Friends used to feel sorry for Tom Conti. Understandably. People kept confusing him with Dustin Hoffman. Here was this versatile Scottish actor with films like "Reuben, Reuben" and TV's "Glittering Prizes" to his credit, yet people would still say "Loved you in 'Tootsie' " when they saw him in restaurants. Conti would just nod glumly.
Only when he stood up was the difference apparent. Conti is tall; Hoffman is short. But Conti couldn't keep jumping to his feet every time an admirer approached so mostly he just accepted the greeting. "Anyway" he reasoned, "it's flattering to be mistaken for Dustin."
Fortunately, things are different now. Conti now has done enough work to be recognized on his own. He may not have made blockbusters like Hoffman, but for some years now he's made four times as many movies. Right at this moment he's got four films awaiting release--one "The Gospel According to Vic" opens Friday at the Beverly Center--and he's off to Arizona to start a new one.
"I came into this business to work," he said the other afternoon. "And that's what I'm doing. Frankly, I'd much rather make three films a year for $1 million than just one for the same money. I'm not interested in sitting on my backside and waiting for the dream part to come along."
By working so much he's getting plenty of chances to improve his range. In "The Gospel According to Vic," he plays a Glasgow teacher who becomes the focus of a series of apparent miracles. In "Saving Grace," he plays a pope who goes AWOL from the Vatican. In "Beyond Therapy," directed by Robert Altman, he plays an insane therapist. In "Miracles," he plays a man kidnaped by a bandit. In "The Beate Klarsfeld Story" for ABC television, he plays Farrah Fawcett's French husband.
And in Arizona he stars in a western, "The Quick and the Dead."
"I like to keep coming out of different holes," he said with a chuckle. "It confuses people."
Conti has seen a rough cut of "The Beate Klarsfeld Story" and was much impressed by Farrah Fawcett's performance as the woman who hunted down Klaus Barbie, the Nazi "Butcher of Lyon."
"She's very good," he said. "I just don't understand why she gets such a poor press. When we filmed it in Paris the attitude seemed to be 'What's she doing playing the part of this very serious woman?' But I met this very serious woman Beate Klarsfeld and it so happens she's also attractive and intelligent. So why shouldn't Farrah, who's also attractive and intelligent, have played her?"
Though he is half-Italian, Conti does not speak the language.
"My father, who was born in Italy, was too busy trying to learn English to teach me Italian," he said with a sly smile. "We went back to Italy from Glasgow several times when I was a boy and I enjoyed it but my father used to get so mad at the inefficiency there that he was always glad to get back to dreary, efficient old Scotland. . . ."
DOUBLE ACT: In two months' time Lynn Redgrave will open on Broadway in A. R. Gurney's play "Sweet Sue" in which she plays the lead.
What's confusing, to say the least, is that Mary Tyler Moore is also in this piece, playing the lead.
Both actresses, in fact, play the same woman on stage and they will act opposite two actors, as yet uncast, playing the same man.
"It does sound confusing to talk about," said Redgrave this week. "But it's actually fascinating. This way different facets of the character can be revealed at the same time. Sometimes we're playing the same scene in a totally different way opposite the two guys. Sometimes I'm dressed for the evening and Mary's dressed for bed. We're not alter egos, understand, it's not that I'm bitchy and Mary's nice, it's just different perspectives of the same person. And terribly funny."
Redgrave said she found the play--about a woman who falls in love with her son's college roommate--quite hard to read.
"The parts are marked 'Susan' and 'Susan Too' " she said. "Often I had to flip back and forth to find out just who was saying what. It'll be much clearer to the audience."
The play, which will try out in Boston, opens in New York on Dec. 19.