Lovitz Discusses Movies, Leaving 'SNL'

Jon Lovitz talks about leaving ''SNL'' -- The girl-crazy star of ''Rat Race,'' revs up for a hit -- but is always ready for a (heh-heh) miss

By Steve Daly,
Entertainment Weekly

He plays a family man named ''Randy Pear'' in the new jackpot-chase comedy ''Rat Race.'' And in person, Jon Lovitz resembles one. During a late-afternoon conversation at the busy Manhattan bistro Fiorello's (where he hangs out between performances in Neil Simon's Broadway play ''The Dinner Party''), the 44-year-old California native constantly shifts his gaze to check out passing women. Between good-natured ogles, Lovitz holds forth on making movies funny, his ''Saturday Night Live'' salad days, and the perils of publicity.

Do you think ''Rat Race'' is going to be a hit?
I hope so. I've been in movies where people say, ''It's gonna be huge.'' You just don't know. I was really just glad to get the part ... [because] outside of Adam Sandler putting me in his movies, I haven't had a studio movie in four years.

Jerry Zucker worked on the ''Airplane!'' and ''Naked Gun'' films, and on ''Rat Race'' he's the sole director. What makes a good comedy director?
People always say, comedy's so hard. Well, it is if you don't have a sense of humor.

And a lot of people directing comedies don't?
There's a lot that think they can direct comedy. The comedy directors I've worked with were all performers. Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner, Woody Allen.... If you look at the funniest comedies, most of them are directed by people who were performers themselves. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd -- they all directed their own movies.

Would you direct yourself?
I'm not in the position to do that, unless I generate my own material, which I'm trying to do with Adam Sandler. Adam got really popular and they gave him this production company. He said, ''What I want to do is help you and Dana Carvey and Kevin Nealon and all my friends, Rob Schneider and David Spade, make their own movies.'' And that's what he's doing.

So why aren't the movies he's commissioned funnier?
On ''Saturday Night Live,'' the stuff that worked was stuff we wrote ourselves. And when you write a scene on ''SNL,'' you sort of direct it, too. In the movies, the performers aren't in charge. Someone else is deciding, ''Here's what's funny, do it like this.'' [He's distracted as a gorgeous woman walks past the table.] Look who's here. That girl is here. Yes, I'm looking at a girl. [He leans toward the tape recorder's microphone.] Not gay!

Not that there's anything wrong with that.
No, there's nothing wrong with it... I'm just saying. In California, people say [to me], ''Are you married?'' ''No.'' ''Oh. Are you gay?'' ''No, I'm just not married.'' And then they'll go, ''Do you drink?'' ''No.'' ''Oh... alcoholic?''

You've just done great work in a big ensemble comedy. Would you do an action ensemble, like, say, ''Jurassic Park IV''?
I think if a dinosaur was chasing me, I would just die on the spot. I think before he ate me, I'd kill myself. Or if I didn't, I would just hope he swallows me whole and he has a quick digestive system. So maybe I'd get pooped out.

What's it like doing a two-hour scripted Broadway comedy live, as opposed to short sketches?
Neil's stuff is hard to do, because when you first read it, it sounds like it's all one-liners and jokes. But you can't deliver them as jokes. It's more about character.

What's the first thing you do when you get off stage?
I say, ''That didn't go very well.''

Does audience response change much night to night?
Saturday night is not as good. I thought it would be the best night. But people have been at dinner. And they come in drunk. [He notices another beautiful woman pass by outside.] What restaurant are they going to? Sorry. It's been a long time. Can you wait a minute? Wait one second. If I don't, I'll kick myself. [He gets up abruptly, follows the woman out of the restaurant -- where he immediately loses her -- and then decides to ask the maitre d' if he's ever seen her before.] The maitre d' doesn't know her. Don't put that in the article.

In 1990, you left ''SNL'' after being on the show for five years. Was it because your contract was up?
I got this movie, ''Mom and Dad Save the World.'' And the script was hilarious. But I had to miss the first two ''SNL'' shows of the season to do it. And [producer] Lorne [Michaels] had a policy where he wouldn't let you miss shows, 'cause he felt, ''If I let you miss it, I have to let everybody.'' And I disagreed with him.

You got a little hot about it?
Yeah. So I said, Forget it. I'm not gonna pass this up. I thought the movie was gonna be a big hit.

How were your instincts so wrong?
When they said they were going to re-edit that movie for kids, I knew we were in trouble.

Did you enjoy coming back for the big ''Saturday Night Live'' reunion show in November '99?
It was great - but when they did the tribute to Phil Hartman, I just lost it. Phil was like my brother. I really idolized him. He helped get me into [L.A. improv troupe] the Groundlings. I helped get him the job on ''SNL.'' That's just been a great big hole.

WOMAN AT THE NEXT TABLE Excuse me. Could you just make it a little lower?


WOMAN You're talking very loudly.

LOVITZ Not really. The whole place is noisy.

WOMAN Well, I hear you.

LOVITZ Well, I don't know what to tell ya. [He leans over to confide, in a low voice] Boy, that is so rude.

Is there a common thread to all your characters?
I love the idea of somebody who's supremely confident and immensely insecure at the same time. Most of my characters are like that. I guess I'm kinda like that.

What makes you insecure?
Me? Personally? Gee, that's a little...personal. I don't know, same things as anybody. Everyone has stuff they're not sure about.

Well, not everyone.
Everyone. I met Mike Tyson and I asked him, ''When you're in the ring, do you get scared?'' He goes, ''Sure I'm scared! I'm gettin' hit and it hurts.'' Here's the toughest guy, scared. So some people say there's nothing that makes them worry. They're lying.

You used to have a personal publicist, but now you don't. What made you give that representation up?
I'm not a sex symbol, or super-handsome or super-sexy or the hottest actor. Nobody's gonna fight over putting me on the cover of a magazine. So having a publicist is just banging my head against the wall, and a waste of money. I mean, you liked ''Rat Race.'' So you called [Paramount], they called me, and here we are. And it's not costing me a dime. I've made no effort whatsoever. So yahooeey -- I win!

Source: Entertainment Weekly

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