|Actors Are Supporting the Stars and Stealing the Show
Associated Press, Houston Post, August 1989
|Two of this summer's hottest sequels, Ghostbusters II and Lethal Weapon 2, have received boosts from
supporting players who never really wanted the parts.
Surrounded by Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver, Peter MacNicol steals the movie as the
villainous word-mangling art restorer, Janosz Poha in Ghostbusters II.
Joe Pesci, as the troublesome but lovable Leo Getz, fits right in with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, the
high-powered stars of Lethal Weapon 2.
But neither MacNicol or Pesci initially wanted the part.
Why would MacNicol, an accomplished theater performer and featured player in the acclaimed film Sophie's
Choice, want to switch from Shakespeare to slime? After reading the script, he called his agent and told
him to forget it.
Pesci enjoyed the comic police thriller Lethal Weapon, but never imagined adding himself to the sure-fire
team of Gibson and Glover. When his agent advised him a funny part was available in the sequel, Pesci
was skeptical. After all, he was better known for playing tough guys in Raging Bull and Once Upon a Time
But both actors reconsidered.
What impressed MacNicol about Ghostbusters II was the name, "Vigo of Carpathia," the evil spirit that
haunts the film. His mind quickly filled in the details.
"I thought, 'What can I do with this Carpathia connection? Why does this art restorer know so much about
this particular painting? Maybe there's some kinship of country involved there.' This is all in a matter of
seconds... I called back the agent and said I'd go in," MacNicol said.
Pesci, tired of scripts that were blatant imitations of Joey LaMotta (the boxer Jake's brother) in Raging Bull,
took a liking to Getz and agreed to talk to producers Richard Donner and Joel Silver. Getz, in protective
custody, is an accountant who has laundered nearly half a billion dollars in drug money from the
organization that Gibson and Glover are trying to crack.
"I explained that I saw him very frantic and a big pest and a whiner, wanting to be a cop and a hero
himself, knowing all about police procedures. I acted out a couple of bits for the character and they both
started laughing. They said, 'What are we wasting time for? Let's get him in wardrobe, it's funny, let him
Receiving the part was the first step for Pesci. He still wasn't sure if he would hurt or help the team of
Gibson and Glover.
"I knew when I met Mel and Danny and hung with them a little bit if I could pull this off," Pesci said. "Mel
and Danny had their own way of working; it's hard to break into something like that. They don't know
where you're coming from. They're afraid to just say, ' Go ahead and ruin our movies, c'mon and ruin it.'
They were going to be nice and also a little cautious. That was opening day, but it worked out well."
Like Murray and Aykroyd, MacNicol had an extensive background in improvisational theater. The Dallas
native added his own touches to his screen character, speaking broken English in a thick Eastern
"When I did read for the part, I said, 'Anything goes?' Because I had seen the guys out in the waiting
room, they were young John Carradine types -- tall, quiet and menacing. This thing, this character, came
full-blown like Athena out of my skull. Judging from the looks in their eyes, they were thinking, 'We can use
this guy -- we got to use this guy.'"
Pesci also took liberties, drawing on an unusual source for Getz's flustered way of expressing himself.
"If you go to Disneyland in California, all the employees are Mormans from Utah, nice kids, great smiles,"
Pesci explained. "They handle people all day long. They never get angry. You walk up to one and say,
'Excuse me, we're looking all over the place and can't find Fantasyland. They start saying "OK, OK,
Fantasyland. OK, OK. You're here. OK, OK.' I just added to it."
MacNicol and Pesci each play characters far different from themselves. They wanted it that way.
"That's the fun for me." MacNicol explained. "It's like a hunt, looking for all the characteristics, making up
this mosaic. I think I'm one of the youngest character actors."
"Yeah, that's the best," Pesci said. "I've heard a million actors say it. It's such a great thing to get out of
yourself, somewhere else. We all have a little bit of Leo Getz or Joey LaMotta. We all have these kinds of
people in us, that's where an actor gets it from. What you do is bring that part of you out more. As if you
were that type of a person."
"They don't have to do any of the awful chores," MacNicol said. "They don't have to heave that story along.
They get to have the most fun."
"It is fun, but it's still a job," Pesci cautioned. "The other way to look at it is if the character fails, if the
movie fails, I could have gotten the heat for it. 'Well, they brought this other character in there and he was
jerking around trying to be funny and he wasn't funny."