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Fame Mutates for Human 'Turtle' Star

April 10, 1990|VERNON SCOTT | UNITED PRESS INTERNATIONAL

Elias Koteas is fortunate to be one of the few recognizable characters in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," except that anyone who sees him is likely to be under 15 years old.

The shy, quiet, introspective actor was an unknown until this month. Now he is very well known indeed, thanks to his starring role in the biggest hit of the year.

Koteas' involvement with the phenomenally successful action-comedy is a mixed blessing. He may become familiar to every kid in the world--and a major hero to his little sister--but remain a nonentity to everyone else.

All the same, Koteas, whose quick brown eyes, shaggy black hair and funky clothes give him the look of a young rebel himself, is pleased to be part of the resounding smash.

His is one of the few recognizable characters in the film. The other principals--excepting co-star Judith Hoag--are giant, sewer-dwelling turtles.

For those too enraptured with the turtles to remember anything about the picture except the hard-shelled crime fighters, Koteas is the guy who plays Casey Jones, the vigilante and martial arts expert who first challenges turtle Raphael and then joins the Ninjas to help stop the Foot Clan.

At lunch in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, Koteas looked as much at home as a Ninja Turtle in the Court of St. James.

When first approached to star in the film, he had never heard of the Ninja Turtle comic books or the kiddie TV cartoon series on which the picture is based.

"I couldn't even remember the title for a long time," he admitted with a grin.

What Koteas and many another adults may not know is that "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" is the No. 1-selling comic book in the country and the No. 1-syndicated children's cartoon show on the air.

Koteas is a man who finds himself beset by a publicity hurricane, a whirlwind of madness he was not prepared for and over which he has no control.

He is, after all, a dedicated, serious young dramatic actor. A graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he has appeared on stage in "The Cherry Orchard," "Bent," "Death of a Salesman" and "Kiss of the Spider Woman."

His movie credits include "Full Moon in Blue Water," "Tucker," "Gardens of Stone," "One Magic Christmas" and "Some Kind of Wonderful." His performance in "Malerek" won him a nomination for Canada's coveted Genie Award.

A native of Montreal, Koteas starved in New York for years, delivering pizza, driving a cab, busing tables and working at other menial jobs to scrape a living.

He met the challenge of playing Casey Jones head on, taking the part as seriously as he would any other role.

"I accepted the part the minute they offered it to me," he said. "I wanted the chance to be 10 or 12 years old again.

"I told my younger sister about the job and she went crazy. All kids know about the Ninja Turtles. They love 'em. And now they love Casey too. They may make a sequel or two from this picture because it's so popular.

"I'm a serious actor, but I wouldn't mind playing Casey again. When Harrison Ford played Han Solo in the 'Star Wars' pictures it didn't hurt his career. He went on to make some fine dramatic pictures. He wasn't type-cast."

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