Albert Brooks is not playing for laughs

ALBERT BROOKS has a very long record of playing movie roles for laughs. Not in his newest role, however, and thereby hangs a tale. Mo Rocca has a Sunday Profile:

Albert Brooks kills in his latest film, "Drive," and not in the knock-'em-dead funny kind of way.

"Well, I'd wanted to play a part that was different from something I've played before for a while," Brooks said. "I didn't put out on the casting call, 'Want to kill.'"

Turns out Albert Brooks ... who's made us laugh for 40 years ... can be a really good bad guy, too.

"Drive" is a neo-noir crime drama, with Ryan Gosling as a solitary wheelman, and Brooks as small-time mobster Bernie Rose. Film critics from New York to San Francisco named Brooks Best Supporting Actor, and he's been nominated for a Golden Globe.

It's not like the signs weren't there all along. Brooks has specialized in playing guys thwarted, frustrated, and pushed to the limit.

"If people were sitting in the dark for 30 years hoping I'd pick a knife up and kill one of the people in my own comedies, then maybe this is very pleasing," Brooks said.

"It's a catharsis!" offered Rocca.

"Yeah. I mean, listen, a lot of my behavior - I made a movie, 'Modern Romance,' where a guy drove around someone's house for 20 hours. That behavior today gets a restraining order."

"That's borderline, or more."

"Oh, it's not borderline," Brooks said. "THAT'S a restraining order."

"Modern Romance" is one of seven films Brooks has written, directed, and starred in, such as "Real Life," a spoof of what would become reality television.

The movie is kind of prophetic. Does Brooks gratified or surprised?

"I'm always gratified," he said. "But you know, as I say to my friends, there's no line at the bank that says 'Ahead of your time.' But it's a nice feeling."

Brooks was born into a successful show biz family. His mother was a dancer; his father the famous radio comedian Harry Einstein, who went by the stage name Parkyakarkus.

Brook's birth name was Albert Lawrence Einstein.

"Did you ever get teased for it?"

"No, no, me and my buddy Moses, we used to just have lunch together. And then Jesus would come in and sometimes the three of us would play Monopoly."

He changed his name to Brooks to pursue acting, but he was funny and got work as a comedian instead. He wasn't telling jokes, but doing inventive bits, like the World's Worst Ventriloquist.

Audiences didn't always know what to make of him.

"Where did you find the stomach to get through it when they didn't understand what was going on?" Rocca asked.

"I never wanted to make it badly enough on someone else's terms. Show business wasn't that important to me to be successful with what you wanted me to do. I sort of wanted to do it, and if it didn't work, I'd sell shoes, I'd do something else."

He passed on an offer to be the permanent host of "Saturday Night Live," and instead made short films for the first season, honing his skills as a filmmaker.

His acting career took a back seat to filmmaking, turning down roles in other peoples' films, including "Big," "Dead Poets Society" and "When Harry Met Sally." But he's not sorry.

"No, because I didn't turn them down for any silly reason. I was making my own movies."

One role he didn't turn down was the neurotic newsman (you know the type) in "Broadcast News." The part earned him an Academy Award nomination.

And he was most animated as the clownfish looking for his lost son, in "Finding Nemo."

Will he ever do stand up again?

"I think about it, you know? Tweeting is almost standup, at the basis of it." [Recent Brooks tweet: "Sent crystal vase to my UPS guy using FedEx. Can't wait."] "If all I have to do now is read my tweets, I think I'd enjoy it more now. I have less to lose."

He's 64, married, with two young children.

"I reached a point in my life where I just couldn't be the most important person any more. So I have a family, that becomes the most important."

And he's on a career high. He's a frontrunner for an Oscar nomination for his role in "Drive," and his novel, "2030," is a bestseller.

It's a futuristic look at what might go wrong in America in the next 20 years - but it's not a pessimistic book.

"Well, it's not a pessimistic book because we're here, we're still here in 2030," said Brooks. "The pessimistic books are the Armageddon story where, you know, it's just Denzel Washington and a dog on a beach. That's the story I didn't want to write."

"I feel like I've seen that movie a few times," Rocca said.

"You have!" Brooks said.

It seems that everything that Albert Brooks has ended up doing ... was exactly what he wanted to do.

"Well, I think you've had a pretty terrific life," Rocca suggested.

"Is it over?" Brooks replied. "What do you know?"

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