Striking out with Sigourney, social slimer Peter MacNicol
still scores in
Ghostbusters II

People magazine, July 17, 1989
Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Rick Moranis have not talked to their lawyers, filled a brief or issued any
subpoenas. But it's probably just a matter of time. Most moviegoers would say that the stars of
Ghostbusters II have an airtight case against Peter MacNicol, who in his small role as the lecherous
Janosz Poha, a bewitched, bothered and bespooked art restorer, does the most spectacular bit of
screen stealing since Bronson Pinchot sauntered through
Beverly Hills Cop. We're talking grand larceny
here.

Even though MacNicol, 32, is short (5'7 1/2" when the part requires him to stand up straight) and slight
and surrounded by the big boys of comedy, he's impossible to miss. He's the one with the high-pitched
voice spewing out fractured English in an accent no known country could produce. The one with the
hairdo that looks as if it had just been plugged into an electrical outlet. The one who sidles up to
resident Ghostbusters sexpot Sigourney Weaver to suggest, "do you vant to go and hoff a brunch vit
me?"

His star may be on the rise in Hollywood, but MacNicol, who played Meryl Streep's puppyish suitor Stingo
in 1982's
Sophie's Choice and portrayed a vulnerable Richard II in a 1987 New York Shakespeare Festival
production, swears he'll stay down to earth. Standing in the booklined one-bedroom apartment he
shares with his wife, Marsue Cumming, 40, on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Peter gazes at two
pictures of galaxies from an astronomy book. He carried the illustrations to the premiere of
Sophie's
Choice
. "Every once in a while I'd take them out from my coat pocket and look at them," MacNicol
remembers. "Then  I would think, 'Geez, it's just a little film.'"

This is not the gesture of a conventional actor. But then, MacNicol might be defined by his quirks. In his
pare time, he plays the bagpipes. In conversation, he tosses out word like "ectoskeleton." The
vocabulary is a throwback to the time when, as the youngest of five children born to John, a Dallas
executive turned Episcopal priest, and Barbara, a housewife, Peter decided he wanted to be a
paleontologist.

That notion fossilized when McNicol [sic] discovered that math was required. Then, at age 9, he was
recruited to take the part of St. Peter in a church play. "I remember trying to achieve a stonelike
complexion with talcum powder," he says. "But when I stood up, the talc rose from me like a squall line
and started moving over the front pews."  Still, the performance was received with such hilarity, he
immediately decided to make acting his goal.

After graduating from high school -- where MacNicol developed the "devastating wit" that has protected
many a short guy from more muscular barbs -- Peter went on to the University of Minnesota. "I played a
lot of old men, with silver hair spray," he says. "I probably looked like a teenager who had been at
Chernobyl." After a stint at Minneapolis's Guthrie Theater, he moved to New York in 1980 -- and a part in
the Pulitzer-prizewinning play
Crimes of the Heart, in which he was spotted by a casting agent for
Sophie's Choice.

MacNicol, though flattered, didn't think he was up to the role. Literally. The character was supposed to
be more than 6' tall. "So I put those portable packs of tissue into my shoes, and I arrive at the audition
5'9"." For a callback, MacNicol padded his boots with another few packs. "But my pants were cut for
somebody 5'7 1/2", he says. "When I sat down to do a scene with Meryl, my hemline shot up to my
knees. I looked like I was wearing lederhosen.

There was considerably less paperwork involved in the
Ghostbuster II audition, but an equal amount of
fancy footwork. According to MacNicol, the character as written "was one of those guys that 5,000 actors
could play." In his audition, Peter gave Janosz a homeland (Carpathia) and an accent as thick as stuffed
cabbage. To prepare for the role, MacNicol hung around a Romanian tourist agency and devoted
considerable time to conjuring up Carpathia. "I envisioned our flag. It was a snake stepping on a man.
Then I invented our national product. I thought maybe we make those little barrels that Saint Bernards
wear."

But not one of Carpathia's quaint customs prepared MacNicol for being slimed. "Six times I wore that
stuff. It doesn't wash off in the shower," he says. "It shifts. It's like some kind of oil slick that changes
harbor. It left a pink residue. In Los Angeles, I thought, 'I'll bet they think I've had a bad Retin-A
reaction.'"

Quite understandably, MacNicol's star turn in
Ghostbusters II has brought "a very strange assortment" of
offers. But right now he's considering his potions and spending time with Marsue, who is executive
director of the 52nd Street Project, a theater program for homeless children. Married 2 1/2 years,
MacNicol and Cumming met on a blind date during which the evening's chief diversion was a sharply
contested game of Password. "She got me to say 'pneumatic,'" MacNicol remembers, "and we knew we
had that kind of connection."

Even with the praise he has earned for
Ghostbusters II ("the funniest performance in this film," wrote the
New York Times's Vincent Canby), MacNicol isn't absolutely sure he's in the right profession. "There's this
need to be a tough hombre, which I'm just not," he says. On the other hand, "I'm not thinking
paleontology."


Peter MacNicol Online