Dana Carvey's moving on with a 'Clean Slate'

May 06, 1994|By Jamie Portman | Jamie Portman,Southam News

Toronto -- Your first impression on entering the eighth-floor hotel suite is that George Bush is talking to someone on the telephone. But, of course, this slight, spiky-haired figure in the Levi jacket isn't George Bush. It's Dana Carvey doing one of his uncanny impersonations of the former U.S. president for the benefit of a reporter at the other end of the line.

Moments later, he's offering his interviewer a drawling Jimmy Stewart. He finally hangs up, and assumes his own persona of Dana Carvey, a guy who cherishes the opportunity just to be himself -- a 38-year-old father of two with all the anxieties of today's middle class -- but who constantly finds himself under pressure to perform, even when he's not in front of the camera.

"Some people still think of me as just an impressionist," he says with an apologetic gesture toward the telephone.

And if they don't think of him as a gifted mimic of actual celebrities, they identify with some of his zanier "Saturday Night Live" creations -- the Church Lady, Hans of Hans and Franz notoriety, or Garth.

Especially Garth. Mr. Carvey won a big TV following for his addled portrayal of Mike Myers' "most excellent" best friend in all those Wayne's World sketches for "SNL." But thanks to the two "Wayne's World" movies, Garth is enjoying an even bigger following. It's the image with which Mr. Carvey is most identified, but he has no intention of being trapped in it.

"For one thing, my jaw couldn't take it," he says cheerfully. "Anyway, I'm just too old to play the character. That blond wig and those big glasses -- it's really a bit silly." Which is why Mr. Carvey has been breaking new ground over the past year by making movies -- one of which, "Clean Slate," opens today.

Mr. Carvey sees "Clean Slate" as essentially "a sweet little comedy" with a screenplay by Robert King that he genuinely respects. He plays a private eye with a rare form of amnesia that has him waking up daily not really knowing who he is, with no memories of his past life or the case he's been working on. Each morning is a clean slate, the beginning of a new life -- a situation that turns his life into chaos.

Later in the year, Mr. Carvey will be on view in director Alan Parker's new dark comedy, "The Road to Wellville." "It's weird. I throw bottles of excrement at Anthony Hopkins."

And currently, he's in Ontario filming "It Happened in Paradise." "I play this New York Italian guy who's getting out of prison. Then Jon Lovitz and I drive Nicholas Cage insane trying to lead him down the garden path."

Born in Montana and raised in a strict but "crazy" Lutheran household, Mr. Carvey didn't perform on stage until he was 22.

Now that he's made his mark as an entertainer, he's still not convinced it will last. "I always operate on the assumption my career's going to be over in 90 days."

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