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'God Must Be Crazy's' Weyers Finds Own Kafka in Hollywood

December 09, 1987|JACK MATHEWS

It is a tradition of the film industry, a rule of Hollywood thumb, that a starring role in one box-office blockbuster is redeemable for at least one starring role in a major studio movie.

So what happened to Marius Weyers, the ruggedly handsome, lady-shy outback hunk in "The Gods Must Be Crazy"?

"I did spend about three weeks in Hollywood meeting a lot of people and learning a lot of lessons about reality," Weyers said a few weeks ago on the set of "Farewell to the King," in Sarawak, East Malaysia. "I met with directors, all the presidents of the studios. They were wonderful, except nothing came of it."

Weyers, one of the leading figures of stage, screen and television in his native South Africa, is about to make what he calls his "non-virginal second visit" to Hollywood, taking the stage of the Tiffany Theater on Friday for the start of a five-week run of "Marius Weyers in Performance."

The one-man show features two 45-minute plays, including "Report to the Academy," a dramatic interpretation of Franz Kafka's short story about a chimpanzee that learns to imitate human beings in order to be free.

"At least people will get to see me do something concrete," Weyers said. "I have been a dramatic actor most of my career, but when I came to Hollywood, all I heard was, 'Do you do something besides comedy?' "

"The Gods Must Be Crazy" is a footnote that has taken over the book on Marius Weyers. The 41-year-old actor began his career as a stagehand at 19, and by the time director Jamie Uys asked him to play the bumbling jungle biologist in "Gods," he was an established star in South Africa.

Weyers was appearing in locally produced television series, had occasional roles in international films shot there and appeared in one or two stage plays each year.

The part that pigeonholed him as a physical comedy actor was originally written for Uys, by Uys (pronounced Oice). Weyers said that the director was famous as South Africa's Jacques Tati but that by the time he had financing for "Gods," Uys was in his 60s and felt he was too old for the part.

"The producers insisted that he have a face lift, which he did, and they all waited around for a few months for everything to heal. Jamie lost his patience and said, 'I'm not going to do that.' He decided to look around for another person."

You've heard of labors of love. For Weyers, "Gods" became a labor of self-denial. The film's production wore on for more than a year, preventing him from taking other paying assignments, and, when it was all over, he had earned less than $20,000 in salary.

"The Gods Must Be Crazy" was a huge hit worldwide, grossing more than $25 million in the United States alone.

Weyers had taken a sabbatical from acting and was serving as the artistic director for South Africa's national theater when "Gods" went crazy. He said the movie had done well in his own country, as it was expected to do. The international reaction was flattering and unrealistically promising.

"I got a call from an agent in Hollywood. He wanted to bring me over and sign me on. I went to L.A. and met all these people, then went home and waited for about two months. I was getting calls at three in the morning. Every time the phone rang, they would say, 'This is it. It's a go situation.' Then it was, 'There was a fallout at the studio. We've got this new situation.'

"Finally, I said, 'Let's forget about it. I have got to get on with my life. I'll go bonkers.' "

Weyers said "Gods" did lead to roles in some international films, including a bit part in "Gandhi" and a long flirtation with the starring role in Roman Polanski's "Pirates" (the financiers ultimately insisted on hiring an established star and Walter Matthau got the part).

Before he went to Borneo to play one of the multinational troops in John Milius' World War II adventure "Farewell to the King," Weyers continued to develop his one-man show with American stage director Terrence Shank.

Weyers, an outspoken critic of apartheid, said he began doing "Report to the Academy" because it was a good dramatic piece. It is about a chimpanzee's address to a political body of humans, during which he explains how he was captured in Africa, caged and shipped to a zoo in Germany, and then learned to think and talk like humans to free himself.

"When I first did it, I thought, 'This has nothing to do with apartheid,' " Weyers said. "Then audiences started coming in. A lot of black people came to me backstage and said, 'This is my story.' I thought, 'Of course, it's bloody obvious. It's suppression, it's taking a person out of his environment, putting your own laws on him and telling him he's a free man.' "

Weyers said that he and other members of South Africa's theater community have been using the stage to protest apartheid for 20 years and that he is impatient with what he feels are simplistic solutions offered by outside critics.

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