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Whatever Works

It's a Long Way Up From the Mail Room

Whatever Works is a weekly column about working. In it, we will feature a well-known person discussing a little-known aspect of his or her career, early working life or special project. Today's columnist is actor Hector Elizondo.

November 23, 1998|Hector Elizondo

Question: What's the worst job you've ever had?

Answer: Licking stamps in the basement mail room of a travel guide magazine with other unemployed actors in 1964 New York City. One of many part-time jobs.

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Q: What is your fantasy job?

A: Field ethnologist or wildlife steward. (What will be left after Homo sapiens overpopulate and overpollute the planet?)

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Q: Who was the worst boss you ever had and why?

A: A screaming director, but he only screamed at the crew and day players. He was an unhappy coward who also harbors Nazi sentiments.

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Q: What's the most fun you've had at work?

A: Any job with Garry Marshall.

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Q: What was your first job?

A: Singing and dancing on "The Okey Dokey Roundhouse," a kid's TV show with Wendy Barrie in 1947-48. I was 10 or 11.

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Q: Most people probably don't know you once worked as a . . .

A: Jazz dance instructor at summer camp.

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Q: What do you love about your work?

A: To be reminded that my work has inspired someone to be a better person. I don't mean to inspire, I simply put one foot in front of the other and try to stay out of my own way.

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Q: What do you hate about your work?

A: The traffic to and from.

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Q: What's the hardest part of your job?

A: Memorizing medical terminology and "laying pipe" [hanging out in the background] in a scene. And not doing comedy.

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Q: What are you working on now?

A: I play the chief of staff on "Chicago Hope" (Dr. Phillip Watters) in our fifth season. I'm starting my 11th movie for Garry Marshall, "Runaway Bride," with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts.

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Q: How do you deal with the stress of your job?

A: I remind myself (like a mantra) of how lucky I am that I have an opportunity to practice my craft.

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Q: When did you know you wanted to pursue this career?

A: It seems to have pursued me . . . although I clearly remember the first time I moved an audience. It was infectious and sublime.

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Q: What drives you to keep working?

A: The chance to learn, to be of help, to shock oneself from the deep, dark hole of absolutism.

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Q: What's something most people don't know about you?

A: I love to hear people's stories. I love to hear the rich, deafening sound of silence in a pristine wood. I love progressive jazz and string quartets, good food and conversation, and working, and reading stuff that "breaks my brains."

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Q: What kind of work did your father and mother do?

A: My father, Martin Elizondo, was an accountant. My mother, a housewife.

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Q: What did you want to be as a child?

A: First, healthy (I was a skinny, sickly kid). Then a professional baseball player, a musician, a forest ranger, a cowboy and a flying hero (like Captain Marvel).

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Q: What do you want to do when you retire?

A: Let's call it segue. I've never thought about such a thing. The concept is alien to me. One must do something useful to stay engaged and part of the world. I will not live in a gated community.

Hector Elizondo's new film, "Runaway Bride," will open in 1999.

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