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Actor finds 'Great' role

Bronson Pinchot is in Ashland to make an audio book of "Alexander the Great." This seems altogether fitting, since the 48-year-old actor, who is probably best-known for his role as Balki Bartokomous in the 1990s sitcom "Perfect Strangers," says his ancestors came from Alexander's part of the world.

Not only was Bronson Pinchot born Bronson Poncharavsky, he's decided he looks like Alexander the Great, specifically the likeness at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale in Naples (above), which shows an ethnic-looking young man with a large nose and a shaggy mane of dark hair.

"There are many pictures of him," Pinchot says. "But all the others look like surfers. Or Colin Farrell. He's the only one that looks like me."

Pinchot is holding forth on acting, reading, pronunciation and other matters for studio manager Grover Gardner and several others at Blackstone Audio Books in Ashland. He connected with Blackstone through former Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Ray Porter when both actors were in the production of Lisa Loomer's play "Distracted" that played at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles this year.

The audio book is expected to be out in a couple of months. Audio books retail for about $20 to $50 for a CD, less for a download. For a title to sell 5,000 copies is considered good.

Presently Pinchot will enter a sound-proof booth and begin reading historian Norman F. Cantor's account of the boy king.

"There're 77 books called 'Alexander the Great,' " Pinchot says. "He could have called it "Alexander the Great: the Gaugamela Years."

That would be the decisive battle in 331 B.C. in which Alexander defeated the Persian King Darius.

Pinchot is a big fan of the Hellenistic Period and a collector of Hellenistic art.

"Alexander ushered in the Hellenistic age when he died," he says.


"He didn't know he was ushering it in."

Pinchot says he pictures characters in his mind and tries to sound like a voice inside the reader's head. This can be tricky. Sometimes an attribution after a line will undercut a reading that seemed obvious, as in, " 'I want you,' he said without passion."

"There's quite a bit of editing," Gardner says. "We clean up a lot of stuff."

"You realize you've missed something and you start cursing," Pinchot says. "The outtakes should be great."

He likens doing audio books to musicals.

"The orchestra is going, you're not gonna wait, that's the tempo, you create moments within that," he says. "They can't slow it down."

Pinchot theorizes that the desire to be read to, which he believes is widespread, dates back to childhood. He once dated Amy Heckerling, who wrote the movie "Clueless," which was based on Jane Austen's "Emma."

"She'd say, 'Would you read me Emma-a-a?' " he says in a Brooklyn accent.

"My fourth-grade teacher read us Daphne du Maurier's "The Birds," Gardner says.

"Mine read 'Hamlet,' " Pinchot says. "She'd have a look on her face when she read a great line. You don't need to be Anthony Hopkins."

Pinchot has appeared in "Risky Business," "Beverly Hills Cop," "It's My Party," "True Romance" and other movies and TV shows and stage plays. He says when he studied acting at Yale he was taught to never memorize lines exactly. But he once prepared for a play by doing just that. After the opening performance, his teacher, the actor Austin Pendleton, approached him and said, "Never seen you so good."

Pinchot said not memorizing didn't work for him.

"Me either," Pendleton said.

Director Arthur Penn later told him to throw away what he'd learned in college.

When he read Cantor's book, Pinchot made a list of words to watch for. Words like Bowdler (Thomas, the man who cut the dirty parts out of Shakespeare). Bucephalus (Alexander's horse). Lanice (his nurse).

"I'm going to say la-NEECE, which sounds like a poodle from the Bronx, but I'm going to say it and get through it," he says.

"I hear pidgin-ancient Greek in these words. People saying, 'I don't know what synecdoche is, let's get to the sex.'"

He says he won't watch the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Distracted."

"It would be like watching somebody slowly make love to your ex-girlfriend," he says.

The time comes when Pinchot enters the sound-proof cubicle, puts on headphones and prepares to read from the book's introduction. Gardner tells him if he bobbles, he'll hear the last good sentence played back, and that'll be his cue to come back in.

"Can that be the title of my book?" he asks. 'The Last Good Sentence?'"

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Actor Bronson Pinchot talks about the humorous pitfalls actors face in dealing with stage direction and pronunciation before recording Norman F. Cantor’s “Alexander the Great” at Blackstone Audio Books in Ashland. - Bob Pennell