Photographed exclusively forAmerican Way by Melanie Dunea/CPi. Wardrobe styling: Katy Robbins. Propstyling: Sara Foldenauer. Grooming: Losi. Suit: Steve’s own. Tie: Giorgio Armani.
Photo: The Big Year, Steve Martin’s new film about competitive bird-watching co-starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson, is due out early next year.
Steve martin is a hard guy to pin down. Unlike other 65-year-old movie stars, who sit by their pools waiting for their agents to call with the possibility of a job, Martin has single-handedly redefined what someone who has reached the age of official retirement can do if he still has the energy. Right now, he’s wrapping up a North American tour in support of his successful bluegrass album, The Crow: New Songs for the Five String Banjo. Between tour dates, he squeezed in a trip to Greece with his wife of three years, Anne Stringfield. He’s also promoting his new novel, An Object of Beauty, about the New York art world from 1993 to the present. (Art is a subject he knows well, having collected everything from 19th-century American works to modern and contemporary pieces for many years. He describes his collection, which he has shown at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel, as “all over the place.”) He’s also preparing for the release of his new movie about competitive bird-watching, The Big Year, co-starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson. So, he’s a busy guy.
“Get to Nashville if you can,” said my editor, knowing Martin was due to make an appearance there. “It would be fun to see you and Steve Martin hanging out, doing the town.”
Yeah, that would be fun. Except, as someone who has known Steve personally for years, I know something my editor doesn’t: Steve doesn’t get out that much. And he doesn’t “do” towns. He plays them, yes. But the adjectives that best describe the off-camera, offstage Steve Martin are these: private, polite, shy, serious and distant. Tommy Smothers, who hired Martin to write for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the late ’60s, once said of him, “To spend time with him is like being alone.”
This might be hard to fathom when you think of the Steve Martin who has hosted Saturday Night Live 15 times, where he and Dan Aykroyd played the wild and crazy Festrunk brothers and where he dressed in full Egyptian pharaoh regalia to perform his “King Tut” disco song, which eventually sold more than a million copies. Or the Steve Martin who, in his stand-up act, would put a trick arrow through his head, juggle kittens and invite his audiences of 20,000-plus people to join him for milk and cookies after the show. Or the Steve Martin who wrote tongue-in-cheek New Yorker pieces with titles like “The Sledgehammer: How It Works” and “The Paparazzi of Plato.”
That persona is what has made him a millionaire and wildly popular. But that’s not who Steve Martin is. His 2007 best-selling memoir, Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life, in which he recalls the height of his success as “the loneliest period of my life,” paints a truer picture of the life of the stand-up comedian. My flying off to Nashville to hang with Steve would be no different than my calling Steve on the phone to have a conversation with him. Either way, we’d be doing the exact same thing: sitting very still, talking seriously. I would try to be his straight man, throwing up potentially funny scenarios in hopes that he would hit them out of the ballpark. And Steve would analyze them philosophically, because that’s what he does. Steve majored in philosophy at California State University Long Beach. He figured out early on how to put twists on everyday situations and poke fun at them, but deep down, he did it in a philosophical vein. (In one of his routines he noted that, “If you’re studying geology, which is all facts, as soon as you get out of school you forget it all. … But philosophy you remember just enough to screw you up for the rest of your life.”)