A friend once told Peter Weller that he was “really overqualified for this kind of thing,” referring to the actor’s most noted role as “RoboCop.”
“What do you mean?” Weller asked.
“Well, you come from the theater, Actors Studio, (drama teacher) Uta Hagen, Shakespeare and what-have-you. Why do you always have a pistol in your hand? Why don’t you re-create some strong human dilemma?”
“I’ll let the chips fall where they may,” Weller replied. “If I read a good script and I like it, I don’t look at the label on it.”
Weller recounted the exchange during an interview to promote “RoboCop 2,” which opened recently. He makes no excuses to his theater pals who deprecate his portrayal of a once-deceased cop who returns in an armored, automated body to avenge himself against the Detroit underworld.
“The first ‘RoboCop’ was the best script I’d ever read,” he declared. “Plus which I was a huge fan of (Dutch director) Paul Verhoeven. I had written his name down some years before on a list of people I wanted to work with. I really, really wanted to do it.”
Verhoeven was not convinced. He insisted that Weller make a test on videotape. Weller insisted that he would not. “I am absolutely lousy in auditions,” he pleaded. No amount of Dutch persuasion could change his mind. Finally, the director cast him, no test.
Was he reluctant to attempt a sequel?
“Sure. Sure. You want to think that it would be good, but there’s an apprehension about being stuck in a form with no content--stuck in the same can of beans with none of the charge that turned you on to the first one.”
What persuaded him was “a great script.” In “RoboCop 2,” which was directed by Irvin Kershner, Weller is fighting not only the crime barons but his own obsolescence. Omni Consumer Products, which created the original machine, has devised a new model without a human inside, and it is programmed to wipe out its predecessor.
Weller had an ever-moving childhood. The son of an Army helicopter pilot, he was born in Wisconsin and was repeatedly uprooted as his father changed stations.
“I’m sure it’s a good background for an actor, makes you pretty resilient,” said the slim, tall, 43-year-old actor whose bland face is dominated by intense blue eyes.
Moving from place to place “was a drag, man, just a drag. It was a drag leaving people, too. It was sad. But the good news was that I learned to deal with loss and the moment of change with a little more facility than other people I know.”
Weller’s travels stopped briefly while he attended North Texas State University, where he majored in playing trumpet in jazz bands. He also dabbled in acting and left for a scholarship at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York. Just before graduating, he drew his first professional acting job, playing the son in David Rabe’s Vietnam play “Sticks and Bones” for Joe Papp’s company. He’ll return next year for a revival of the play, this time as the father.
His film debut came in 1979 with “Butch and Sundance: The Early Years.” After other undistinguished films, he finally registered in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the 8th Dimension,” the eccentric fantasy that attracted a flock of cultists.
Weller’s film and stage assignments continue the pattern of his youth: “Man, I haven’t stayed in one place yet. I got an airline ticket in my hand right now. I used to like it that way. Now I don’t. At this very moment in time I don’t. Maybe tomorrow I will.
“I’d like to have a family, children, be in one place. Or be grounded in a series of places. Some day.”