KEEPING UP WITH…
GARRY MARSHALL AND DORIS ROBERTS
by Brad Balfour
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 19, 2006.
Oy! What can you say about Garry Marshall and Doris Roberts when it comes to comedy?
These are two of humor’s royalty – both wearing crowns for various achievements; Roberts for acting in her many many TV series and shows including playing Raymond’s mother in Everybody Loves Raymond and Marshall for writing or producing or acting in so many great TV comedies and films that it seems impossible one man could do so much. From creating the TV version of the The Odd Couple to Mork and Mindy to Laverne and Shirley he defined the sit com. Then he went on to transfer these skills to such films as Pretty Woman and The Flamingo Kid. And as far acting – it’s exhausting just thinking of all the work.
But here they are starring in Marshall’s son Scott’s feature debut, Keeping Up with the Steins, his sometimes deft, sometimes sloppy look at the wacky world of rich people and their ridiculous diversions like Bar Mitzvahs that cost around the budget of a West African country. Yet with a cast that includes these two, Jeremy Piven and Jamie Gertz you can believe that if Bar Mitzvah boy Benjamin Fiedler (Daryl Sabara) doesn’t learn about becoming a man, he’ll at least learn how to get some laughs.
Are either of you Jewish?
Doris Roberts: I am.
Garry Marshall: I’m Italian and part English, but mostly Italian. My father was Italian, but he changed our name to Marshall, and my sister Penny is also Italian, and so is my son.
Were you aware of any of the Bar Mitvah/Bat Mitzvah details before shooting?
Garry Marshall: I grew up in the Bronx, and there’s a lot going on in the Bronx, especially with Jews and Italians, and even more so with my son, who grew up in LA. In his school, there were a lot of Bat Mitzvahs.
What do you think of this phenomenon of the competition between the families to outdo each other for these Bar and Bat Mitvahs?
Doris Roberts: I think it’s outrageous and stupid.
Garry Marshall: I agree.
Because you lose the true meaning of it?
Doris Roberts: Absolutely. Like the movie tells you, you’re losing the whole point of what the whole ritual is about.
Have you noticed that going on in the Jewish community?
Doris Roberts: Not in my community, no but I think that the picture tells it very well.
Did you grow up Reform or Orthodox?
Doris Roberts: (laughs) Somebody asked me who taught me about the Jewish religion. My grandfather was a womanizer, and he didn’t have time to go to Shul. Unfortunately, no, I didn’t.
Garry Marshall: Referring back to the previous question, I see it in a lot of ways, in Hollywood, in Beverly Hills, in show business, in weddings, in bar mitzvahs, in sweet sixteens…
Doris Roberts: Even in little birthday parties.
Garry Marshall: Yeah. There’s a whole thing that they had that my grandson went to: he’s three! He went to a birthday party, and they had a band, and everybody had a special [gift]—I mean they’re three years old, and already they’re getting souvenir bags from the birthday parties! It used to just be a cherry thing.
Is it then something that’s changed from what it once was?
Garry Marshall: Well, I think there’re a lot of affluent people that instead of helping out others, they’re helping their families. I think it comes from the Europeans struggling to come over here—my family’s from Italy and my great-great-grandfather made fourteen trips on a boat to Brooklyn in order to go back, and give the family money. As you go through the generations, you think, “Well, I can give my family what I never had,” and they give ’em too much, and they wonder why they’re not doing well.
I have to be very honest, since we’re talking seriously—you can take a little serious, can’t you? There are kids out in LA, and there are kids here at NYU that are jumping out of windows, in LA they’re ODing on drugs. Almost every month somebody’s kid that I know goes.
I’ve often asked Scott, my son, “How did we get you through that part of your life?” He says two things: one is sports… He’s always been interested in sports. The other thing was the simple fact was that one of us was always home. Either I was home, or my wife was home. There was always somebody that he should go home to, but with a lot of kids there’s no reason to go home. It’s getting messy, and I think part of that material thing is undercutting that part of the emotions that are left in the family.
Speaking seriously also, how instrumental were you in getting this film made, because you have a tremendous influence in Hollywood, and your son is coming to this as his first feature?
Garry Marshall: I must say, I had no influence on this picture. I have always encouraged him because that’s what he always wanted to be. My sister Penny, and I both shot second unit for this picture, and he learned [the ropes] and had gone to film school.
I remember, A League of Their Own, Penny’s shooting, and I’m acting. The director has six cameras, and 1700 extras, and some of them are cardboard. Penny starts yelling, and somebody tells her, “It’s cardboard, Penny! You’re yelling at cardboard!” She has a bullhorn. I tell her, “Isn’t this great, honey?” and she says, “Yeah, but we really should send one of the kids to film school because we don’t know what we’re doing!”(laughs) He, on his own, got this picture, and I was not his first choice as the actor…
You really weren’t the first choice?
Garry Marshall: No, he was trying to get Carl Reiner or Mel Brooks… Martin Landau was close. But I have to be honest with you, this is not a big-budget film where you could PAY somebody. He finally, because—it wasn’t even him—he needed an office to interview the kids in, and I was the only one that could read with them. I took them into my office, and I read with them every few days, and the producers finally said, “We’re not doing well with Irwin, what about your father?” He said, “MY FATHER?! Oh, they’ll all think it’s his picture!” And I said, “Well, let’s make the picture with him!” They had Doris, who I knew, Jamie and Jeremy who I didn’t know too well…
How was it being directed by your son?
Garry Marshall: It was good. Doris knew me, so I had said earlier to the cast, “I am NOT butting in so whatever he says to you, deal with it!”
So there were no fistfights and no grand proclamations to disown him?
Garry Marshall: No, no. She knew how to do it, she knows when to say, “Scott, I think it’s better if I go over here,” so he learned to be open to actors, that after all their years might know better than him. Actors always know how they’re going to look better.
Doris Roberts: His instincts are absolutely wonderful. He creates an ambience that makes you feel so free, and lets you do your own thing. He’s very good, he’s really very good, and the picture shows it.
You did raise a point: what about the nude scene? Did he say, “Dad, you’re gonna show your tuchus?”
Garry Marshall: No, no. Nobody wanted to do it. No, he said, “We have no body doubles, no money! You’re going to have to do it all yourself.” I said, “Well, I’ll give it a shot.”
Did he have to twist your arm to do it with Darryl Hannah?
Garry Marshall: No, he first told me that Darryl Hannah was going to do it, that’s how he proposed it. “Darryl Hannah’s really pretty, isn’t she?” And I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, you’ll go in the water with her.” Naked. That was fun.
You haven’t seen the reverse shot of that, right?
Doris Roberts: We found out he was not Jewish (laughs).
So in other words, a reverse shot was taken?
Garry Marshall: No, she just stood there!
Wait, is this going to go on the DVD?
Doris Roberts: We also had a great kissing scene at the end of the film. Oh yeah, that was hot.
Garry Marshall: We burned up that screen.
How many takes did it take, Doris?
Doris Roberts: Five.
Garry Marshall: We were cookin’.
Doris Roberts: It was a good time, honey.
Did you keep Penny off set for that?
Garry Marshall: No, my sister Penny came one day just to say hi to everybody, but she doesn’t butt in. My wife didn’t come that day.
Did your wife have to stay off the set?
Garry Marshall: She didn’t come for that scene.
How long have you two known each other?
Doris Roberts: He was my boss back in 1979 on a show called Angie.
Garry Marshall: Yes, we had a sitcom that ran for a couple of years.
How did you come to the project?
Doris Roberts: They offered me this job, and it was very nice.
Did you know his son when he was a little boy? Was it weird then being directed by him?
Doris Roberts: No, I didn’t know Scott back then. They never brought him around.
Garry Marshall: We brought him around on the Mork and Mindy set a lot. Scotty loved Robin Williams…
Doris Roberts: The set was right across from our set.
You mentioned at a recent screening that it’s good to be involved in a show that has Jewish content but isn’t about the Holocaust…
Doris Roberts: That’s right, I think so, and it’s sad.
Was that something that you brought to the film?
Doris Roberts: Yeah, I did, and I loved it. I loved the character because women are divorced or left, and they turn out to be so angry or bitter about life, and they just ruin the rest of their lives being that, and hating men, and all that stuff. I didn’t want to do that because I still love this guy, and it didn’t work because he’s a goof-off, but I loved him.
Was the script written that way or did you ad-lib the stuff going on because that was done so well.
Doris Roberts: I didn’t ad-lib at all. It’s just my choice of script was really very good.
Did you two get a chance to do any improvisation together?
Garry Marshall: Not much, we had an open run once, and we ran it together. We kept rehearsing and rehearsing to make it better, and natural, because again, I was all wrong, but I said, “That’s the way it is.” When I said, “I don’t want to be a schmuck,” she said, “Here’s what the schmucks do.” There’s this theme that I think is one of the most important speeches in the picture. In a society totally driven by celebrities, nobody cares about the average guy. The statement for that was really very good, by Mark Zacherin, the writer.
When you did Mork and Mindy, was there a little bit of an improvisational shoot-out between you and Robin Williams from time to time?
Garry Marshall: There was a lot of imagination on that show.
Doris Roberts: He’s on another planet… that one is.
Garry Marshall: I mean I’ve had, thank goodness, some successes, but the most packed audience I’ve ever seen were not for the Mork and Mindy show, but for the warm-up, when Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams did the warm-up. From every studio they came, and then as soon as the show started they went home, but the regular audience stayed. There was a lot of improv on that show.
Scott’s done some acting as well?
Garry Marshall: Yes, we make him. Once a year, every kid had to do a little something so that they knew what I meant by, “I’m going to work.”
How did he communicate with you onset? Did he use actors’ terminology? How did he tell you what he wanted?
Garry Marshall: With me, he did both. He would say, “Dad, remember the time you talked to me when we walked home from that little league game when I struck out? I’ll always remember the way you put your arm around me, and that was good because I thought you hated me.” I said, “Well, I was not thrilled you didn’t swing! You didn’t swing the bat! (laughs).” Sometimes he’d do that, and sometimes he’d just say, “Too over the top, dad. Don’t carry on. Just do it honestly. He did it both ways, and fortunately a lot of directing after going through the artistic part is, “If you lean a little closer to Doris like this so we’re leaning and getting in the shots.”
Doris Roberts: We had a very small area.
Garry Marshall: We weren’t actually on sets. We were in a house, so they couldn’t just pull a wall, so it was a little hard. Thank goodness he technically knows his business.
And how did you react to Scott’s direction?
Doris Roberts: I would do something, and he would be encouraging, and say, “Let’s do another shot, and let’s see what else we can do,” and I would do it.
Garry Marshall: She can give you a lot of spin, but she kept that character positive, which I thought was amazing. There was no bitter, old lady in there at all.
Doris Roberts: I thought it would be a good role model for women, not to be diminished by the fact that their man left them. That they are important. That they don’t have to see their reflection in a man’s eyes to know that they are an entity. There was always some possibility of some minute, little thing that showed you that there was still a great, little connection.
Garry Marshall: The laughter, the way that we made each other laugh.
But no ménage a trios.
Garry Marshall: Who knows? Both my sisters are divorced, and Scott has gone through that, and he understands it all, and I think he was very happy the way she was playing it.
Are you happy with the roles that have been coming your way ever since Everybody Loves Raymond? Are you finding that people are trying to get you to go back and play Marie?
Doris Roberts: I won’t do it though. I’ve done three films since then, and it’s all completely different.
Is it hard for you to get people in Hollywood to see that?
Doris Roberts: No, the difficulty now is that people say, “Oh, I love her, God, I love her, but she’s too identifiable.” That’s terrible because I’m a character actor. I’m totally different in that Hallmark project, I wear a dark wig and you totally wouldn’t know it was me.
I thought you were great in Grandma’s Boy.
Doris Roberts: I had quite a bit of fun with that role, I really did.
You had a lot of great actresses to work with.
Doris Roberts: That’s right. The girls were fabulous.
I noticed the basketball scene in the film. How did that come to be?
Garry Marshall: That was written, but he wouldn’t let me shoot enough really fascinating shots. I can make a shot from the three-point line.
Can you really?
Garry Marshall: Oh yeah, three-point shots I can make, but I couldn’t make it a lot of the time, and he was running out of film. I did the foul shots, and I did a hook shot he should have used, but he didn’t, and it’s his picture. That was the only tense part.
He didn’t quite appreciate you as a basketball player the same way that you appreciate yourself as a basketball player?
Garry Marshall: Exactly, that’s very true. But also it was shot at 7 o’clock in the morning so I would say, “Kobe’s not so good this early in the morning either! One more, give me one more shot!”
And he said, “Excuses, excuses,” right?
Garry Marshall: He said, “We haven’t got enough film, leave me alone!”
When he was a kid playing basketball how were you with him?
Garry Marshall: He was a good basketball player. I was a little harsh at times, but I tell you there was that incident with baseball where he wouldn’t swing, because kids are afraid that the ball will hit them, and they’ll die, so he wouldn’t swing. My wife tells me, “For one game, don’t say anything,” and he doesn’t swing at the ball, and we’re going home, and my wife says, “Don’t say anything.” We get out of the car, and we get out, and he says, “Wait a minute, dad. I forgot my bat.” I said, “Why do you need it?! You never swing it anyway!” My wife hit me. I said, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that!” But that’s as far as I went, and I stopped doing that.
I love that scene in the film with the cane.
Garry Marshall: Yeah, that was definitely written in. I thought it was a great statement for seniors not to get a cane, because so many seniors are getting beat up and mugged wherever they go, and somebody’s got to say, “STOP!” I thought it was good to depict one man who gave it a shot. That was Adam Goldberg, a very good actor fromBand of Brothers. He and Scotty went to school together and they knew each other, so he came to do him a favor.
Did this movie bring flashbacks for both of you in terms of memories from the past, growing up and dealing with kids? Did it bring back good memories, or like you said with the basketball scene that weren’t so good?
Garry Marshall: No, most of it was good, most of the memories, for me. Scotty had a certain tone, and honestly we just followed him, and Jeremy, who is a pistol, and we worked with him. With him, you have to be ready, because he could go anywhere. He’s great, you know with his emotional range.
What are you working on next or what are you acting in next?
Doris Roberts: I don’t know yet (laughs).
Garry Marshall: But you see we don’t say, “Doris, will you come in for a reading?” You know what she does, you know she had perfect timing when she was 18, and she has perfect timing now. A lot of people lose it, but hers is still perfect. I’m back to chick flicks is what I’m doing.
What are you doing next?
Garry Marshall: Looks like this film called Georgia Rules, with Jane Fonda, Felicity Huffman and Lindsay Lohan, which is all about three generations of the same family. It’s a very interesting piece. It’s a little heavy, but we’re in luck, because it changes tomorrow, this business. It’s written by Mark Andris, who wrote As Good As It Gets. He’s a very fine writer. He’s a Mormon, and it takes place in Idaho, and there’s a Mormon touch, but none of the three women are Mormon.
Was it interesting getting a chance to work with Richard Benjamin? I don’t know how much contact you guys had with him, but…
Garry Marshall: Richard, and I were at college together at the same time. Both of us are from Northwestern, just like Scotty, and Richard was years ahead of me, he was a senior when I was coming in. He was dating Paula Prentiss back then. It was great to see him again. Scotty went to me and said, “I need a rabbi that has the weight that you can believe,” and he showed me the list, and I said, “Richard Benjamin! Great director,” and all directors are really nice as actors because we know the problems, so all directors behave. And Richard did, as I did. Sydney Pollack is a great person again; he behaves beautifully.
As a rabbi (laughs)? Have you given up on TV though? Are you just directing and acting, no more TV?
Garry Marshall: The reason is it’s all blended now. Everybody can direct. Barry Levinson did a whole box. Jerry Bruckheimer is doing a bunch of series…
Doris Roberts: He directed an opera last year.
You directed an opera?
Garry Marshall: An opera, yes, she was my advisor.
But you didn’t sing?
Garry Marshall: No singing. 83 people on the stage on the stage at the same time, it was…
It was a comedy, right?
Garry Marshall: Yeah, it was Aufencbach’s Grand Duchess of Geraldstein, the greatest opera in the world. It was a satirical opera that Aufenbach wrote in the 1860s. He’s against the army, and the government, and we made kind of a fun thing out of it. A lot of people came to see this—we packed 3100 seats for this.
Have you been an opera fan for a long time?
Garry Marshall: Actually, no. She’s been an opera fan for a long time, and my wife for years has been a big opera fan. Placido Domingo convinced me: “We need the comedy, you’ll come, and we’ll do this.”
Are you entertaining the notion of producing something for yourself?
Doris Roberts: I do, I have…
Garry Marshall: She’s got a couple of good scripts, I read one of them.
Where are they in terms of development and production?
Doris Roberts: One is with Adam Sandler’s company, and they’re excited about it,
and there are others that I haven’t really gone after, but now that I have time, I can.
Did you actually initiate it? Was it your idea?
Doris Roberts: No, I got a script, and thought about working on it. It’s interesting, I had a wonderful writer, a film writer, and he and I worked together on a sitcom, and it was very funny, and very original and awfully good, and you wouldn’t believe this but the networks said, “No, he’s a film writer, he can’t write for sitcoms.” It really makes no sense.
Would you have Gary direct?
Doris Roberts: No, but that would be fun.
Garry Marshall: If she had a script, I’d do that. They did that, with Terrence McNally’s Frankie & Johnny, and I said, “Okay, Terrence will write it,” but they said, “Oh no, he doesn’t do screenplays, he does those plays.” We said, “He wrote the play! He knows how!” and I truly backed it, and said, “If it doesn’t come out right, I’ll redo it for no money at all,” and he wrote beautifully The Great Ending, and they then said, “You want to do another one for us, Terrence?”
Doris Roberts: Terrence McNally and I did Bad Habits together on Broadway.
Would you consider doing another TV series?
Doris Roberts: Sure, it just has to be the right thing.
Do you get offers? Dramas or sitcoms?
Doris Roberts: Yeah, but nothing I’ve really cared about, and having worked nine years straight, I have time to take a little time off.
Would you tell us the name of the writer that was summarily dismissed?
Doris Roberts: George Gallo, who wrote Midnight Run, and a lot of other good movies. He’s a wonderful writer. I mean, they’re insane. [Gary laughs.] They’re insane, that’s all.
How do you feel this film will connect, being a specific kind of film about a Jewish family, with everybody else? What’s the most important thing you think that it’s about?
Doris Roberts: It’s about a family, it’s about getting together, it’s a lot about hope—it’s about hope because I don’t think that the state of Indiana has ever seen as Bar Mitzvah; they’ll see it for the first time.
Garry Marshall: They played it in Kentucky, and the four kids there had no idea what a Bar Mitzvah was. They played it, and once the picture opened it was explained, and they understood very well with parents not speaking to each other…
So it’s not so much about a Bar mitzvah as it is about family.
Doris Roberts: And relationships. To talk about Hollywood, Mr. Goldwyn heard about this play called, Trio—this was many, many years ago, and he turns to his right-hand man, and he says, “Get the rights to that, we’ll do it as a movie,” because it was a big hit. The man said, “I don’t think so, Mr. Goldwyn,” and he said, “Well, why not?” and he said, “Because it’s a play about lesbians,” and he said, “That’s okay, we’ll make them Hungarians” (laughs).
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Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: May 19, 2006.