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'Short Circuit' actor tries to plug in

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

HOLLYWOOD -- Fisher Stevens is a most accommodating guy, but he does have his limits.

He was born Steven Fisher, but when he applied for membership in Actors Equity he was told there already was an actor by that name. So he just switched his name around.

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Stevens' resume includes starring roles on Broadway in 'Brighton Beach Memoirs' and 'Torch Song Trilogy,' and the movies 'The Flamingo Kid' and 'My Science Project.'

When he tested for the original film 'Short Circuit' with director John Badham, his role as a bright young scientist called for an all-American type, but it was later decided Stevens should play a Chinese man, no small feat for a native New Yorker.

He reluctantly told Badham he would pass up the opportunity to play a Chinese.

Well, how about someone from India, the persistent Badham suggested.

'I said I'd give it a try,' Stevens recalled. 'I worked for two weeks with Robert Easton, the dialect expert, who taught me the accent and filled me in on the cultural and spiritual background of Indians.'

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In the role of Ben Jhaveri, Stevens, 24, emerged as the surprise star of 'Short Circuit,' despite the presence of Steve Guttenberg and Ally Sheedy and the king of the clan, robot Number Five.

When it came time to film 'Short Circuit 2,' due for release next month, Stevens headed for India and spent a month boning up on customs, language and attitudes.

'I took along a video camera and my script. I stopped and spoke to English-speaking Indians from all walks of life, asking them how they would read my lines,' Stevens said. 'Playing Ben properly was very important to me. I didn't want to embarrass myself or be unfair to the Indians.

'I chose the Gujarti accent because it was the most colorful and expressive. The Indians seemed to like my accent and gave it their approval. They hadn't seen 'Short Circuit.'

'When we shot the sequel in Toronto I got to know people in the Indian community up there, including Kamlesh Naik who became my stand-in and technical adviser. I copied his accent whenever I could.'

The entire cast and crew, including director Kenneth Johnson, co-stars Michael McKean, Cynthia Gibb and Jack Weston were impressed with Stevens' accent -- the human cast that is.

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'Working with the robot was eerie,' Stevens said, 'because sometimes I would respond to that pile of machinery as if it were a human being.

'In order to be realistic, I had to pretend the robot was a friend. A lot of emotional stuff goes on between Number Five and Ben, who now calls him Johnny.

'But it's hard to convince yourself you're looking at a friend when you look at a piece of machinery, especially when it runs over you and wrecks three of your toes. It also broke down a lot with nuts and bolts falling away.

'It was scary sometimes when the voice came out of the speaker that was located in its throat. Once in a while the guy who provided the voice off camera would call out to me through the robot and I would turn and talk to the robot as if it were alive.

'A couple of times I even found myself patting the metal and talking to the contraption as if it were a fellow actor. That embarrassed the hell out of me.'

Stevens said the sequel is considerably different than the original. The first picture was set in the rural Northwest. The new edition takes place in the big city, where Number Five becomes involved with various people who attempt to exploit him.

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'This picture is more realistic than the first one,' Stevens said. 'It has some social significance, too. It's the story of two minorities -- one human, the other a robot -- who find themselves in the same situation, trying to find a place for themselves in contemporary American society.'

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