It’s always a bit of a trip when you talk to an icon from your past and a formative movie there in…
In case you need a refresher, the Beverly Hills Cop trilogy is the story of one Axel Foley; a Detroit police officer who finds himself investing gate crime more often in Beverly Hills then his home of Detroit. He’s gotten justice for his friends, stopped international drug dealers, counterfeiters and weapons smugglers with his trademark laugh and a smile on his face.
With the Beverly Hills Cop Three Movie Collection now available in North American for the very first time I got the unique pleasure of talking with Bronson Pinchot (who you’d know as the scene stealing Serge in the first and third films) about his experiences early on in Hollywood and about stumbling on to a character that would define a good part of his career, and it goes without saying that he had the kind of energy that you’d expect after following his career for so many years.
Dave Voigt: Hi Bronson, thanks for the time to day I really appreciate it. I’d love it if you could walk me through how you got the job on Beverly Hills Cop in the first place, because if I am mistaken this was only about your 2nd or 3rd feature at the time?
Bronson Pinchot: It was only about my 3rd feature and I had done ‘Risky Business’ in which there had been these long series of scenes where the different girls (prostitutes) just kept coming up to Tom Cruise’s house and introducing themselves and it just wasn’t working so the producer Jon Avnet came over to me and said that he just wanted to redo it and have my improvise as they all come through the door and I did exactly that he loved it but I said let me get this where it needs to be and they we’re like “No, it’s perfect, leave it” and that was all completely improvised.
Then Garry Marshall who I worked with on ‘The Flamingo Kid’ saw a rough cut of it and asked me flat out if I had improvised that scene? I over course said yes and that’s basically how I got that job. Then I was going a scene with Janet Jones in ‘The Flamingo Kid’ but she had been sent home early and they were missing a little piece that they needed and they just told me to improvise and fill the scene for them and it made it into the movie.
Then Marge Simpkin who was the casting director on ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ saw that from ‘The Flamingo Kid’ and they called me in because they knew I was improvising and they liked and had just said flat out that we have a part in ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ that just isn’t quite there yet and asked if I’d like to do something. Again obviously I said ‘I’d Try’ and they sent over the script but there was just nothing there. Serge was originally this American character with no dimension to him, so I took it and just walked around with it trying to see what I could come up with.
There was this crummy youth exploitation film that I had done before all of this, the movie was terrible but I got to shoot it in the Caribbean and I had this makeup lady who I worked with on it and she always wore sunglasses while doing my makeup and I would always ask her “How can you even tell what you’re doing? You’ve got sunglasses on” and she would just brush my hand away with the limp arms saying “Don’t be stupid, I know what I’m doing” (in Serge voice). I just decided to channel her and while she wasn’t very friendly I knew Serge needed to be friendly and warm so that likeable side was me but the rest was my makeup lady Lily and I did that for Marty Brest our director and he just loved it.
But as it happens in this business, things kept changing and I was getting worried but I was on a time crunch because I was going with my fiancé to Florence and I had said there’s only so long I can wait, it’s a nice one day role but I can’t cancel my trip so we shot everything the day before I left on my trip. Of course while we were away I was stressing that I went over the top with it and just hoped that they cut it.
Smash cut to months later, I was back in Hollywood, I had broken up with my fiancé and I was BEYOND broke but every once in a while people would come up to me and just say things like “I’m working on the score for ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ and I think you’re going to make a big splash with this. Of course I was dumbfounded, then I got the music video for ‘Neutron Dance’ for the movie where they initially wanted me to play Serge but at the last minute they changed it to avoid spoiling the character and I was just this goofy bellboy and even on the set of the video; The Pointer Sisters who had seen a rough cut came up to me and told me to keep my feet on the ground because I was going to be a star…”WHAT?” I said, from this?
They were right about it turning me into a celebrity but it was just impossible to keep my feet on the ground because I was this 25 year old kid that people were going crazy for and really no one is every ready for that. I mean really it was just Lily’s exotic nature and my warmth mixed up together and for some reason it really clicked.
Can you even be aware in a moment like that, that you’re practically stealing a scene from a big star like Eddie Murphy?
Oh it was a life lesson to be sure, because it just goes to show that you just never know because things that you think will just kill can fall flat and vice versa. The real moral of the story is that one truly knows nothing.
Were you surprised at all to get the call back for Pt.3 when that all came together?
Honestly no, because by that stage the franchise had hit that quasi-iconic stage. I had initially said no because I knew if it went south that it would just take the luster off of the first one but they kept at me and I eventually caved because they just let me go anywhere with it in the moment so I just said ‘why not?’
Now you’ve been fairly outspoken in the past about not wanting to be the guy who does accents or is known for one given thing and I’m kind of curious. How do you as a performer and an actor try to keep an even keel through it all, when maybe a big show goes away and you just have the day-to-day work left in front of you because throughout your career you’ve always managed to find a way to be working pretty consistently in the business.
And you know the thing about doing the accents just came about as a fluke and it was never something that I really wanted to do and I remember pretty much all the way through shooting True Romance I noticed what a quiet set it was and commented on that but was then told that it’s just a quiet set when I’m doing my scenes because everyone is leaning to see how I actually talk (Laughs)
What’s really interesting about having started in this business doing the accents is that I remember reading a study about how as a treatment for stuttering that they would have people do accents and sing, which I love doing both of and it accesses a different part of the brain allowing me to take the performance to a different level. But on the flip side of that when those jobs faded away it taught me to really focus on some others tools I had in my toolbox which admittedly took some doing but to be honest I can’t remember the last time I was asked to do an accent. The stuff I get asked to do now is really emotionally raw stuff and visionary. It’s interesting how you can get asked to do one thing…and that’s your thing, until it isn’t.
As far as keeping that even keel, I remember back to this audio book I did with this character who just had these horrible condition in his feet and the narration said that he just knew that he couldn’t walk for any given distance from here to there if he had to. Thinking about the distance of the journey was impossible for him, but he knew that he could take one step and then regroup and then take another step and so on and so on. Things can change with a single step in this business.
Beverly Hills Cop 3 Movie Collection is available now on Blu-Ray.