Educated at the University of California, Los Angeles.
There are comics who have to work very hard to be stand up, to get out there, to dominate a live audience, to get laughs—in short, to do comedy, which is hard. Alas, the hardness may enter into them, preventing the tenderness (or the pretense of tenderness) that is essential to acting. To this writer's mind, the team of comics who excelled on Saturday Night Live have been especially prey to this condition. It's hard to get enthusiastic enough to want to write about Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Chevy Chase—all of whom have had substantial movie careers. They are all as imprisoned in their comic armor as, say, Woody Allen. And while Steve Martin has the largest movie career of all the SNL people, he too—it seems—is fundamentally averse to acting. “Fake” bells go off in one's head when he says lines. That is not to say he is unfunny—in All of Me and Roxanne, say—simply that this viewer feels a barrier, a tenseness in Martin, that cannot vield to pretending.
Thus, the list: Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (78, Michael Schultz); The jerk (79, Carl Reiner), which he wrote; Pennies from Heaven (81, Herbert Ross), a test case for my theory, to be run side-by-side with the British TV version; Dead Men Don 't Wear Plaid (82, Reiner), a clever idea, and one that Martin helped write; The Man with Two Brains (83, Reiner), which again he wrote; All of Me (84, Reiner); The Lonely Guy (84, Arthur Hiller); Little Shop of Horrors (86, Frank Oz); executive producer and screenwriter on Th ree Amigos! (86, John Landis); with John Candy in Planes, Trains 6- Automobiles (87, John Hughes); screenwriter and executive producer again on Roxanne (87, Fred Schepisi)—it is a special sensibility that opts to give the Cyrano story a happy ending, maybe one indifferent to story; Parenthood (89, Ron Howard), which showed a new, nonironic reaching for the mainstream; My Blue Heaven (90, Ross); L A. Story (91, Mick Jackson), the most interesting of the projects he has written and produced, albeit burdened by a soft, whimsical undertone; Housesitter (91, Oz); Grand Canyon (91, Lawrence Kasdan), where he stood out like a sore thumb; Father of the Bride (91, Charles Shyer); and Leap of Faith (92, Richard Pearce), which would have had a chance of interest with an actor, as opposed to a stand-up presence.
Martin has become a far more enterprising figure in the nineties. The onetime philosophy student and art collector has made telling ventures as a playwright and a novelist. It is as if he feels the limits of comic acting. There have been a few throwback movies, and a few that broke no ground. It will be a surprise if he does not soon turn to directing: And the Band Played On (93, Roger Spottiswoode); Mixed Nuts (94, Nora Ephron); A Simple Twist of Fate (94, Gillies MacKinnon); Father of the Bride II (95, Shyer); Sgt. Bilko (96, Jonathan Lynn); The Spanish Prisoner (97, David Mamet); the voice of Ilotep in The Prince of Egypt (98, Brenda Chapman and Steve Hickner); The Out-of-Towners (99, Sam Weisman); the funny Bowfinger (99, Oz); The Venice Project (99, Robert Dornhelm); Joe Gould's Secret (00, Stanley Tucci); Novocaine (01, David Atkins).
Married Victoria Tennant in 1986.