AS A STAND-UP COMIC, KEVIN POLLAK has endured his share of nerve-racking nights. Like the time years ago when impressionist Rich Little invited 17-year-old Kevin, just out of Pioneer High School in San Jose, Calif., and struggling to make it on the local club scene, to come onstage and do his now patented raincoat-and-roving-eye rendition of Lieutenant Columbo. Or Pollak’s 1988 debut on The Tonight Show, in which he so wowed Johnny Carson he was invited back a dozen more times.
But neither of these sweaty successes can compare, in Pollak’s view, to his first day of rehearsal on the Columbia Pictures set of A Few Good Men. An established comic but a fledgling actor who had had supporting roles in half a dozen movies, including Avalon, Ricochet and L.A. Story, Pollak, 35, was awed, he says, to find himself at the same table with megastars Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson.
In Men, Pollak, Cruise and Moore play Navy lawyers; Nicholson is the corrupt Marine commandant they are out to expose. But at the first script read-through, Pollak felt as if he were on trial. “I turned the page and thought, ‘Oh, god! Here comes my part!’ I didn’t want to miss a syllable!” Afterward, Nicholson came up to him to confess his own nervousness. Said Jack (and here Pollak arches his brows and drawls wryly): “Yeah, ya know, I was drivin’ down Mulholland on the way over here this mornin’ thinkin’, ‘Aw, f—-, I shoulda read that script again last night.’ ”
Both he and Pollak can relax now. A box office smash and a touted Oscar contender, Men has won raves for all involved. Singling out Pollak, screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (on whose 1989 play the film is based) says, “It would have been easy for him to play the character as a typical wise-ass sidekick. But he was terrifically understated.” Adds Dana Carvey, a Pollak pal: “He’s now one of the best actor comics around.
Nevertheless, Pollak remains star struck. When Moore invited him to the Super Bowl bash that she and husband Bruce Willis threw at their Malibu spread last January, “I felt like I should throw on a red vest and help park cars,” he says. “It’s nice to see how the other 1 percent lives.”
Pollak doesn’t live too shabbily himself. He and his girlfriend of seven years, comic Lucy Webb, 34 (an alumna of HBO’s Not Necessarily the News), share her spacious L.A. apartment, which she has decorated with English antique tables, 200-year-old Persian botanical prints, even an original Chagall. They met through a mutual friend, Paul Reiser (Mad About You), and fell in love over Thanksgiving dinner at Jay Leno’s house in 1985. “Most comedians are cynical,” she says, “but he was kind. He made me laugh.” At home, Pollak often lapses into dead-perfect impersonations of Ross Perot, George Bush and Bill Clinton (whom he calls “Jimmy Carter topped with Elvis Presley”).
He has been doing other people’s voices-nice age 10, when lie would mimic his idol Bill Cosby. In high school he memorized the monologues of Woody Allen and (George Carlin. After graduation, Kevin, the younger of two sons of divorced parents (Bob, a kitchen designer, and Elayne, a therapist), went on—with his parents’ blessing—to build a career on the comedy circuit. After catching his act one night, director Barry Levinson cast Pollak in his first big dramatic role: as Izzy, a Jewish immigrant’s son, in his 1990 autobiographical drama, Avalon.
More movies are coming his way. His next, due out this spring, is Tamakwa, in which Pollak. Diane Lane and Elizabeth Perkins play former summer campers who reunite as adults. When he’s not onscreen, in comedy clubs or on the golf links or tennis court, Pollak is usually on the phone (he has seven) making deals. Busy as he is, he insists, “I want to have more of a life with Lucy.” Though the two have no plans to marry, they are house hunting. And, says Webb, “we just had our wills made up. I told Kevin I would not sign the part that says he can pull the plug on me.” She giggles. “I can see it now: The doctor will come out and say, ‘I don’t know if she’ll live,’ and Kevin will go, ‘Pull the plug! I’m meeting Scorsese at noon.’ ”
MICHAEL A. LIPTON
JOHN GRIFFITHS in Los Angeles