July 26 1993



July 26 1993




Dan Aykroyd is waiting for the cameras to roll. He holds a tiny, battery-powered fan up to his face to stop the sweat from dissolving his makeup, which blends at his forehead into an oddly convincing, and undeniably phallic, cone. The movie, which opens this week, is Coneheads. The story so far: after adjusting to life as alien immigrants in a New Jersey suburb, where most of the film takes place, Beldar (Aykroyd) and his Conehead family have been beamed home to their native planet, Remulak. In the vast studio on the Paramount lot in Hollywood, a crew member called for quiet. Commands ricochet around the set. “Places, please . . . Rolling. . . .” Aykroyd handed the fan to a technician. Michelle Burke, the svelte-coned actress who plays Connie, his teenage daughter, put her gum on a pop can. “And action,” said the director.

Speaking in his Conehead accent, a robotic scramble of misplaced inflections, Aykroyd gives Connie a lecture about longdistance calls to Earth. He flubs his lines several times before getting it right. (No matter: the whole scene will end up on the cutting-room floor.) During a break, he retires to a quiet corner for an interview. “My mind is shot,” he says. ‘The facility’s getting bad. I’m so old, and I’m just having such trouble remembering lines.”

He is not that old. He just turned 41 on Canada Day. But on the Paramount set in April, Aykroyd’s glum self-deprecation sounded heartfelt. In fact, he has had the most consistent success of any Canadian comedy star. Since first winning fame as a member of the original 1975-1976 cast of NBC’s Saturday Night Live, Aykroyd has starred in 25 movies. Now, his career seems to have come full circle. SNL producer Lome Michaels, a fellow Canadian, conscripted him to co-write and star in Coneheads, a movie based on one of the show’s best-loved sketches. And in the final weeks of shooting, under British director Steve Barron (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Aykroyd’s enthusiasm was fraying. “I don’t know. I’ve

done this an awful long time. If I make it to 1995, I’ll have been 20 years in the business here in the States. It’s enough. I want to pop out on top of the game. I don’t want go out on a slide, playing in the minors.”

Despite an impressive career, including an Oscar nomination for his supporting role in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Aykroyd displays no delusions of grandeur about acting. “It’s not art, it’s work,” he said. “It’s punching in and punching out. I wouldn’t miss it.” Then he added, “All my co-stars that I could do buddy pictures with have got their own careers going. Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks—they don’t want to share top billing. They’re big stars in their own right.” The Ottawa-born Aykroyd has always served as a consummate straight man. He played opposite Murphy in Trading Places (1983), Murray in Ghostbusters (1984) and

Hanks in Dragnet (1987). ‘These guys were born with an American persona that everyone can relate to,” he said.

“I’m Canadian. I’ve been able to cowrite some of their biggest hits—that’s my strength. But I’m a character actor.

I do voices. I do accents. And it’s not enough to propel me to the point where I can get out there with my name alone on a marquee and open a picture.”

Michaels has known Aykroyd since the early ’70s, when they first worked together on the CBC’s Hart and Lorne Terrific Hour. And Aykroyd’s talk of quitting comes as no surprise. “He’s been leaving as long as I’ve known him,” says Michaels, “and I think it’s said with the same sincerity each time. He’s never seen himself as the centre—always as the guy next to it. In this picture, he is the centre. Everything’s on his shoulders.” Adds Michaels: “Of all the people who did Saturday Night Live in the first five years, he was the one I always watched. I’d be standing just off camera, and he’d take my breath away. I just stood in awe of what he did.

He was so committed and so original, and just touched by. . . .” Michaels waits for a beat, then adds dryly: ‘This is a Canadian publication, so I won’t use the word genius. But there were sparks coming off him.”

Aykroyd dreamed up the Coneheads while watching TV during his first season on SNL, in 1976. “I thought, what if everyone’s heads were five or six inches taller so they’d fill the top half of the screen?” With SNL Tom Davis (who cowrote the movie), he proposed a sketch called The Pinhead Lawyers from France. Michaels suggested changing Pinheads to Coneheads.

“And we said, ‘Fine, let’s make them aliens coming to take over the Earth,’ ” Aykroyd recalls. “And Lorne said, ‘Yeah, but what if they’re stuck in the suburbs and having to blend in?’ Which was the brilliant twist that got us where we are today.”

After SAY’s Wayne’s World became a huge box-office hit last summer, Aykroyd adds, “the studio turned to us and asked what else we could put in the pipeline. Lorne said, ‘How about Coneheads?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, yeah, we want that!’ ” Aykroyd has based his portrayal of Beldar partly on his father, Peter Aykroyd, a retired Ottawa civil servant. ‘There is an outward kind of formality there,” he explains, “but in reality, Beldar is a cream puff. He is like the average American—North American—father, trying to exert control, but really having none. It’s Father Knows Best played by space aliens.”

The Beldar role allows Aykroyd to engage in the kind of broad comedy that is his specialty. “Straight Earth people, Bluntheads, hide their emotions,” he says in utter seriousness. “With Coneheads it’s way up front. When they get mad they go gggrrraaaaaiiihl” Aykroyd bares his teeth and screams like an electrocuted cat. “It’s like a cartoon.”

In mid-interview, Aykroyd suddenly spots a familiar face. Mike Myers, taking a break from a Wayne’s World II script meeting with Michaels, has dropped by to say hello. He is wearing a green T-shirt

printed with red maple leaves and the slogan “Buy Canadian.” Myers gazes at Aykroyd s cone. ‘You look neat, man,” he says. “Cool. Just Grammy and an Oscar.” He can also claim to be only the fifth male

I’ve been reading a lot about Spitfires,” says Aykroyd. “Doing a lot of research.”

“That was my passion growing up—making model Spitfires,” says Myers.

“Did you hear about Doug Bader’s crash?”

“He was the guy with the wooden leg?”

“He turned around and the entire half of the plane behind his head was gone—shot away,” says Aykroyd. “He was heading down, into a screaming dive, and he tried to get out. But his [wooden] leg got caught under the pedal. The plane fell away from beneath him and he parachuted to earth. He was captured by the Germans, who gave him supper and wine and cigars.” Aykroyd goes on to tell how Bader got a new leg, escaped, and was recaptured.

“I smell a screenplay,” Myers laughs. “My Left Wooden Foot!’

“Nobody likes that stuff except you and me, Mike.”

Myers leaves. Aykroyd finishes shooting the scene, then steps out into the California sunshine. As he walks, he rips off the cone, leaving latex strands stuck to his face like chewing gum. “Mike and I speak the same language,” he says. ‘We love all things British. We love the Crown. I was upset when the police in Ontario decided not to take the oath to the Crown any more. I’m a traditionalist.”

Later, in the makeup trailer, Aykroyd talks about his loathing for Los Angeles. “I’ve never liked this city.” he says. “I’ve been here strictly for business. When business evaporates, I leave.” Aykroyd has houses in L.A., Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., and Lafayette, La., but his main retreat is a 70-acre country estate near Kingston, Ont. “I wouldn’t even live in New York again,” he adds. “I want to live a sevenhour drive away in a high-speed sedan.” Aykroyd owns a variety of vintage cars and several Harley-Davidson motorcycles, but his vehicle of choice is a Chevy Suburban van—“I guess I’ve turned into the typical family man.” The family includes his wife, actress Donna Dixon, a three-year-old daughter, Danielle, and newborn Belle.

Aykroyd says that he is happiest when he is writing. And he has embarked on a satirical novel about Hollywood, set in the year 2003. “It’s kind of like Tom Wolfe,” he says. “I really enjoy building characters and mood and describing physical attributes and plants and cars and buildings. If I get to work for three or four hours on that book, I’m happy.”

He has never quite fit the Hollywood mould. As an actor, he likes to hide behind an accent, a disguise—or a cone. And he has often said that he would prefer to have money without the fame. But, in a feature interview in the current Playboy, Dan Aykroyd momentarily suspends his Canadian modesty to count his blessings: “I’m the only person on the planet who’s been a Ghostbuster, a Conehead and a Blues Brother,” he says. “I’ve won an Emmy and was nominated for

give me a second and let this focus in.” Up close, the cone is remarkably lifelike—detailed with moles and veins.

“We should do a movie together,” says Aykroyd.

"I’d like to do an RAF movie,” says Myers. “The Battle of Britain.” “Oh, we have to. Yeah, that’d be great.”

“Done in flashbacks. Rent those old prosthetics.”

A)ji the planet (after Peter Sellers, Burt Reynolds, Steve Martin and Donald Trump) to grace the cover of Playboy. He appears as Beldar, with a blond playmate in a gold-lamé mini-dress draped over his lap. A Cone-adian triumph.

BRIAN D. JOHNSON in Los Angeles