New York Daily News By BART MILLS
Albert Brooks has been kicking around Hollywood for more than three decades. But the way he tells it, it’s more like Hollywood has been kicking him around.
Despite having developed a signature comedic style as an actor, writer and director with such stellar films as “Defending Your Life” and “Lost in America,” Brooks still thinks Hollywood doesn’t, well, really get him.
Film roles don’t drop in his lap and script offers don’t ring his phone off the hook, which explains why he often writes for himself and let’s the chips fall where they may.
“I don’t generally see Albert Brooks comedies written by other people,” he says with his singular brand of irony. “That’s why I have to make ’em myself. I’m a lazy guy. If they were all around, I’d go act in ’em.”
That perhaps explains his latest Hollywood odyssey as a writer and director. It’s “The Muse,” a comedy about an accomplished middle-aged screenwriter who falls out of favor with Hollywood and finds a muse (Sharon Stone) to help him kick-start his creative juices.
In many ways, the movie is about his own wacky life in show business. In the film, a young studio executive tells Brooks:
“You’ve lost your edge and, by the way, your deal is canceled.”
Brooks, 52, heard exactly the same thing when he first pitched this script to Paramount. ” ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ that’s what this town is,” Brooks snaps.
“The movie says that anyone can run this place. The difference between the movie and me is that with me, they’re too afraid to say, ‘You’ve lost your edge.’ What I heard was, ‘This is too inside.’ ”
Brooks objected, but to no avail. “I tried to argue that people outside Los Angeles know a lot about Hollywood now,” says Brooks, whose last film, “Mother,” won him several awards for his screenplay. “If I was playing a dentist, that would be inside.”
The criticism didn’t deter him, as it never has. He wound up making “The Muse” anyway, for USA Films, for about $20 million.
It’s big money to him and plenty of Hollywood outsiders. But the project low-budget by big-studio standards required its major stars, including Stone and Andie MacDowell (who plays Brooks’ wife) to take pay cuts.
Even so, he marvels at how having Stone and MacDowell on the project changed things in more ways than one. Certainly, the film became more than just “an Albert Brooks project,” but it also meant having Stone to kick around ideas with him.
Stone has a semi-nude scene in the film something that was her idea, he says.
“I wrote the scene with a nightgown. It’s not that Sharon was achin’ to be naked, but she did say, ‘I should have nothing on.’ I said, ‘We’ll get Stanley Kubrick to film it, and I’ll leave the room.’ ”
Brooks’ deft comic sense is something that has managed to win him a devoted audience. He’s eager to tell you none of it came easy, even with all his experience.
“There were certain periods when I felt like I was running out of ideas, but I’m still here,” he says. “Musicians sometimes say, ‘I feel someone working through me.’ Dammit, I’ve felt that too! “I’ll get so tired trying to think of something and then I’ll experience a moment of clarity. I’ll see everything, like someone was allowing me a peek. One minute, I’ll weigh 500 pounds, the next minute five great scenes will come. It must be how manic-depressives feel. Wow! All I need to do now is go shop!”
If Brooks’ humor is all about fighting the odds, it’s possibly because he was born Albert Einstein, and didn’t change his name until he was out of college. His father was radio comedian Harry Einstein, whose alter ego was Parkyakarkus.
Brooks now has a son of his own, Jacob, 10 months, from his 1997 marriage to computer graphics designer Kimberly Shlain.
“Jacob just learned to clap when I tell him,” he says. “He’s just so damned cute.
“As soon as he can talk, I expect him to come up with some funny things. No, it’s too soon to tell if he’ll be funny. At least he’ll know that it’s okay to be funny. In some houses, they tell kids, ‘We do not joke about that.’ We won’t be that way. If Jacob wants to be funny, then he will.”
Brooks says he’d never push his son to follow in his footsteps. Born in Los Angeles, Brooks left the West Coast to attend college at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, but dropped out at 19 to return home to pursue acting. But his problem, he says, was that he was too funny. People laughed too much at his ventriloquist act.
“I had an agent who convinced me, falsely, that it’s so difficult to get started as an actor that I should establish myself in comedy,” he says. “That way, I’d go to the head of the line in acting. But it didn’t really work out that way.”
In addition to his own movies, Brooks has acted in others’ notably “Taxi Driver,” “Broadcast News” and “Out of Sight.” But most of his career has been spent pacing back and forth and writing his own material, usually with co-writer Monica Johnson.
Unlike Woody Allen, with whom he is often compared, Brooks has never had a breakout hit. But he perseveres.
“I’m not about to put any script I write into a drawer. I work too hard on them. It’s almost, ‘If I don’t make this one, I’ll never make another movie.’ I’m sort of making them in order. I grow from one so I’m able to make the next. Doing one makes me need to write and make the next. So I can be deflected, yes, but defeated, no.”