Hollywood’s littlest leading man is five foot of pure charisma, winning him roles in cinematic classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Twins, Romancing The Stone and Batman Returns. But it was legendary sitcom Taxi – where he played the despotic dispatcher Louie – that truly launched his career 35 years ago.
With the series set to return to British TV this month, the 68-year-old actor/producer/director reclined on a hotel chaise longue and revealed the highlights of working on a Seventies sitcom.
So what are your memories of Taxi?
It is one of my favourite shows, I was very fortunate to get it. The year we got cancelled we all got Emmys. I don’t understand networks sometimes.
Is that why you later became a producer? Was that a way of taking a stand?
You’re still always at the mercy of the studio. But now, if the studios aren’t financing, some TV studio says ‘do a mini-series’.
You produced Pulp Fiction, of course.
Yep. A very bloody movie. I often think about the fact that I have so many guns in my movies. But I don’t have any guns. I’m not a gun enthusiast.
Let’s talk politics…
OK. I’m a liberal progressive socialist.
So how do you feel about your friend Arnie’s politics?
We don’t argue. We have a business relationship. I don’t like the fact that he supported Bush at the primary – Bush is such a boob. Politics is really a slippery business, and they’re basically all the same.
I don’t know. I mean, I know that he’s into businesses and probably doesn’t want to pay taxes, but I’m sure he does. He raises his kids, he takes care of his family. He’s had a few missteps, but so has everyone. Politically speaking, though, if you’re a business person, you don’t care about really sharing the wealth. I hope we develop into a space where we are conscious about our children and the examples we set for them. My violent movies aside.
So, why the violent movies?
I try to mix it up. I’m entertaining you and, also, I’m having a good time. You’ve got to have a good time, because time is running out. We’re screwing up the planet. We tell people to try to cut down the carbon emissions, but capitalism is capitalism – people want to make money.
Were you a rebellious kid?
I was the kind of kid who relied on his friends. And in the town we came from, there was a lot of sh*t going on. You know, a little Jersey Shore town. But it’s not like that show. I watched it once, and that was enough. I couldn’t take it. I’ve never met anybody like that.
But a lot of your friends succumbed to drugs or ended up in prison…
Yeah. They became more and more hoodlum-y. But it was a different time, the Fifties and Sixties. In the days I was on the corner, when I was 17, you’d just drive around all day and gas-guzzle, looking for girls. Put them in the car, take ’em for a drive, get them a hamburger. It was fun, but it wasn’t vulgar.
Was that when you were studying cosmetology?
No, that wasn’t until I was 18. My sister had a beauty parlour, so she put me to work in her place. There wasn’t a lot of jobs back then either, so she sent me to beauty school.
Are you nifty with a pair of scissors?
I haven’t done it in a while, so I wouldn’t trust me. I would never cut my own hair.
But you had a great time surrounded by ladies?
Oh, I had a good time. I’m a big fan of women. I have two older sisters who raised me, so I’ve always been comfortable around them.
You once shared an apartment with Michael Douglas. How many women came through the door?
Oh, God, countless. We had a chain that we stuck on the door when anyone had a girl in there. We’d just go for a walk and come back in three hours. Or if you smelled ‘cooking’, well more like herbs, then you knew you were in for a treat. He was the bigger lothario. He was a babe magnet. I was like, “Bring two or three home, for crying out loud! Leave one of them on the sofa for when you go.”
Speaking of threesomes, what’s going on with Triplets?
We want to do Triplets, but we’ve got to get Universal off of its butt. We’ve got to get a script. [Arnie and I] had dinner with Eddie Murphy, and he likes the idea. It’s been going on for six or eight months now. We don’t want it to be fluff just because it’s Twins 2. We want it to be great.
Is there anyone you would have as your quadruplet?
Gah! [Puts on a ‘gremlin’ voice] Mother Teresa! I don’t know.
You played the Penguin in a Batman film that the studio at the time deemed “too dark”. Ironic, given the Nolan trilogy. Was Batman Returns ahead of its time?
[Puts on Penguin voice] Yeah! Oswald Cobblepot… wack wack! It was operatic and ahead of its time. I like Tim’s [versions] best.
Should the Penguin have been in the new trilogy?
They could maybe put the Penguin in. I think Oswald would be up in arms if they did.
You’re always tweeting pictures of your feet. Where’s the weirdest place you’ve taken a picture of them?
I take my Troll Foot pictures randomly whenever I find something interesting. I have two pregnant friends, and I put the Troll Foot between their bellies.
Does that mean you can get your leg up quite high?
Oh yeah. I do a lot of qigong. I stretch a lot…
Taxi is on CBS Drama, weekdays at 6.30pm
(Image: Rex Features)