Supporting players have been trying to steal scenes from stars even before the day Trigger caught the kiss Roy Rogers aimed at Dale and became a national institution. Animals, kids and drunks are the worst offenders, but no budding thespian worth his SAG dues can resist chewing on a little scenery. In old Hollywood, bad films were rescued from being truly awful by the studios' veterans at scene-stealing. Such contract players as Walter Brennan, Thelma Ritter and Eve Arden were colorful and familiar presences who could always be counted on to buck up a story or a falling star. In recent years it's been tougher to walk off with the show. Megastars on the order of Barbra Streisand, Robert Redford and Goldie Hawn don't take well to upstaging, and they've got the clout to land a prepossessing performer on the cutting room floor. The good ones, fortunately, bounce back, and there are more of them at work than usual in this winter's batch of movies. On the following pages are some of the people who provide a compelling reason for shelling out $5 at the movies this season—a standout performance in a small part.
Bronson Pinchot in Beverly Hills Cop
Eddie Murphy hardly knew what hit him. In the movie, which has already grossed more than $100 million, Pinchot, 25, leaves audiences howling in a brief but brilliant encounter with Murphy, the street-savvy cop. The L.A.-reared actor, who's also in this season's The Flamingo Kid, was paid $2,500 for his two scenes in Cop as Serge, a swishy art gallery assistant who serves espresso and dresses as if he stepped out of the pages of Italian Vogue. One critic called Pinchot's Serge "the most unexpectedly and unusually hilarious bit role within recent memory." Serge's undecipherable accent sounds like a cross between Mrs. Olson and Truman Capote. Pinchot refers to it as generic Eurotrash, claiming to have picked it up on Rodeo Drive, where "I couldn't tell whether the people there were from Rome or China." Serge's mannerisms and name, he says, were taken from "a snide Swiss caterer in New York who once spurned me for a job." With material like that, who's afraid of Eddie Murphy? "He always plays Eddie Murphy—the tough, fast-talking black guy. He's a stand-up comic." Pinchot makes a distinction: He is an actor.
Life in a one-room, sparsely furnished apartment in Hollywood is fine for Bronson: "I like to keep the room uncluttered so I can roll around and do my exercises." A lace tablecloth stitched by his grandmother is draped over his Murphy bed. On the radiator droop two just washed jockstraps. Despite his youth, the hairline is receding. "I have mud pack treatments done by the same woman who does Sylvester Stallone and Burt Reynolds—Marcelle Baldo," he jokes.
Pinchot is available, having been jilted last fall by a TV soap actress after an eight-month romance. They met in the Caribbean while making the as yet unreleased Hot Resorts, "a youth trash movie," says Pinchot. His approach was about as subtle as the movie they were making. Shortly after meeting her, he said, "You like antiques. I like antiques. You have hair. I have hair. Let's have a baby." Meryl Streep, watch out: "If I met her on the street, I can't be responsible for what I'd do," Pinchot says. "She'd love me, I know, because we love the same kind of antiques."
Pinchot was born in New York but soon the family (he has two brothers and a sister) moved to Pasadena. His Russian father shortened their name from Poncharavsky. "Soon after arriving in L.A. he abandoned us," Pinchot says bitterly. After high school Pinchot got a scholarship to Yale to study painting. But once there, he says, "I got a part in a play and wanted to be an actor in five minutes." After his stint at Yale he did off-Broadway plays, where a casting director for Risky Business saw him and hired him to be Tom Cruise
's preppy pal. Since Beverly Hills Cop he has completed a role in Martin Scorsese's new film, After Hours. This month he'll be playing a gay lawyer in the NBC yuppie sitcom Sara.
When done with a part, Pinchot discards it. Try asking him to re-create Serge's accent. "I don't do circus tricks," he says. Although a Cop sequel is in the works, Pinchot says he won't reprise his character. "I don't want that to be my image." Considering the mileage he's gotten from the film, he might do well to heed Serge's sidesplitting words, "Dun't be stewpeed."
Wallace Shawn and Lu Leonard in Micki & Maude
In Blake Edwards' new comedy, playwright-turned-actor Shawn, 39, plays a mousy obstetrician who's having an affair with his imposing nurse, Leonard. Grasping Shawn in her arms, Leonard declares passionately, "I worship your body like a French cathedral." No wonder star Dudley Moore's rather more conventional love scenes with Ann Reinking and Amy Irving can't come close in lust or laughs. Shawn has played eccentrics for so long that he's grateful even for this odd coupling. "I quite like being cast in a part in which I'm somebody's lover," says the diminutive actor (son of New Yorker editor William Shawn). "I frequently play roles in which I'm so isolated and weird that it goes without saying such a person wouldn't have a lover. Most of the roles I'm offered are small. I don't know why. I'm available to play gigantic ones."
It's difficult for co-star Leonard to play anything else. "I'm just your average fat, jolly lady," she says. Leonard, 52, came to Edwards' attention as the dykey prison matron in an L.A. production of the high-camp play Women Behind Bars. But the actress, who lives in the San Fernando Valley, has spent most of her theater career on the road. It has been a long time coming, so fame's arrival has had little effect on her life. "I'm just happy to be working," she says. "Friends now tell me that I've given them the courage to hang on."
Janet Jones in The Flamingo Kid
In the film, a nostalgic comedy set in Brooklyn and Far Rockaway in the 1960s, newcomer Jones, 22, plays a tan, svelte, rich California teenager named Carla. Simply by wearing the swimsuit provided by the costume department, she steals poor boy Matt Dillon's heart—and every scene she's in. "I'm confident about my body," she says. And why not? An agent should be so much help. As a high school senior in St. Louis, Jones won the Miss Dance of America contest, which led to a job with Motion, the high-energy team on TV's Dance Fever. Director Garry Marshall cast her as Carla after watching her play in Carl Reiner's celebrity tennis tournament. Since Flamingo Kid, she's filmed A Chorus Line for Sir Richard Attenborough, playing Judy, a hoofer from Texas.
For the past four years Janet has been dating actor Nels Van Patten, 29, son of Dick Van Patten. They're considering marriage. Maybe that's why her big love scene with Dillon (above) had her so nervous she was "shaking." As for Dillon's technique, "One thing I gotta say," she sighs (apologies to Nels), "he's a great kisser."
Ken McMillan in Dune
So repellent was the makeup on his face—oozing pustules of acne—that his 14-year-old daughter, Alison, visiting him on the Dune location in Mexico, remarked over lunch, "Daddy, you'll have to move to the other side. I can't look at you while I eat." After about 17 films, including Ragtime (as the fire chief), McMillan, 52, is grossing out audiences from coast to coast as the fat, flying Baron Harkonnen in David (The Elephant Man) Lynch's adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi novel. "I had to have a special chair made because of the harness and equipment I wore during the shooting," McMillan says. "When we first started, it took them over two hours to dress me. And they used to have to wheel me to the set; I couldn't walk. After a while we got the dressing down to roughly 45 minutes and I did learn to walk, but my two dressers still had to help me up and down steps." All the fuss put him in an uncomfortable spotlight on the set. "Some people were grumbling about my special treatment and Sting said, 'If I had to go around with that s—on, I'd want special treatment, too.' Afterward he came into my trailer and said, 'You owe me one, mate.' " Such behavior makes McMillan feel a bit guilty about stealing Dune from rock's Police chief: "It takes the edge off of it that the movie didn't get such good reviews and I got glowing ones."
Fred Gwynne in The Cotton Club
Although the reviews of Francis Coppola's $50-plus million gangster musical have been polarized, praise for Fred Gwynne (TV's Herman Munster) has been unanimous—and, some say, long overdue. Stealing the spotlight from the ever bland Richard Gere is more petty theft than grand larceny, but Gwynne makes his presence felt. In the drama, which revolves around Harlem's famed Cotton Club of the 1920s, the imposing 6'5" actor is Big Frenchy Demange, best friend and bodyguard to club boss Owney Madden, played by Britain's Bob Hoskins (above left). Reviewers have been especially impressed with the chemistry between the two actors—best displayed when Frenchy presents Owney with a watch to show his affection. It's the most emotional scene in an otherwise passionless film. "That scene was based on fact," says Gwynne, who hems and haws over reports that he and Hoskins made up the dialogue as they went along. "Francis likes actors to wing it," he admits.
After two hit sitcoms, Car 54, Where Are you? and The Munsters, Gwynne pursued a successful New York stage career. Now, at 58, he's trying new territory. "Films are a wild frontier for me," he says. Asked whether he's finally shaken Herman Munster, Gwynne replies, "Who?"
André Gregory in Protocol
An avant-garde New York theater director, Gregory, 50, seems to be having a high old time injecting a sense of the absurd into his movie roles. In Protocol, a farce starring Goldie Hawn (that's her behind the veil) and set mostly in Washington, D.C., André pops up as an Islamic guru who enjoys certain Western ways, particularly one orgy-brawl. "I partly based the character on a man who had been the cultural adviser to the Shah of Iran," Gregory says. "I also saw my character as a great Second Avenue Yiddish tragedian playing one of the seven dwarfs in Arabia, modeled after Abbott and Costello." As for upstaging Hawn, he says adamantly, "It would be impossible for anyone or anything except an angel to steal a scene from Goldie."
Jane Kaczmarek in Falling in Love
When Jane Kaczmarek slaps Robert De Niro in Falling in Love, audiences sit up. Some even wake up. Her rage at her husband's fling with Meryl Streep is the critically trounced film's first sign of real emotion. Reared in Milwaukee, Wis., Kaczmarek, a Yale Drama School grad, almost didn't get the part; at 29, she was considered too old looking for the 39-year-old De Niro, above. "But I went for the reading anyway," she says, "and he was very nice." Jane gives Streep high marks for generosity. During rushes, she recalls, "Meryl would give me little arm squeezes." But as Kaczmarek points out, she and Streep never meet onscreen. All Jane's scenes are with De Niro. He'll have to be more on his toes next time. Meanwhile, another star is born.