Steve Martin on Steve Martin: Actor Looks Back at 6 of His Biggest Movies

Three Amigos Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Everett Collection

Three Amigos Still - H 2015

From 'Pennies from Heaven' (“I took a six-month [tap-dancing] course") to 'Three Amigos' (“Belushi said no") to 'The Pink Panther' ("I ... avoided looking at Peter Sellers"), the actor shares fond memories of his co-stars, directors and inspirations.

A version of this story first appeared in the June 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Steve Martin, who is receiving the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award today, has appeared in more than 40 movies. But unlike many comics, who develop a persona and then play variations on it in films, he has taken on a string of wildly different roles. "The only character I really played in the movies that was similar to my act was in The Jerk," he says. "I had just exhausted it in my brain, so there was no effort to do the same thing. It just seemed natural that in the movies you played a character."

Pennies From Heaven (1981)

"It represented the close of an 18-year career in stand-up. I was so in love with the BBC version, so when it came along, I was so involved. I didn't know how to tap dance at all. I took a six-month course with [choreographer] Danny Daniels."

All of Me (1984)

"Thankfully, Lily Tomlin and [director] Carl Reiner and I spent a lot of time in prerehearsal — how she walked, practicing how I would walk across the room. And Phil Robinson wrote a great script — it's one of the most coherent scripts I've ever done."

Three Amigos (1986)

"It was going to be me, Chevy [Chase] and [John] Belushi. And then Belushi said no, and we got lucky getting Martin Short. He called himself the cheap amigo."

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

"I actually auditioned for that role. [Director] Frank Oz said, 'I’d just like to meet with you,' and I said, “Of course.” He came to my house. The movie was shot in England. The hardest part was learning to ride a huge motorcycle. I had to practice out in this parking lot at the studio. The thing could kill you, it was so big. And it was freezing cold — really, really cold. Of course, I only ride it for a nanosecond in the movie."

Roxanne (1987)

"I thought, 'What's the best story?' Well, Cyrano de Bergerac, but I didn't have a reason to do it because it's perfect. Screenwriter David Z. Goodman suggested: 'He gets the girl.' And I thought, 'Yeah, Cyrano's been trapped for 100 years dying at the end and not getting the girl,' so that was the significant change."

The Pink Panther (2006)

"I very carefully avoided looking at Peter Sellers [playing Inspector Clouseau]. Of course, things stuck in my memory. But we just aimed for a younger audience than the original Pink Panther movies, and I really enjoyed doing [it and the sequel]."