'IT'S COMPLICATED': Steve Martin stars with Meryl Streep… (Melinda Sue Gordon / Universal…)
When you talk to Steve Martin about his dizzying array of pursuits, it's hard to know where to begin. It's easy, though, to know where to end -- the 64-year-old gets antsy during interviews because, well, he's got better things to do than talk about all the things he's doing.
"I wish," Martin said with a sigh, "I had more time these days." Martin was phoning from New York to chat about his latest film, "It's Complicated," and his Grammy nomination for his album of bluegrass music. He also talked about his plans to co-host the Oscars and a book project. The conversation only reminded him of all the things he could be doing; before the interview was over, Martin was reaching for his laptop.
"That was my computer," he confessed after some digital bleats betrayed his multi-tasking. "Sorry about that."
For a man in the business of funny, Martin is seriously busy.
Martin finishes the year with the bestselling bluegrass album of 2009, "The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo," and a six-week road tour that won him strong reviews for his playing and songwriting. On Jan. 31, he will be at the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center with a strong chance of picking up the award for his music, a possibility that inspired genuine giddiness from the deadpan king.
"I'm really, really honored by the nomination," said Martin, who is also booked to play the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in the spring.
Martin also has another big tuxedo night on the calendar: On March 7, Martin will be at the Kodak Theatre for the 82nd Academy Awards. "I am happy to co-host the Oscars with my enemy Alec Baldwin," Martin said in November when the "It's Complicated" costars were announced as an emcee tandem. The frenemy gag (or half-truth?) reflects the on-screen rivalry in the Nancy Meyers comedy that opened Friday, and Martin says it's an easy rhythm for the pair.
"Alec and I hit it off in a sort of adversarial comedic way, both on-screen and off-screen," he said. "But, really, we get along great. He is so game to try anything and so gung-ho about everything. I went to him and with some trepidation I said, 'They might want us to sing.' I expected him to say, 'I'm not going to sing, I'm not going to embarrass myself.' Instead he says, 'Good, I can take lessons.' He's really, really funny. I should actually be afraid."
Baldwin will be busy filming "30 Rock," so the heavy lifting for their duologue will be jammed into the week leading up to the gala. Martin hosted the show in 2001 and 2003 but said there are new challenges. "It's hard to try out material because you don't want it to get exposed on the Internet," he said. "But we've all been around. We'll figure it out."
In "It's Complicated," Martin plays Adam, an architect who finds himself with an unexpected rival for the affections of Jane (Meryl Streep) -- her rakish ex-husband Jake (Baldwin), who has remarried but yearns for the woman he left a decade earlier.
"I've got a great feeling about it," Martin said. "I think it's a hit. It's adult comedy, it's smart and Alec Baldwin should just clean up. Meryl is unbelievable in it. It's a tribute to Nancy Meyers and her writing and directing. It's her perfect movie."
Many film critics would disagree and have treated the holiday release as a lump of comedy coal. The film has another challenge -- it's one of five new releases this weekend.
"It's Complicated" finds Martin four dozen films into a career that started with pure farce and became, well, more complicated. It was 30 years ago this month that he starred in Carl Reiner's "The Jerk," which holds a robust 83% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website. Martin may never completely escape the "wild and crazy guy" tag, but he has certainly put it behind him with movies such as "Pennies From Heaven," "Parenthood," "Grand Canyon" and "The Spanish Prisoner," which veer from family-film earnest to art-house unexpected.
The guy with the fake arrow through his head has proved himself as a playwright ("Picasso at the Lapin Agile"), author (including his '07 memoir, "Born Standing Up" and two novellas) and as a musician.
Martin has a long history with the banjo -- he learned in the 1960s while working at Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm -- and in the studio recorded with Vince Gill and Dolly Parton. Still, early on in this venture, Martin risked coming off as an overreaching celebrity tourist.
"There was some trepidation but I wasn't afraid of it," Martin said. "I knew that it could happen but I felt good about the songs. That's how I approached it: 'I've got these songs and I'm going to play them.' And everyone I had met in the bluegrass community greeted me warmly. And it makes sense. These are not paranoid people; they're very talented and very accomplished people. There's nothing for them to be jealous about or protective about."
Martin has half a dozen new songs and he's eager to keep his revived skills nimble. "I felt like a professional musician by the end of the tour," he said. "I don't want to lose that."
It was about then in the interview that Martin grew distracted. The entertainer was ready for the wrap-up question, which was about choices.
"I just do whatever feels like 'next.' I've been working on a book for over a year and I put it aside for the music and the tour. I always have something to work on. It's not budgeted though. I don't have a schedule for it. I wish I had a little more time right now and I will soon, but I'm also torn between recording new music and working on this book.
"I have to make some decisions."