February 6, 2009 / 4:23 PM / 9 years ago

Steve Martin plucks another role with banjo album

<p>Actor Steve Martin arrives to the premiere of "Baby Mama," the first film of the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in New York April 23, 2008.Lucas Jackson</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Made famous by his absurdist stand-up comedy and zany Hollywood films, Steve Martin has also exercised his creativity on a more serious plane, writing plays, novellas, articles and a memoir.

Now add to that some no-nonsense original plucking for his new bluegrass album, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo."

The Texas-born, California-raised Martin, whose off-kilter comedy made him an international success in 1980s films like "The Jerk" and "All Of Me," last week released his first all-music album.

The launch came just before his latest movie, "Pink Panther 2," hits U.S. cinemas on Friday and marks its European release next week with a release at the Berlin film festival.

Martin recently told reporters it was now or never for the banjo CD, which features performers including Dolly Parton.

"I thought if I don't do it now, my fingers might slow down or I might forget the songs," said Martin, 63, after recalling his struggle to become a musical performer in a Manhattan club in his early twenties.

"We opened and nobody, not one person, came. And I went to the owner and said 'You know what? You don't have to pay me. You don't have to hire me, I'll just go', but he said 'No no, let's give it another night.' The next night no one came, and then he said, 'OK.' So I left," Martin said to laughter.

Martin, who once worked as a magician at Disneyland, produced two hit comedy albums, including 1978's "A Wild and Crazy Guy."

This however, is his first all-music album, and features 15 original compositions. Martin began playing when he was 17.

CALM IN REAL LIFE

The performer, who in real life displays a calm demeanor that contrasts with some of his manic film roles, plans to keep acting and making big-budget films that cater to a wide audience, such as the "Panther" sequel. It co-stars John Cleese, Andy Garcia, Jeremy Irons and French actor Jean Reno.

"There is something about going to work early in the morning and working hard and having to stay concentrated that keeps your mind alive," he said. "And of course there is make-up."

In "Pink Panther 2" he returns in the role of bumbling French police inspector Jacques Clouseau, once filled by British actor Peter Sellers.

Martin told reporters the humor in the film should not be confused with slapstick, which he called "Sooooo, the wrong word," because much of the comedy comes from confused language and awkward situations. He did allow it is a "physical comedy" with pratfalls, and added he had to be in fine physical shape.

"In any other profession when you make it, you end up in a suit sitting behind a desk. When you make it in show business you end up in a clown suit riding on an elephant," he said.

Self-deprecation aside, Martin said he is keenly aware of his fame and its drawbacks and advantages. For example, his album has received wider media attention than usually lavished on bluegrass music.

"It might sound like I want celebrity when I want it and don't want it when I don't want it, and that is absolutely true," he said before adding, "That should have been funny."

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh

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