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Hector Elizondo Talks About Working on All 18 of Garry Marshall’s Movies

The one staple of every Garry Marshall movie was a supporting role for Hector Elizondo. The two first met in 1978 and quickly became close friends and collaborators. With Marshall’s passing last week at the age of 81, Elizondo spoke to Variety’s Ramin Setoodeh about some of his favorite memories from their 18-movie partnership that started with 1982’s “Young Doctors in Love” and continued through last spring’s “Mother’s Day.”   

Hector Elizondo: Garry Marshall didn’t say funny things. He said things funny. He had a way of looking at the world. A unique Garry sound. He didn’t like it when people made a big deal of little things. If you brought something to the table, he was open to it. The first thing he’d ask when a new actor came on set was, “Did you eat?” That was a big thing for him: “Get him some food!” You thought you were in somebody’s kitchen, having a cup of coffee. That sets the mood.

Garry saw me before I saw him. I was a working actor in New York on Broadway. We met finally in 1978 on his basketball court, where he pitched me his first movie, “Young Doctors in Love.” I didn’t know who this guy was. I had inadvertently hit him in the face with a basketball pass. “That’s a bad pass,” he said. “But you’re a terrific actor. I have a movie for you.”

We worked together on 18 movies. I’ve done all of them. He liked the streak. There were times when I wasn’t even available. There was nothing in the movie for me, and he’d say, “You’ve got to be in it.” Once I had just arrived from Europe. I get a call: “Welcome back, Hector. I’m here in Long Beach. I need you for a minute.” On the run, I figured out how to be a Portuguese captain of a garbage scow. That was “Overboard.”

“Pretty Woman” was a very dark script. I looked at it and said, “It’s not a nice ending. She goes back into the street and gets tuberculosis. I don’t see the funny.” He said, “We’ll change it. We’ll make it nice. People will be happy.” I thought the character of the hotel manager was very boring. He told me to create the guy you’d like to work for. So it was a combination of my dad and me. He had me watch a scene in the dailies with Julia Roberts. “Look at the smile,” he told me. When I saw the smile, I said, “I see what you see.”

Movie stars loved working with him. He made them comfortable. They felt safe. The first act of love is listening. He loved actors. Of Tom Hanks in “Nothing in Common,” we both said, “This kid is going to be something.” He mentored Matt Dillon on “The Flamingo Kid.” Matt was young and didn’t know anything about comedy. He took himself too seriously. So Garry said, “Let’s throw him in the swimming pool.” And he hit him in the face with pies. Little by little, Matt started to laugh. The rest is history.

On “The Princess Diaries,” Garry loved Annie Hathaway’s smarts and work ethic. If he started at 7, she was there 5 minutes early, ready to roll. Julie Andrews made Anne sit next to her and look at the monitor as they rewound the scenes. She was mentoring her on the set. That’s what terrific people do; they pass the baton. Garry liked people who would be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Garry kept reminding people how lucky we are to be working. He liked hiring the same people, because you don’t have to explain stuff. He had one steadfast rule — you had to be able to cut it. If you had a birthday, you would be celebrated with a cake. On “The Princess Diaries,” he’d have an actual parade, and all the departments had floats and competed. Garry loved jugglers. He loved clowns. We played senior softball together for many seasons. It was a metaphor for him. No matter how badly he felt, he was resuscitated by the field of dreams.

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