After six hit seasons as Eldin on “Murphy Brown,” Jersey boy Robert Pastorelli has turned in his paintbrush for a bicycle. The bike’s bigger, in more ways than one.
Translation: Pastorelli has graduated from his supporting role as Candice Bergen’s ditsy housepainter-nanny on Diane English’s “Murphy Brown” to top billing on English’s new CBS sitcom, “Double Rush.” It’s about a wacky Manhattan bike messenger service. (Call this one: “Taxi” on two wheels.)
“Rush” debuts Wednesday in the 9 p.m. slot (on KREM-Channel 2 out of Spokane). Pastorelli plays Johnny Verona, a disillusioned former rock ‘n’ roller in charge of a motley crew of mostly 20-something pedal pushers. Like Eldin, Johnny is a ‘60s burnout with an attitude.
As the token “Rush” grown-up, however, Johnny is also the voice of reason, at least in the premiere. But fear not, Eldin fans. “I get my turn with the ball, too,” says Pastorelli, 40. “I’m a lot crazier than most of those kids. I do stuff on the set, they look at me and say, ‘My God, he’s 40!”’
Playing “wackadoos” is the most fun for an actor, Pastorelli says. “You get to fly with that place in yourself that should possibly be chained up. Then people applaud instead of calling the police. It’s always a kick. You take that flight, but you have a return ticket. In life, you don’t.”
Pastorelli says he was offered a return ticket to “Murphy Brown” for this season, but he turned it down because he didn’t like the deal.
According to Pastorelli, the producers didn’t want to sign him for an entire season; they offered to pay him only for episodes in which he worked. That was cool, Pastorelli says, but the deal-breaker was that he was expected to turn down other work so he could be on call for any episode.
“They said take it or leave it. I walked,” he says. “It’s all a game. I understand it. It was a good business move on their end. Whoever put that deal together, I want them running my business. There was no bitterness, no animosity. They didn’t want me to go, but they left me no choice.”
Several hours after turning down “a million dollar deal,” Pastorelli read for “Double Rush.” The “Murphy Brown” people came back with a counter offer, but Pastorelli had already signed with “Rush.” Still, he did a “Murphy” guest shot to explain Eldin’s departure - he was off to Spain to study with a muralist. It aired last month.
Although he’s a star now, Pastorelli doesn’t feel any added responsibility to carry the show.
“You have to let all that go. You can only be as good as the people around you. There’s no way one person can carry a show if he doesn’t have support. Sometimes people tell me it’s up to me to drive the show. If the show’s good enough, I don’t need to drive it, just sort of steer it.”
Eldin did plenty of steering in “Murphy Brown,” where his performance as the low-key Eldin won raves. Unlike some actors, Pastorelli is flattered, not frustrated, by his public association with the role.
“It’s a big compliment to put my thumbprint on that character,” he says. “In no way do I mean to compare myself to Marlon Brando, but when you think of Stanley Kowalski in “Streetcar Named Desire,” you can’t think of anyone but him. You can’t think of anyone but Candice doing Murphy, either.”
A blue-collar kid from Edison, N.J., who once was so broke he lived in his car, Pastorelli still prefers the simple life.
His acting colleagues may head to the Riviera during hiatus, but Pastorelli and his girlfriend, 23-year-old actress Keri Ann Kimball, prefer Wildwood, N.J. They both spent their summers there as youngsters.
“We walk the boards, eat cheesesteaks, throw balls at the milkcans,” he says. “I like the smell, the noise, the rides, the food. It all says fun. When I go there, I just feel good. I go to the Jersey shore every summer. I can go to Italy anytime. It ain’t going nowhere.”
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