Michael Lerner Still Slipping Into Larger-Than-Life Character Roles

As far as Michael Lerner is concerned, there’s nothing quite like portraying a character right out of history. “I love playing real-life people,” says the actor whose television roles include Jack Ruby in “Ruby and Oswald,” and Pierre Salinger in “The Missiles of October.” “It gives me a chance to become that person for a while.”

Although his latest screen persona, that of fast-talking movie studio chief Jack Lipnick in “Barton Fink,” is fictitious, he admits the role was inspired by another historical figure--the legendary Louis B. Mayer. “I based my role on him,” the Brooklyn-born actor says, referring to the mogul who ran MGM during its heyday. “I even found a pair of glasses in a junk shop that were identical to the ones he wore. As soon as I put them on, I felt like Mayer.”

Playing studio chiefs is nothing new to Lerner. On television he played Harry Cohn in “Rita Hayworth: The Love Goddess” and Jack Warner in “Moviola.”


Lerner, an admitted hockey fanatic, graduated from Brooklyn College and went on to receive a master’s degree in English drama from UC Berkeley. He studied for two years on a Fulbright Scholarship at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and eventually landed in San Francisco, where he appeared with the American Conservatory Theater for two years in the late 1960s. After settling in Los Angeles, he appeared in local theater productions and was cast in his first film role, “Alex in Wonderland” in 1970. Other movies followed, including “The Candidate,” the remake of “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “The Other Side of Midnight,” “Harlem Nights” and “Eight Men Out.”

Having just completed another larger-than-life character role in Disney’s “Newsies,” a turn-of-the-century musical, Lerner is still looking forward to the day when he is offered other types of parts. “I’d like to do something very, very different,” he says. “My dream is to play a sympathetic, romantic leading man.”