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COVER STORY

Judge For Yourself : Reinhold Talks About His Rapid Rise and Fall--and His Current Film on showtime

March 15, 1992|JOE RHODES | Joe Rhodes is a frequent contributor to TV Times.

It is 2 in the afternoon and outside, on Santa Monica Boulevard, there is a bright sun and piercing blue sky. But light never seems to penetrate the smoky haze inside the Formosa Cafe. Here, no matter what the clocks might say, it is always after dark.

Within wailing distance of the Warner Hollywood studios, this has always been a good place to hear anguish and confessions, particularly the kind that come late at night, unsolicited and alcohol-induced. Judge Reinhold has been in here on nights like that, but not in a good many years. Today he's drinking mineral water, ingesting nothing more dangerous than a turkey sandwich. But he is confessing, nonetheless.

"I was spoiled and I was arrogant," he is saying, talking about what happened to an acting career that, after great reviews for his performances as Eddie Murphy's sidekick in the "Beverly Hills Cop" films and the hapless kidnaper in "Ruthless People," seemed destined to make him a major star. "I was very demanding, had an overblown image of who I was and got a reputation for being difficult. And rightfully so.

"But I've learned a lot in the past three years. It's been pretty painful, but I'm grateful for all of it, 'cause I've grown up more in the past three years than I have in my whole life."

Reinhold, 35, has come to the Formosa to talk about his latest project, the starring role in "Black Magic," a Showtime movie with Rachel Ward and Anthony LaPaglia that will debut Saturday. Playing an insomniac who goes to a strange North Carolina small town to ferret out the ghosts who have been keeping him awake at night, Reinhold is proud of his performance and of the film. ("Inventive and odd," he calls it, "a bizarre little piece.") But, pleased as he is with the role, it is a far cry from the high-visibility films he was getting in the mid-1980s.

"In a three-year period, I did three of the most successful comedies ever made," he says. "I had 50-year-old actors coming up to me and saying, 'Do you realize how lucky you are to have one hit like this in your career?' And I said, 'Yeah, sure.' But I didn't really. I took things for granted. But I certainly don't now."

The downturn began in 1988 with "Vice Versa," a film meant to boost Reinhold from sidekick to leading man status. Reinhold's portrayal of a 10-year-old who gets switched into his businessman dad's body drew good reviews, but instead of becoming a hit "Vice Versa" bombed, lost in a strange flood of body-switching movies, some better ("Big"), most considerably worse ("Like Father, Like Son").

"That was really the end of my highfalutin Hollywood career," Reinhold says of the period after "Vice Versa's" demise. "That's when the phone stopped ringing."

But, in retrospect, Reinhold realizes he had more going against him than just starring in a box-office flop. Word had already gotten out about Reinhold's tirades on sets, his "star treatment" demands that continued even after he found himself relegated to smaller, independent films. He would yell at directors, crew members and co-stars. It got to the point where, on at least one set, other actors were so fed up with Reinhold's tantrums that they refused to rehearse with him.

"I don't know one actor that became an actor for healthy reasons," says Reinhold, who, after taking drama classes at the University of Virginia, came to Los Angeles in 1977 at age 20. "I think I started out because I was desperate for approval and acceptance and praise. Some actors never break away from that. They're after that validation their whole life. I've seen them just become casualties of the business, neurosis-ridden people who are so desperate for the industry's approval that, without it, they're nothing.

"And when I had this fall from grace, I was faced with that myself."

His world crumbling around him, Reinhold decided to "step away" from Los Angeles. He moved to a small town near Santa Fe, N.M., and took stock of what had happened to him and his career. He found no one to blame but himself.

"It was a very difficult time," he says. "I don't know if you've ever had this experience where all of your friends know something about you, but it comes as a total and complete shock to you. And you have to face it. It was an extremely painful thing for me--to recognize and take responsibility for the damage that I'd done."

Santa Fe, Reinhold says, allowed him to be less obsessive about his career, less worried about becoming a star, more aware of other people's feelings. "It's been a profound change for me and I'm grateful for it," he says. "If 'Vice Versa' had become a success, I might not have dealt with any of this and I'm not sure where I would be now."

Now Reinhold is taking the best parts he can find, usually in smaller productions, films where there is no budget for star perks or time for egotistical fits. "If I get to tell good stories with good people, that's good enough for me."

The interview finished, the sandwich consumed, Reinhold lifts himself out of the booth and heads toward the parking lot and his rented car. He opens the door to the Formosa Cafe and, just for a moment, a glimmer of daylight breaks through.

"Black Magic" premieres Saturday at 9 p.m. on Showtime.

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