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BROOKS, ALBERT: Mother

EVERYBODY HAS ONE.

The movies of Albert Brooks, the director, were once an acquired taste, personal, cerebral comedies that had their particular audience. But with his latest film, Mother, all that changed, because after all, everyone has a mother, and that comically realistic perspective is what gives this sardonic comedy its bite. The acclaimed writer/actor/director spoke to Paul Fischer from his offices at Paramount Studios.

While Albert Brooks' latest movie, the acidic comedy Mother, is not strictly autobiographical, the film's creator recalls a conversation he had with his own mother shortly before the film went into production. "I rang her all excited because the studio had given the movie the green light. 'That's nice dear', she replied. 'So does that mean you can't find any work as an actor?' " Raucous laughter.

'So does that mean you can't find any work as an actor?' Mother, Thelma to son Albert Brooks on hearing about his newly accepted creative project

Such stories are typical of the former stand up comedian who has been rediscovered in what is essentially a two-hander: the relationship between a divorced writer and his domineering mother, played to sublime perfection by Debbie Reynolds, appearing in her first major film in over two decades. "I rang Carrie [Fisher] and asked her whether she thought her mum would be able to do this. 'Is she playing the mom from hell? In that case, she'd be perfect.' " Considered one of the wittiest, most incisive performers in movies today, Brooks made his comic debut in 1967 performing standup on America's once popular "The Steve Allen Show".

'Is she playing the mom from hell? In that case, she'd be perfect.' Carrie Fisher to Albert Brooks on whether mother Debbie Reynolds would play the title role

He was born Albert Einstein in Los Angeles on July 22, 1947 ["No relation. The other guy wasn't as funny as me"] He had, what he describes, as a "typical Jewish childhood" and "was bar-mitzvahed with all the trappings." But unlike Woody Allen, with whom comparisons are frequently drawn, Brooks doesn't use his Jewish ethnicity as any kind of comic trademark. "It's not as important to me, possibly, as that of Woody. I think my humour is drawn from my other insecurities, not just the Jewish ones."

"I think my humour is drawn from my other insecurities, not just the Jewish ones." Albert Brooks

Despite his father being a successful comic on vaudeville and the movies, his 85-year old mother, Thelma, did not overly embrace her son's quest for comic fame and fortune. "Have something to fall back on", she would say. "Why should I have something to fall back on when I'm the funniest guy in the class?" Funnily enough, she still says it.

"Why should I have something to fall back on when I'm the funniest guy in the class?" Albert Brooks to his mother

Brooks' manic, sardonic wit and satirical stylings quickly made him one of the brightest young talents of the late 60s. He first tried his hand at directing with a segment for a TV show, "The Great American Dream Machine", by adapting an essay he wrote for "Esquire" magazine entitled "Albert Brooks's Famous School for Comedians". He remained busy in the 70s alternating between performing standup, acting in films and TV (also lending his voice to the children's action show, "Hot Wheels" 1969-71), writing and finding his voice as a director. 1976 was a boon year for Brooks, who played most of the roles on his second comedy album, "A Star Is Bought", a catalogue of types of radio programs ranging from contemporary call-in shows to Jack Benny-style sketch comedy. That same year he made his feature acting debut as a co-worker of Cybill Shepherd's in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver".

"No matter what your religion or ethnicity, everyone can relate to a story about a guy and his mother." Albert Brooks

As a director, Brooks' films strike an effective balance between, humour and social criticism. "Real Life" (1978 starred Brooks as a documentarian searching for the typical American family who alters real events to make them more cinematic. His next effort, "Modern Romance" (1981), was an extremely funny look at one neurotic man's attempt to find love in Hollywood. He followed up with "Lost in America" (1985), a meticulous observation of disillusioned yuppies who take to the road in an ill-fated attempt to "find themselves". Brooks's fourth feature, "Defending Your Life" (1991), Brooks is featured as a self-obsessed, recently deceased executive who never accomplished his life goals, and must face his past in order to continue in the afterlife. As an actor, Brooks however, is probably best known for his association with director James L. Brooks (no relation), for whom he played the talented but luckless TV journalist who sweats a lot in "Broadcast News" (1987), a role that garnered Brooks an Oscar nomination for supporting actor, and "I'll Do Anything" (1994), as a strident Hollywood producer of slick action films.

"Even the studio was surprised that the movie did as well as it did." Albert Brooks

But it's his current effort as co-writer, director and star in a comedy about a man's relationship with his "Mother" that has made audiences rediscover the sheer audacity of Mr Brooks. He describes his film "as a comedy that crosses all boundaries. No matter what your religion or ethnicity, everyone can relate to a story about a guy and his mother." He partly wrote the script as a response "to all those awful movies where mothers are so ridiculously depicted, as in 'Stop or my Mom will Shoot'. I mean, what IS that?" It's the realistic slant he brought to "Mother" that may well be responsible for its surprise success in the US. "Even the studio was surprised that the movie did as well as it did. I don't think they quite knew what they had."

In the midst of promoting the film, the 49-year old finally succumbed to marriage

In the midst of promoting the film, the 49-year old finally succumbed to marriage, and has his unique thoughts on the prospect of starting a family. "The first thing you say when you get up every morning won't be, 'What am I going to do today?' " says Brooks. "Instead it will be, 'Where's Billy? Has he fallen in the pool?' " Typical Brooks. Like mother like son maybe?

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE DATE: MAY 8, 1997

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