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AUSTIN PENDLETON 'That guy' heads cast at Packard



Published: Sun, April 24, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



You've probably seen him in a hundred movies or TV shows -- and while you may not know his name, you're sure you know him.

He's "that guy," the bumbling, stammering nebbish in countless movies, from "A Beautiful Mind" to "My Cousin Vinny."

On Saturday, "that guy" will be at Packard Music Hall for an evening of song with the Warren Philharmonic, along three friends from Broadway: David Green, Judy Kaye and Alice Playten.

Austin Pendleton is coming home.

He was born in Warren in 1940, to a businessman father and a mother who loved the theater. The area has changed quite a bit in 60 years, he says.

"The mills were going all the time," he remembers. "It was just a whole different place back then -- we were an industrial nerve center."

Early influences

His earliest memories revolve around his mother, Frances Pendleton, and her "lively group" of theater friends back in the very early days of the Trumbull New Theatre. In the evenings, the cast of the theater's latest production gathered in the Pendleton living room for rehearsal.

"I was supposed to be in bed, you know, but I would sneak down the stairs and hide and just watch them," Pendleton says. "They would come two or three times a week after dinner, and it changed the energy of the whole house. It was so exciting."

His career path was formed then and there, he says.

"I knew I wanted to do that," he says. "To watch them was like nothing else. An evening rehearsal still makes me happy."

In high school, Pendleton and his friends formed "a sort of junior TNT," rehearsing and doing shows. He continued his love of theater as an undergraduate at Yale, performing in plays and musicals such as "Fiddler on the Roof."

After college, he came back home to Warren for a "terrifying, but exciting" assignment: being directed by his mother in a production of "The Glass Menagerie."

His mother, who died in 2003, was clearly influential in his life. "Her life would have been very different today," he says. "She was a very driven woman, and she definitely had her demons. I think she poured her frustrations into acting."

Wore many hats

Pendleton returned to New York and continued to work as an actor, moving from theater to film to television. But he's moved beyond performing, with directing, teaching and even writing his own plays. One of his recent successes, "Orson's Shadow," opened off-Broadway in March.

Like Orson Welles, the subject of his play, Pendleton has chosen to branch out -- to try his hand at directing and writing as well as acting.

"I like to be a moving target," he says. Orson's Shadow" opened to mostly positive reviews, and Pendleton says he's learned to write the play and let the actors interpret.

"Oh, I try not to interfere," he says. "I've learned that they'll come up with something you never imagined. If you just shut up, something interesting happens."

He loves the theater, but is realistic about it.

"A middle range actor, and that's what I am," he says, "cannot make a living wage only in the theater. So, if you're smart, you pursue other things."

"Other things" for Pendleton have included recurring roles on "Homicide: Life on the Street" -- "we filmed down in Baltimore and I just loved that show, I really did. The writing was fabulous," and HBO's "Oz."

He has made a number of television pilots that didn't get sold to a network, he says. A popular TV role might have changed his life, and he's not so sure he would have liked that.

"Happily they've never been picked up," he says. "I did one -- they were offering a lot of money, and I needed a lot of money. It's very tempting. If it gets picked up, that can be a lot of money, security and fame. You get paid a lot, but boy, do you pay."

At his Saturday night performance, Pendleton will share the stage with Playten, Kaye and Green, "very, very talented" friends and "A-list people" he's known for many years. They will perform various selections from Broadway musicals and the second half of the evening will be devoted to selections from "Fiddler." All will be done with the orchestra.

"We're all thrilled about it," he says.




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