In 2013 I had the honour of meeting, towering above and sharing a drink or two with the legendary Danny DeVito.
And what a character he turned out to be, as this Q&A I did with him for HELLO! magazine to promote re-runs of Taxi magazine proves...
Danny DeVito bounds into the room and announces “I’m jetlagged, man!” but you’d never know it. The little guy with the big voice is full of energy, politely asking the waiter to take away his Martini and replace it with neat gin as he grins “Let’s get drunk!” Having been in the business for four decades, 69-year-old Danny is old school Hollywood – a larger-than-life character with charisma to spare.
Having made his name as mischievous cab company employee Louie De Palma on hit sitcom Taxi DeVito graduated to blockbuster movies, starring in the likes of Romancing The Stone and The War Of The Roses (which he also directed) and producing acclaimed dramas Pulp Fiction and Erin Brockovich. He’s now back on the box in the comedy It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia.
The 1996 smash hit Matilda was one of several collaborations with his wife Rhea Perlman, whom he met in the early 1970s and married in 1982. They have three children – Lucy, 30, Grace, 28, and Jacob, 26 – and appeared to be one of Hollywood’s golden couples until they separated last year. Thankfully they are now reconciled, with DeVito politely declining to go into detail but saying “Things are good between us”. We’ll drink to that, Danny!
Taxi is being shown again on TV and you don’t seem to have aged at all. What’s your secret?
I look at old clips and think ‘What the hell happened to you?’ so I’m not sure I’ve not aged, but I do Chi Kung - which is the practice of aligning breath, movement and awareness.
And how do you stay grounded?
When people ask me that I always give the light bulb joke: “How many actors does it take to change a light bulb? Just one – he holds onto the bulb and the world revolves around him!” Seriously though, just being a human being keeps me grounded.
Was TV always part of your masterplan?
Not at all. It was a happy accident. The casting director put me up for the part of Louie on Taxi and most of my friends told me I shouldn’t do it. They were snobs about television. Jack Nicholson, for instance, who I’d become friends with when we did One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, said ‘D, are you really going to do TV?’. Imagine if it’d listened to him. You wouldn’t be talking to me now, baby!
You and Rhea worked together on the show. How was that?
That was fun and [laughs] it made it easier when it came to sharing a car. There’s a funny tale about the Louie and Zena love story, actually. He couldn’t figure out why she liked him and when she explained it was because he touched her emotionally Louie went ‘Holy crap’. That got us into trouble with the standards and practices people because you could say ‘Holy’ and ‘crap’ but not together. We fought like crazy to keep that line and we won, but can you imagine that happening now?
Do you think there could ever be a Taxi revival?
I don’t know if that would ever work, although I hate to tell you this but I’ve been playing Louie ever since. Once in a while I depart from the character and play someone else, like when I did The Sunshine Boys on stage in London with Richard Griffiths last year.
How was that experience?
I hadn’t been on stage for 40 years so I had a ball. The only thing about The Savoy Theatre, though, is that there are too many steps. We had to walk down 77 steps to the stage and neither one of us is built for that kind of athletic activity.
Taxi ran for five years. Was it all work and no play?
Hell no! We’d work from Monday to Thursday getting the episode together, then after the recording in front of a live studio audience on the Friday we’d get mad crazy through until Sunday, then take the day to recover. Imagine five years of that. We weren’t drinking much but there were drugs. Let’s just say the Kleenex bill was high.
What were your vices back then?
Not one particular thing. In other words not booze or drugs or women, fancy cars, great vacations… Not one particular one – I like em all. But these days I like to eat well, I like to drink and I like to work. Those are my pleasures in life along with my kids, my wife, my family and friends.
You direct horror films for the Internet, which might surprise people. What scares you in real life? And is there anything else people might be surprised to learn about you?
What scares me is the government – politicians are so smarmy, they say all kinds of things then reverse their viewpoints - and how inhuman people can be towards each other. And what people might be interested to learn about me is that I’m a brain surgeon. [Laughs] That’s not true, but I’m actually a qualified hairdresser and make-up artist. If I hadn’t made it as an actor I’d probably now be doing my 16th shampoo and set of the day at my sister’s salon.
Do you think you’d ever retire from the business?
No way, man. I mean, what would I do with myself all day? But there have been times when I thought I’d never work again. After Taxi I did Terms Of Endearment, then soon after that came Romancing The Stone and Jewel Of The Nile, and my career was unusual because at the time only three people broke out of television into movies – Clint Eastwood, John Travolta and myself. But actors never know when they’re ever going to work again and they always think they’re never going to work again. Also, you want to find the good stuff to do. Some stuff you get offered and you do it but you shouldn’t have done it, but usually there’s someone involved like a friend who wants you for the job and I have a tough time turning that stuff down.