Robby Benson's latest role is quite beastly

On movies

November 21, 1991|By Lou Cedrone

For a while, Robby Benson was everywhere. He did Broadway (''The Pirates of Penzance''), feature films (''Ode to Billy Joe'') and television movies (''Ritchie''). Then, after surgery to replace a valve in his heart, he disappeared from view.

So what happened?

''My wife and I decided to move to South Carolina with my daughter,'' he said. ''I taught filmmaking and screen acting for two years at the University of South Carolina.

''Later, I taught graduate-level film and television acting at UCLA. Right now, I'm back to filmmaking. I'm starring in a movie called 'Webber's 15 Minutes.' It's about a sleezy network executive who manipulates a family into agreeing to expose their private lives in a weekly television series.

''Do you remember 'The Loud Family' on public television? That was a few years back. 'Webber's 15 Minutes' isn't really their story, but there are some similarities,'' he said.

Beginning tomorrow, you'll be able to hear Benson on the screen. He's the voice of the prince who is turned into a beast in the Disney Studios' feature-length cartoon, ''Beauty and the Beast.''

''I was thrilled to get the job,'' said Benson. ''It gave me a chance to use a part of my personality that I don't get to use very often. It also gave me a chance to use my natural bass voice to full advantage.''

It's all his voice, he said, even the growling. ''They distorted the growling just a bit, but the rest is my voice as-is,'' he said.

Benson is married to actress Karla DeVito. They met while they were doing ''Pirates of Penzance'' on Broadway. They have an 8-year-old daughter and are expecting a second child.

''We moved to South Carolina because of our daughter,'' he explained. ''We gave some thought to how we wanted to live and where we wanted to raise our children. It was also because we are both adventure some, and this was an exciting thing to do.''

Benson and his family are currently living in California, where he and DeVito intend to pursue their careers. She does voiceovers and speaks for characters in ''Bonkers,'' a television cartoon series.

He, meanwhile, is doing his film and just a few weeks ago, appeared on ''Evening Shade'' with Burt Reynolds, a man he much admires. ''He is just the nicest man,'' says Benson of Reynolds, with whom he has done four movies (''The End,'' ''Lucky Lady,'' ''Rent-A-Cop'' and yet-to-be-released ''Modern Love'').

Benson directed "Modern Love." He doesn't know what will happen to it. ''It's a very small movie,'' he said.

The former child actor turns 36 shortly, and he's happy to be there. ''I'm in the best shape of my life,'' he said. ''I'm doing extremely well.''

Physicians discovered that all was not well with Benson's heart when he was tested for an insurance policy. ''They took a look and sent me right into the hospital,'' he said.

Benson said he isn't concerned about his professional ''vacation,'' the temporary abandonment of his career to teach.

''It's a long road,'' he said. ''It's a craft, and I'm in it for the long run. It only gets dangerous when you try to make big sums of money or achieve fame. When you're doing it as I am doing it, it's fun.''

Right now, he wants to concentrate on film, but he is not opposed to doing a television series. ''If it's the right one, I'll do it,'' he said.

He is one of those actors who reads his reviews.

Isn't that a little dangerous?

''Yes,'' he said, ''but I read both the good and the bad.''

Paige O'Hara, Angela Lansbury, Jerry Orbach, Jo Anne Worley and David Ogden Stiers do some of the other voices in ''Beauty and the Beast.'' The film can only help their careers.

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