LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After a decade away from the big screen, funnyman Billy Crystal has mined his real-life experiences as a grandfather and is back in the holiday season movie “Parental Guidance.”
The film, which opened in U.S. theaters on Christmas, stars Crystal as a recently fired baseball announcer, who agrees to watch his three grandchildren with his wife (Bette Midler), while his daughter and her husband go on a business trip.
Crystal, 64, sat down with Reuters to talk about the film, being a grandparent and why he won’t host the Oscars ceremony anymore.
Q: You have not been on the big screen in a starring role since 2002’s “Analyze That.” Did you miss making movies?
A: “I spent over four years doing my one-man Broadway show, ‘700 Sundays’ and didn’t care about doing movies. I just so love being in front of live audiences. The play is more satisfying than anything. I‘m not interrupted by planes flying overhead, waiting for them to light and all those gruesome slow things on a movie. But really, the last five years were spent getting this movie made.”
Q: How did “Parental Guidance” become your return to film?
A: “When I wrote the first story for this movie, my wife Janice and I babysat for our daughter Jenny while she went away with her husband. We had six days with their girls, all alone. It was an eye-opener. When you’re not used to that energy, it’s tough. On the 7th day I rested and came in to the office and said, ‘Here’s the idea for the movie.'”
Q: What was eye-opening about those six days?
A: “The eye-opener was the bible that we were given before they left town about what to say (to the kids), what to do, all the rules, don’t do this, don’t do that, this child has to be taken here. They have my respect of how they programmed their days and weeks. It’s insane what they have to do nowadays for schooling and parenting. It’s wild.”
Q: Quite a difference between your childhood and the grandkids’ childhood, right?
A: “When I was a kid growing up, it was basically ‘Go outside and play and I’ll see you at dinner.’ There was no thought that there were bad people out there. There was such a carefree wonderful trust which forced you to use your imagination, which also bonded you with the best of you, and your friends. We didn’t have that ‘inside’ thing like videogames. My only ‘inside’ thing was watching the Yankees. Otherwise everything was outside.”
Q: Speaking of the Yankees, your well-documented lifelong love of baseball is incorporated in to the film with your character being a ball-game announcer. That must have been fun to do.
A: “I love the game and I thought it was a really interesting occupation we hadn’t seen before. And a good one for me to play because I love it. I wanted my character to have something he loved doing where I didn’t have to fake it.”
Q: In being absent from the silver screen for a while, did you find that the movie-making business has changed much?
A: “The studios are so concerned with quadrants (capturing four major demographic groups of moviegoers - men, woman and those over and under 25). I’d never heard of these things when I was in my early years of making movies. You just did them. There was no interference. Now it’s a whole different ball game. They’re so worried: ‘Who’s going to come?’ Well, there’s 77 million American who are babyboomers. That’s a huge audience who wants to laugh and have a story told to them that doesn’t have bombs and spies and killing.”
Q: Does “Parental Guidance” reflect where are you now at this stage of your life?
A: “I was fortunate to be in a great romantic comedy about falling in love (1989’s ‘When Harry Met Sally’). I wrote the original story for my turning 40, ‘City Slickers’ (in 1991), which became a huge hit and a very liked movie. And now ‘Parental Guidance’ happened at this point in my life. I relate to it as a parent and a grandparent.”
Q: You will be a grandfather for the fourth time in March. What do you like best about that role?
A: “It’s so hard to understand how you can love someone so much that’s not yours, but extensions of you. I‘m always so moved seeing my girls pregnant, and seeing them move on in their lives. I‘m going to turn 65 on March 14. My wife’s birthday is the 16th. The baby’s due the 18th. So we’ve got maybe a straight flush happening here. That would be the greatest present of all - a healthy new baby.”
Q: Last year you hosted the Oscar ceremony for the ninth time, making you the second most-used host after the late Bob Hope. Are you gunning for his title?
A: “I‘m not even close. I’ve done 9, he’s done 19 and neither one of us are doing it again. It’s hard to say, ‘Can’t wait to do it again,’ but I can wait.”
Reporting By Zorianna Kit, Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman