Planes, Trains and Automobiles was the first big-budget movie I ever did. In comparison, the Nick Nolte movie Weeds, the only other movie I’d done, was practically a guerrilla shoot down in North Carolina. PT&A — or at least my scene — was shot on the streets of midtown Manhattan, with all the attendant permits and crowd control and costs. This was pre-Home Alone, but Paramount had enough faith in John Hughes (and perhaps Steve Martin and John Candy) that cost was a minimal object. The guy in the makeup trailer had the same name — Ben Nye — as the name on all that makeup I’d bought as a young actor. (Just like the costume designer on Catch Me has the same name — Bob Mackie — as the guy who did those flashy clothes for Cher et al.)
Planes, Trains and Automobiles was the first big-budget movie I ever did.
Two things stick out for me from that shoot. One was the antipodal reactions of Steve Martin and John Candy to the crowds of onlookers who pressed against the ropes shouting semi-moronic references to “wild and crazy guy” etc. Steve Martin never acknowledged them with a smile, a word, a wave, a look. He kept his hands in the pocket of his trench coat, and stared at the twelve inches of sidewalk between us as if he could by sheer will power make himself invisible. John Candy worked the rope line as if he were running for mayor of E.48th Street, laughing, joking, shaking hands, having a great time. Now John is dead and Steve has a multi-million dollar art collection. The moral: never talk to the little people.
The other memorable moment? I was used to doing plays where the script was the script and either set in dead-author stone or subject to occasional overnight revisions that would be rehearsed for some time before being placed before an audience. John Hughes had absolutely no preciousness about his words. They flowed out of him like water and were equally fungible. As Steve Martin and I ran our scene, he kept up a constant stream of “Now say ‘___________’,” “Now try ‘_____________’,” “How about ‘_________’” as if we were sitting around some conference table or living room. On and on we went, changing the sums of money, adding or subtracting references to Thanksgiving, force majeure, etc. etc., while this midtown setup ticked along like the world’s most expensive taxi meter costing Paramount thousands of dollars a minute. In my jaded dotage, I would ascribe this behavior to a) a writer/director being given too much power and/or b) a script being rushed into production to meet a distribution deadline (Thanksgiving) before it had been thoroughly baked. But at the time, I thought it was cool fun to have this giant toy of a big-budget movie to hack around with and delighted that John let me play with him.