After a single, glorious season on "Saturday Night Live" 25 years ago, he smirked, stumbled, bumbled, mocked, and pratfalled his way to movie stardom with "Foul Play" (1978), "Caddyshack" (1980), "Fletch" (1985), and the "National Lampoon Vacation" series.
But now Chevy Chase is tired of being Chevy Chase.
"I have to admit that Fletch and Ty Webb, the character I played in 'Caddyshack,' are just like me," he says. "I'm the guy who was kicked out of school for talking back. I'm cynical, and I'm a wiseacre. Those kinds of characters are easy for me to wing."
But Chase is ready to change his flight pattern. The 56-year-old comic is hoping for the opportunity to explore his dramatic side, much as friend Bill Murray has done in movies like "Mad Dog and Glory" and "Cradle Will Rock."
"I was talking to Bill recently on the phone and he said to me, 'Chevy, tell your agents all you want to do is bad guys. It will shake things up.' But I guess the issue is baggage. You're Chevy Chase and people expect a certain thing. The thing you're good at. So I don't get the bad-guy roles. I don't get a chance because they say, 'He's not Al Pacino.' But I would love to play character roles. It's taken me 25 years to learn how to act, so, for God's sake, give me the chance to show my stuff."
Chase's latest movie "Snow Day" doesn't exactly offer him any Pacino-style challenges, but it does promise to introduce him to a whole new audience. A hybrid of "Home Alone" and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," the comedy is the latest collaboration between the Nickelodeon Network and Paramount Pictures.
"Snow Day," which features an ensemble cast that includes Chase, Chris Elliott, and Jean Smart, as well as Sissy Spacek's actress-daughter Schuyler Fisk, is designed to appeal to both parents and their kids.
"We have boomer equity with Chevy," says Nickelodeon TV and Film President Albie Hecht. "We all grew up with him on 'Saturday Night Live' doing Weekend Update and impersonating Gerald Ford. We knew if we hired Chevy, parents would be as entertained as kids."
In the comedy, Syracuse schoolchildren are given the day off following a blizzard. A handful of kids take on the snowplow man (Elliott) as he tries to clear the streets. A teenager (Webber) sets out to woo the object of his desire (Chriqui). And a weatherman (Chase) struggles to maintain his dignity after being forced to don a series of outlandish costumes designed to boost ratings.
In one scene, Chase is dressed as Jack Frost. In another, he's a gaudy Hawaiian tourist. And for the finale, he's Frosty the Snowman.
"The snowman outfit was the worst," says Chase as he stretches his long legs in a Beverly Hills hotel suite. "But there was an upside. It was padded with about 4 inches of foam, which was very warm. Too bad the Jack Frost costume had glitter all over it. Glitter got in everything. It was like living in an asbestos factory."
Chase shudders at the memory of shooting the movie in the middle of winter in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, where temperatures routinely dipped below zero. "In Edmonton, they have the largest indoor mall in the world, and you know why," quips the comic, the first "Not Ready for Prime Time Player" to leave "SNL" and find success in Hollywood. "On the set, we had a base of 20,000 leagues of snow. I had to be defrosted after each shot."
A former resident of Woodstock, N.Y., Chase has experience with bitter temperatures. "Snow days were huge deals for me when I was growing up," recalls the actor, whose father was New Yorker essayist Edward Tinsley Chase and whose mother was a classical pianist.
"I'd spend time with my brother and my dad making 4-foot snowmen with heads bigger than basketballs. We also did bad things on snow days. For instance, I know how to get a snowball in the 6-inch crack of an open car window. The dream come true was pitching one into the vent of a bus. That was true joy."
Chase hasn't had much luck with his pitches these days. For the last couple of years, he's been trying to convince Warner Bros. to bankroll another "National Lampoon" film.
"The studio thinks the concept is a little worn," he reveals. "The truth is those movies have made a lot of money. And there are still plenty of jokes left to do."
A few years ago, there was talk of a second sequel to "Fletch," the comedy that cast Chase as investigative reporter I.M. Fletcher. But now it looks like the follow-up will never happen.
"I've got Fletch ideas," says the actor. "But basically I got screwed by [proposed writer-director] Kevin Smith [of 'Chasing Amy' and 'Dogma' fame] who told me a few years ago that he grew up on the 'Fletch' series and that it was the best thing he ever saw.
"He told me, 'Give me a year to write it.' At the end of the second year, I heard from the producers, 'Uh, Kevin doesn't want to do it anymore.' He never even sent me a note or a postcard. It was a lot of time lost when you're my age, and you want to do another Fletch picture. It's rude, way off-the-beam. That kind of stuff might happen all the time in Hollywood, but it doesn't happen to me."
Chase is, in many ways, a surprisingly traditional man. He left the New York-based "SNL" not for a career in Hollywood, but to resume a relationship with a woman who lived in Los Angeles. That relationship eventually floundered. He's now married to second wife, Jayni, and is the father of three daughters, ages 11 to 17.
"A lot of people say to me, 'Why haven't you been onscreen more?" Chase recounts. "I've been raising a family. It takes time.
"I'd like to start working more now. But when you hit your 50s, you just realize that up-and-coming comics in their 20s and 30s are taking over. Hell, the studio execs are 20 and 30 years old. Everyone wants fresh blood.
"You realize that you've had your day, and you're not in demand like before. You just try to work. That's the reality and you find a way to deal with it."
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