Steve Guttenberg was being trailed by a group of giggling young girls on the streets of a working-class neighborhood in this recently rejuvenated city, and the actor was not complaining.
“They’re not only the paying customers at the box office, they’re my future patrons,” Guttenberg said of the persistent autograph-seekers.
Guttenberg, 28, is not exactly a household name among the adult population of moviegoers, but to teen-agers, who mean big bucks at the box office today, he is the familiar star of the hugely successful series of three “Police Academy” comedies, as well as the current “Short Circuit,” a comedy about a nuclear robot.
Guttenberg was in Baltimore shooting his latest movie, “Bedroom Window,” and when he is finished, even his teen-age fans may not recognize him. Guttenberg stars in the Dino De Laurentiis mystery/drama as a rising young architect who becomes involved both with his boss’ wife (played by French actress Isabelle Huppert) and in a bizarre murder. For the Brooklyn-born actor, the role potentially provides an opportunity to move beyond the somewhat goofy, if popular, comic roles he has played to date, including roles in a few forgettable films he said he would rather forget, such as “Can’t Stop the Music.”
Even in “Diner,” in which Guttenberg first came to wide attention, cast as a football enthusiast who insists his fiancee pass a rigorous sports quiz before he would marry her, and in the more recent “Cocoon,” the actor has played the comic foil to more serious-minded characters.
“I very much wanted to do this role because it’s more serious and seductively romantic, and shows another side of me that people certainly haven’t seen and may like even more than the side they have seen,” said Guttenberg, who even looked different on a Baltimore location recently, dashingly dressed in a designer suit and tie by Giorgio Armani.
“There’s a dimension to the character that I’ve only had the chance (to explore) in acting classes,” he said, adding humorously, “in most of the movies I’ve been in, it hasn’t mattered what color socks the character’s wearing.
“Here, a real change takes place in the character. At the start, he wants it all and he has all ‘the right’ everything: car, clothes, job . . . but then something goes wrong, and he’s tested, and ends up with a different attitude and outlook on life.”
Guttenberg acknowledged that he was looking for a different kind of role and that after shooting “Short Circuit,” he discussed finding one with his agent at the William Morris Agency. He would like to appear in “risky, atmospheric” films that might appeal to a more adult audience, such as last year’s “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” But he made no apologies for the roles he has played to date, citing the series of “Police Academy” comedies and “a moral obligation” to continue playing them “if they gross big and (Warner Bros.) keeps coming back to me.”
“Doing something just because it’s different is not a good reason to do it,” he stressed. “If a good comedy/action/adventure script came along, I’d probably do that too. It’s just that now I have more of an opportunity to choose.”
Plain-spoken and unpretentious, Guttenberg, who once pursued a parallel career as a dentist, said: “I’m not as cocky as I sound. I’m as insecure as anyone, but I now see that it’s part of the baggage an actor brings with him into this business.
“I’ve been in this business exactly 10 years,” he said, recalling his film debut in the Phil Silvers comedy “The Chicken Chronicles.” “And the longer I’m in it, the more I understand it, and the more I am able to stand it.
“There’s a lot about this business that hasn’t much to do with the reality of making movies . . . a lot of talk, a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of phoniness--a lot of putting people down, or knocking them down. There are a lot of judgments made, such as that you don’t have the right size, shape or looks.
“I see it as my job to educate the agents, casting directors, producers and directors. It’s part of my challenge as a learning, growing actor, building a career and getting myself an education in cinema. I’m in this business for the long haul, and by the time I’m 60 I think I’ll have educated them, and maybe even surprised them.
“I’m very fortunate to be where I am today,” he said. “I love what I’m doing--working, interacting with people, making entertainment.” And suddenly reminded of a lyric from a James Taylor song, he added, “It’s only a trip--enjoy the ride.”