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Dr. Stable and Mr. Hip

Hector Elizondo may play a hospital chief of staff on TV, but in real life he's a cool cat.
Joe Rhodes
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 1)

They met 19 years ago in Marshall's driveway during one of the Bronx-born director's regularly scheduled pickup-basketball/ankle-sprain extravaganzas. Elizondo made a memorable first impression by throwing a behind-the-back pass right into Marshall's face. "You're a better actor than you are a passer," Marshall said, once he realized his jaw wasn't broken. They've been best friends ever since.

"Before I met him, all I knew was that he was an actor who played Puerto Rican drug dealers," Marshall says now. "Then I saw him in a couple of plays and I said, 'Whoa, you can do other things.' You put a toupee on him and he looks like a different guy. And I said to him, I promise you'll never have to play a Puerto Rican drug dealer for me."

To this day, Elizondo calls Pretty Woman the easiest acting job he's ever had, largely because of his rapport with Marshall. "We have our own vocabulary," Elizondo says, launching into a perfect imitation of Marshall's squawking accent. "He'll say, 'OK, Hector, look. You know that scene we got with four pages memorized? Forget that. Do this instead. You walk around the table and do something, then make the chair do something. Then come over and chukka chukka with that guy for a minute, do a turn over there and I'll throw you some lines. Do that.'

"And I'll say OK and know exactly what he wants. But nobody else in the place has any idea what he's talking about."

"It's true," Marshall says. "He has such a great ear for accents that he understands mine and most of the other actors don't. That's why I keep him around. He's sort of an actor-interpreter."

He is also one of the most respected and least pretentious actors in Hollywood, a low-key iconoclast in a business that is filled with billboard-sized egos and grown men in ponytails who throw screaming fits when they don't get their Evian hand-delivered or the perfect parking spot for their Porsche. Elizondo, by contrast, lives in a middle-class part of Sherman Oaks devoid of fountains, guard dogs or laser-activated gates. He has been married to writer-publisher and former actress Carolee Campbell for 28 years.

His office/study is above the family garage, a backyard hideaway of high ceilings and burnished wood with a view from the balcony as comforting as it is unspectacular--the suburban tableau of sidewalks and trees, a child's toys scattered in a neighbor's yard, skateboarding teenagers coasting on an uncrowded street.

Inside he has everything he needs--his espresso maker, his chessboard, his books, his music, his classical guitar. There are cachets on the coffee table by a sofa, filled with sage. There are books of poetry left open nearby. There is jazz on the stereo and, through the skylight, strands of late afternoon California sun.

"Being a very private fellow in a very public business," he says, "this is a good place to have."

Fame has found him late in life, the exposure of a hit weekly television series bringing him public recognition that all his years of work on stage and in movies (he's been in more than 40 films) never did. Among his fellow actors he has been a household name since the early 1970s when he made his reputation on the New York stage, first in his award-winning role off-Broadway in Steambath, in which he played, convincingly, God disguised as a Puerto Rican steambath attendant. Then came a series of Broadway star turns in The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Great White Hope and Sly Fox.

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