No Tears for This Cryer

updated 09/23/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 01:00AM

JON CRYER MAY HAVE EARNED HIS wings as one of the Hot Shots!, but he cheerfully admits he never quite qualified as a Brat Packer. Indeed, Cryer, 26, says he felt nerdishly intimidated by his suave Packish cohorts, Charlie Sheen and Cary Elwes, the first day on the set. "There was Charlie," he recalls, "with leather jacket, cigarette dangling from his mouth, and sunglasses. And there was Cary with his leather jacket, sunglasses and cigarettes. And there I was with my purple shirt on, saying, 'Gee, guys, let's make something funny.' "

They certainly did that. Hot Shots!, a hilarious send-up of air-jockey flicks (read: Top Gun), turned out to be the sleeper hit of late summer. A critical component in all the high-tech madness is Cryer's performance as a sort of neo—Jerry Lewis flyer in goldfish-bowl glasses (with actual goldfish swimming in them). For his part, Cryer, who did a turn in situation comedy (CBS's acclaimed but aborted The Famous Teddy Z), found the movie's deadpan humor quite difficult. "There's so much you can't do in these movies," he says. "Like smile." Director Jim Abrahams didn't even want a comic actor for the role, but says, "Jon was so funny when he came in and read that we cast him anyway." Says Cryer about Hot Shots!—and moviemaking in general: "What other job on this planet lets you see people so serious about something so silly?"

Cryer's cheerfully skewed view of show business isn't surprising, considering he made his professional debut on a vitamin-bottle label. He grew up in Manhattan, the son of actors David and Gretchen Cryer, who divorced when he was 4. About that time, he recalls, "my mom was doing this multivitamin ad for kids, so my picture ended up on the bottle. I loved going to the drugstore and looking at myself."

Later, as a student at the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, Cryer admits, "I got involved in acting mostly to get girls." He joined a summer theater camp, then plunged into acting full-time after graduation in 1983. Cryer ruefully refers to this time as his Matthew Broderick period. Bearing a remarkable resemblance to Broderick, Cryer understudied the older actor on Broadway and eventually followed him in both Brighton Beach Memoirs and Torch Song Trilogy. "I guess I'm like Matthew, only cheaper," he says.

Cryer established his patented brand of nudnick cool playing opposite Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink and by winning then single Demi Moore onscreen and off in No Small Affair. "I'm really happy for her now," he says. "It's great to have success when you're emotionally ready for it."

Cryer concedes he wasn't emotionally ready for the failure of Teddy Z after just one season. "I suffered in silence, in quiet dignity," he recalls wryly, "but it really was a black period. I just put so much of myself in Teddy that when it didn't work, I felt there was something about me that made it fail."

Hot Shots! has made Cryer cool, sort of, again. Now he's closed a deal for another series, this time with ABC. Otherwise, he's content to relax in his Greenwich Village apartment, fiddle with his array of electronic gadgets—and get out now and again for a spot of shark fishing. Cryer is having such a good time these days he almost apologizes for his sunny worldview. "I've never been in rehab," he says, "or had any kind of drug or alcohol problem. I sometimes wish I had, so I could have something to discuss on the talk shows."

MARK GOODMAN
DAVID HUTCHINGS in New York City

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