HOLLYWOOD -- The luck of the Irish can be a mixed blessing, as attested by Robert John Burke, the Irish-American actor who stars in 'RoboCop 3.'
Not that the role of the bionic police officer is a stroke of ill fortune. But Burke has worked long and hard to become a movie actor and in his first starring role finds himself unidentifable on screen.
Veteran 'RoboCop' fans know full well Alex J. Murphy once was a normal human policeman who was murdered and resurrected as RoboCop, a dude whose face is encased in metal with only his mouth and part of his jaw exposed. His brain has been replaced by a computer.
Underneath all the paraphernalia the face could belong of Woody Allen or Roseanne Arnold for that matter.
In the first two movies RoboBaby was played by Peter Weller, whose kisser was equally anonymous to filmgoers.
Weller, however, was an established actor who went on to star in movies like 'Naked Lunch.' Burke is a relative newcomer.
For reasons that soon will become apparent, Weller eschewed playing RoboBobo a third time, leaving the door open for Burke.
Perhaps it is significant the third RoBop-a-ReBop was completed more than two years ago and is just being released to theaters this week.
Burke bears a vague facial resemblance to Weller and has a physique somewhat like his predecessor. He also has fallen heir to the bruises, welts and contusions that come with an outfit that makes knighthood's clanking armor look like a tutu.
Somewhat worse for wear, Burke took time out between pictures the other day to rake over his painful three-month ordeal as RoboHobo.
'When an actor covers his face it is a real challenge to perform convincingly,' Burke said in his quarters at a Beverly Hills hotel.
'Fortunately, I studied pantomime at Adelphi University and at the State University of New York in Purchase. Body awareness is standard conservatory training. I studied baroque dancing and kabuki at both places.
'You never know when you'll be cast in a period drama or a restoration piece. I never thought I'd be using the training for an action-adventure picture.
'I also trained with Moni Yakin, a Juilliard professor who had worked with Peter on the original 'RoboCop.' He taught me to overcome the strictures of the costume and how the character moved.
'It was up to me to carry on the momentum of RoboCop. To be truthful, I hadn't seen either of the 'RoboCop' movies. I took the role because I liked the script and because my two young nephews would never have spoken to me again if I turned it down.
'There are some human characteristics left in officer Murphy plugged into the mechanized parts of the computer. So I go from strong mechanical movements, to slow, subtle physicality. The movement stays mechanical but his humanity is evident too.
'I had to be more aware of my body movements than I'd ever been before. You really need a third eye to be aware of RoboCop's power and physical attitudes. I had to rely on the director and Moni to tell me what worked best.'
More difficult for Burke than robotic body movements was the weight and restrictions of the cumbersome armor he wore.
'The costume weighed 90 pounds at its lightest up to 150 pounds depending on what weapons and equipment he carried,' Burke said. 'Often I became so overheated and exhausted we'd have to call a break to take the armor off.
'This was constriction I'd never experienced -- fiberglass and re- enforced steel. Peter's costume was rubber and plastic and a lot lighter. He asphyxiated from a lack of oxygen on a daily basis where I was plain old crushed to death.
'When it was hot I'd sweat profusely; when it was cold I froze. A real torture chamber.
'I thought I was in good shape from hauling brick when I was working my way through college. I did other tough jobs, but nothing like wearing that suit. I knew what an 80-pound bag of cement weighed, and they told me the costume was only 60 pounds. But I knew better.
'One day on location we found a scale. I got on it in costume and the total was 270 pounds. I weigh 170, which will give you an idea.
'The crew was very aware of my problems. Guys with power tools could get me out in a hurry. It was like a pit crew at the Indianapolis 500 ready to pull the wheels off a racer. It took 20 minutes to get into the costume but only 5 minutes to escape.
'This was my third film and a great opportunity to watch how mainstream movies are made. I lived with a lot of aches and pains, but I was never injured or pulled a muscle or anything.
'I played lacrosse in college and trained in karate for nine years. I hold a first-degree black belt in Shorin-ryu, an old Okinawa martial art. I still study it, so I was in good shape for 'RoboCop.''
Burke has only himself to blame for his months of torture. He tried on the costume before signing a contract.
'Because of the electronic sound of RoboCop's voice, and due to the mask, it was impossible for me to do the dialogue as we were shooting,' he said.
'I looped all my dialogue and the sound department filtered in the synthesized metallic, robotic overtones. It served me to project my voice the way it was supposed to sound during filming.
'As far as I'm concerned, the picture turned out well and has already helped my career. I've done five pictures in the almost 2 years since 'RoboCop 3' was made.'
Burke co-starred in 'A Far Off Place' for Disney, 'Simple Men,' 'Heaven and Earth' for Oliver Stone, 'Tombstone' with Kurt Russell and Charlton Heston, and 'Dust Devil.'
'I'm happy to say none of my wardrobe was as exhuasting to wear as the RoboCop's,' he said.
'Would I do 'RoboCop 4,' if they make another sequel? I'm not sure. I'd want to see the script first.'NEWLN: