit, best demonstrated by Roxanne, an update of Cyrano de Bergerac, he is also capable of tackling darker pieces, like David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner.

'I never said 'I want to be an actor'. I was interested in comedy. If I'd chosen to be an actor, I'd still be at the audition line I'm sure,' he admits candidly.

The fathers he tends to play represent a new breed of parents, more touchy feely, with the fathers expected to take an active role in the children's upbringing rather than being the distant authority figures of Steve's youth.

'In the last 20 years I think fathers have become more important. It used to be in the 50s that the father was obligated to always be away and to be gruff.

'Now they seem to want to share the beauties. Fatherhood has kind of taken on a more important role.

'Children have also changed, they are no longer seen and not heard, mindful of their elders.

'Forty years ago it would have been shocking to have these kids (in Cheaper by the Dozen) with all these opinions.

'There were a couple of moments in this film when I thought the kids should have been sent to bed for their behaviour. But with all 12 kids you probably couldn't manage sending them to bed. You'd have to handcuff them to the bed frame.'

The film also features an engaging cameo by hot young actor Ashton Kutcher, who is jointly famous for being both the much younger boyfriend of Demi Moore, and the co-creator of Punk'd a candid camera style series in which he plays practical jokes on celebrities.

'He was so funny in this movie. And a lot of it is on the cutting room floor, because he can ad lib, and ad lib,' he says generously.

'I would like to work with him again.'

However, he isn't anticipating being Punk'd by Ashton.

'No, he didn't try anything. I think he sensed it would be a bad idea!'

CAPTION(S):

Steve Martin in Cheaper by the Dozen
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 12, 2004
Words:1082
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