"Dave," said the voice on the phone, "it's Billy. How'd you like to be my brother?"
So began the transformation of David Paymer into Stan Yankelman, older brother and agent to Billy Crystal's Buddy Young Jr. in "Mr. Saturday Night." The story charts the career of a semi-successful stand-up comic (Crystal) and the brothers' relationship, from adolescent living-room performances to a quiet park bench more than 50 years later.
"I had to wear 14 separate prosthetic pieces," says the Long Island native, who plays Stan from ages 30 to 70. "It took 4 1/2 hours to put on, about 1 1/2 to take off. Plus they gave me a hump and a fat suit, which really makes you sweat."
The actor, 38, admits that the image of himself as an old man was an eye-opener. "They start with a life cast, look at pictures of your parents: 'This is what's going to happen to you. That ear is going to get three times larger.' My wife (actress Liz Georges, who has a small role in the movie) was horrified when she realized who she was going to be living with soon."
The familial turf was much easier going; Paymer and his own brother Steve (a writer for the new TV series "Mad About You") often entertained relatives as children. Later, he set his sights on being a doctor, then a psychologist, eventually double-majoring in psychology and acting at the University of Michigan. Acting quickly won out, with a stage stint in "Grease" right out of college, and a role in the film "The In-Laws" that brought him to Hollywood in 1979.
Paymer, who'd previously worked with Crystal in "City Slickers," allows that the leap from character actor to second-billed co-star is a little heady: "You don't know what it's going to mean, so you try not to let the fantasies sink in." As for the attendant publicity he's receiving, "It's exciting," he admits. "It's the first time they've asked me to do interviews. I'm going to have to buy a lot of new suits."