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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : In the pursuit of many things, Larry Miller finds one road to 'Happiness'

September 17, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Larry Miller waits his turn.

This week, he stars in NBC's new "Pursuit of Happiness" and guests on the premiere of the network's "The Single Guy."

A few months ago, Miller heard that David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee (the minds behind "Wings," "Frasier"), wanted him to co-star in "Pursuit," their new ensemble show. He was flattered.

Never mind that Miller was in development on his own series. The popular comedian's memorable TV guest spots as the taunting doorman on "Seinfeld," Paul's boss on "Mad About You" and the oily landlord on HBO's "Dream On," made him a recognizable comic actor.

Miller's own deal at NBC evolved from "the trend to develop a series for a comic," he says on a set break from "Pursuit." Miller's done stand-up for 18 years and has some 15 feature roles to his credit. "But when I was approached about this show," playing boorish live-in brother-in-law Larry, Miller says he leaped at the chance.

Dave Hackel, the show's creator and executive producer (an executive producer on "Wings") says, "As soon as it hit the page, we went, 'Wow.' Let's see if we can introduce Larry Miller into this . . . it just makes so much sense."

There's a lot of the character in Miller, Hackel says. "You spend time with him, you'll laugh, you'll think and if you spend enough time, he'll touch your heart. That's what I wanted. Larry's [the character] not just annoying, but sweet and very bright. You forgive him all his annoyance."

"Pursuit"--in which Larry moves in with his idealistic lawyer brother-in-law (Tom Amandes) and tolerant sister (Melinda McGraw)--"is a dandy idea," Miller, 41, says.

Adds the new sitcom star: "I actually whooped when I heard not only were those producers involved, but they wanted me. That was not an inconsequential thing. Very simple decision to choose "Pursuit" for now. It's in such a nice and shiny niche, following 'Frasier.' "

His character Larry, whom the actor describes as "too sweet to hate, yet too annoying to live with," rounds out an ensemble where "everyone has a nice little costume to wear."

The New York native has donned many costumes to date. A music major, he made a post-graduation living playing drums and pianos in clubs.

One night at The Comic Strip in 1977, he stepped out from behind his drums and took his turn at the mike. He was hooked. The gigs overlapped until comedy took over. New York was ripe with budding comics. "We were a good graduating class," Miller says. He met pal Jerry Seinfeld on a cross-town Manhattan bus. "We'd both seen each other on stage and it was like, 'Hi, I'm a comic, too."' Jay Leno also became a pal.

In fact, when Miller moved to L.A. in 1981--some acting classes and nine plays or so later--he slept on Seinfeld's floor for six weeks, and it was Leno who loaned him money to buy a car.

Miller continued stand-up and landed small, but significant acting parts, which led to what might be his most recognizable part so far: the store manager who "sucks up" to Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in 1990's blockbuster "Pretty Woman."

His penchant for accents landed him quirky roles in "Undercover Blues" and "Radioland Murders." His most recent role was in Eddie Murphy's remake of "The Nutty Professor": "a lot of laughs," he says of the film.

Like his wife, "NewsRadio" supervising producer-writer Eileen Conn (the couple are expecting a baby in February), Miller also writes. Showtime purchased a script from him for an upcoming "Seven Deadly Sins" segment. He's sold six other screenplays, though none have been produced yet. He shares the same attitude toward his writing as acting: It's all a matter of time.

"It really is all part of my attitude," the San Fernando Valley resident says. "Things will go as far as they'll go when they're meant to."

Miller focuses on his new show, his writing and, of course, his expanding family. "It's corny, but I've had such good luck and I'm just far happier. What I ask for now is just health and clarity."

"The Pursuit of Happiness" airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. and "The Single Guy" airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. Both on NBC.

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