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Gambit Weekly Mega Movie Man

By Rich Collins

JUNE 1, 1998:  It was an exceptionally chilly night on the set of Godzilla last year, and actor Harry Shearer was doing an admirable job delivering his lines. He was only occasionally distracted by the insulating wetsuit he wore beneath his coat and tie.

"We were shooting all night, because the creature looks better in the rain," says Shearer. "The infernal rain machines went on whenever they called action. One time, at four in the morning, they called 'cut,' and the residual rain from the machine was turning to snow before it hit the ground."

Yep, shooting a major "event flick" like Godzilla can be taxing at times. But, in the end, the process really isn't all that different from filming any other movie. These projects don't actually take on their final gigantic proportions until after the actors have finished working.

"While you're making the picture, you don't necessarily have that sense of being in an event movie," says Shearer. "It's just that there are more extras than I've ever seen on a set before. Aside from that, the event part is what's happening now. Tonight, I'm going to Madison Square Garden for the premiere."

In Godzilla, Shearer plays a smarmy New York City anchorman with an overactive libido. The actor says he was fortunate to develop the role in an atmosphere of intense creativity -- and fun.

"The most entertaining thing about Godzilla was working with [director] Roland Emmerich and [producer] Dean Devlin," he says. "Whatever you think about what they do, they are not doing it out of some cynical calculation of what the audience will demand. They're doing it because these are the kind of movies they love to make, and that makes it a lot easier to have fun, even with the five hundred extras barely knowing where to point their bayonets and the rain machine and those things."

Also this summer, Shearer will appear in The Truman Show, director Peter Weir's satire of modern media culture. With its complex theme and "retro future" look, the movie is worlds apart from Godzilla, although Shearer says the two movies taken together are a good example of what Hollywood does best.

"Theoretically, the motion picture industry should be able to accommodate those two kinds of goals, if not many more," says Shearer, who got his break in Tinseltown as a child actor in films like Abbott and Costello Go to Mars and The Robe. "I think the problem with Hollywood in recent years is that it seemed not to have a breadth of accommodation, at least in the summertime."


Harry Shearer adds his mordant presence to Godzilla and The Truman Show.

Currently, Shearer is filming parts for Dick, a comedy about the Watergate scandal, and Ron Howard's Ed TV. He also is voicing the roles of Mr. Burns, Smithers and Ned Flanders for his 10th season of The Simpsons, and he continues to host Le Show, his 15-year-old radio variety show (not available on local airwaves).

To get away from it all, Shearer and his wife, Judith Owen, come to New Orleans, where they recently purchased a house.

"I say I'm proud to call New Orleans my second home," jokes the actor. "I've been coming down for 10 years, and when I met the woman who was to become my wife, she began coming down. So we just decided not to continue to subsidize the hotel business."

The best thing about New Orleans, of course, is that Shearer can leave the wetsuit behind. ... .


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