During press interviews for the "Lion King" in Burbank, Calif., character actor Ernie Sabella had reporters in stitches as he related the story of his first meeting with Robert Redford.
Sabella, who provides the voice of the warthog Pumbaa in "The Lion King," and who is currently co-starring on Broadway in a revival of "Guys and Dolls," went to Redford's New York office last year to audition for a role in "Quiz Show," a movie Redford was preparing to direct."I loved working with him," Sabella said, "but the first time I met him was in his office, and he's wearing cowboy boots and a flannel shirt, and he threw himself on the couch and he said, `I just loved your tape.' I auditioned through a tape. Then he explained the whole concept of the movie - and the whole movie - for 12 minutes!
"And when he got done talking - because I'm here to audition, right? - he said, `So, what do you think? Let's do it.'
"So, I said, `OK, let's do it.'
"And he said, `You want to do it?'
"I said, `Yeah.'
"And he said, `Thank you, thank you for coming in.'
"So, I'm going to the elevator thinking, `I guess I didn't get it, he doesn't even want me to read.' And the elevator door is opening up and he comes sliding by, and he says, `No, I'm serious, do you want to do it with me or not?'
" `You mean, you want me to do it?'
"And he says, `Yeah!'
"And the doors are closing and I say, `OK, we'll do it.' Boom.
"And I went right downstairs and called my agent and said, `This is what happened - does that mean I have it?'
"He says, `I don't know.' And the next day they called and said, `You got it.' "
Sabella plays the role of a car salesman in the opening scene of "Quiz Show," and sometime after he finished shooting the film, Redford came to see Sabella in "Guys and Dolls."
"He walked up three flights of stairs to my dressing room to tell me that he had seen (`Guys and Dolls') and loved it. And my dressing-roommate was taking his makeup off, and the door opens up and it's Robert Redford. And he's going, `It's Robert Redford!'
"And all the girls in the building - all the chorus girls - all got dressed very quickly and they all went into the hall, putting on their shoes and (trying to look casual), saying, `Oh, there's Robert Redford.'
"But he's a sweetheart, I loved him very much."
- ALSO DURING THE "Lion King" interviews, Cheech Marin, who was once half of the doped-out comedy team of Cheech & Chong (and who plays the voice of a conniving hyena in the animated feature), revealed he has a home in Utah - Park City, to be precise.
Marin asked reporters around the table where they were from and perked up when I said, "Salt Lake City, Utah."
"Oh, really? I have a place up in Park City," he said. "I love to ski, and when I discovered Utah, we bought a place there. It's been some of the best money I ever spent in my life. (Had it) going on six years now.
"I get up there as much as I can. I'm going to be up there for a few weeks this summer and as much of the winter as I can. I draw 40-50 days skiing, which is not bad for a guy that has to work. That's not bad at all."
- SO, WHAT IS THAT little character in "The Lion King" that hangs around with the warthog?
It's a meerkat, "a kind of big prairie dog - related to the mongoose," according to animators Tony Bancroft and Mike Surrey.
"Obviously, the warthog would probably eat the meerkat," said Surrey, "so this is a stretch."
Bancroft also noted that warthogs are not the most cuddly animals in real life. "We had to `cute' him up."
- INQUIRING MINDS want to know - and so do I - why does Michelle Pfeiffer have a spider tattoo on her back, just below her shoulder, in "Wolf"? And why does Dana Carvey have a bandage on his neck in "Clean Slate"?
Neither the tattoo nor the bandage are mentioned in those respective movies, but both are quite prominent, and obvious to the audience.
Are they cosmetic? Are they continuity errors? Were they mentioned in scenes that were ultimately cut from the movies?
Or are they real? Does Pfeiffer really have that tattoo? Was Carvey wearing a bandage because he had a pimple on his neck?
Why don't Jay Leno and David Letterman ask the really important questions, like these?
- HOWARD RUFF SENT a response to a recent column item. It reads, in part:
"I chuckled at your reference to me . . . in regard to being opposed to going to R-rated movies and later finding myself in one" (`Rockwell,' which will be released on video next month).
"My message was that those who are writing letters to the editor berating those of us who choose not to go (to R-rated movies) should really respect our decision to avoid lots of trash by drawing a line.
"I cannot believe the sheer marketing stupidity of cutting "Rockwell" in such a way that it gets an R, when most of the viewers will be in Utah, because of their interest in the state's history and in Mormon Church history."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK: Mickey Rourke, whose next film is a sequel to "9 1/2 Weeks," talking about a Western he hopes to make soon with Dennis Hopper as director:
"It's not going to be like `Wyatt Earp.' Costner, that's like vanilla ice cream, brother - that's mediocrity, if you're talking about acting ability."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK II: Billy Crystal, currently starring in "City Slickers II: The Legend of Curly's Gold" (which he also produced and co-wrote):
"Look at `Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.' Jim (Carrey) is the Jerry Lewis of the '90s. Kids love him. I don't know if the kids will come to my movie. We didn't get teenagers for the first one. They thought it was about their parents. But I think they saw it and liked it later, on video."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK III: Eddie Murphy, currently starring in "Beverly Hills Cop III":
"So many black filmmakers make movies about the tragedy of being black, or giving you a slice of our culture . . . my movies have nothing to do with that. I want everybody, black and white, to be able to have a good time at the movie theater."
- QUOTE OF THE WEEK IV: Mia Farrow, starring in "Widow's Peak," her first non-Woody Allen film in 13 years, discussing her role in her biggest Allen film, "Hannah and Her Sisters":
"I didn't really like my part so much in that. It was fine, but it was strange, it was strangled. It was good. It was fine. I was happy and everything, but I didn't love what I had to do."