HOLLYWOOD -- Actor Mike Starr calls himself a 'neighborhood guy.' It's a term commonly applied to a species of male inhabiting mixed ethnic areas of the American urban Northeast. You find neighborhood guys in New York, Boston, Bridgeport, Trenton and maybe as far south as Philly -- but no further -- and nothing north of Boston. No such species exists in places such as Bangor, Maine. These characters can't be found in any rural setting anywhere. Neighborhood guys are territorial types who hang out in and around the turf on which they grew up, the sort of dudes you can count on in a clutch. But not always. Some neighborhood guys wind up doing time. A few become priests or rabbis. Others succeed and then deny or hide their roots, thereby forfeiting their birthright. You would probably recognize big Mike Starr on the street. He's 6- foot-3, about 250 pounds. Looks tough but is a pussycat. His wife is a surgeon. They have two young kids. Mike was born and reared in housing projects in the borough of Queens, N.Y. That's where his heart is and that is where he probably will go home to die. Meanwhile he makes his living in Hollywood as one of the stars of the new Fox TV baseball series 'Hardball.' If you haven't seen Starr in such movies as 'Goodfellas' and 'The Bodyguard,' he will be hard to miss in the coming months. Starr plays roles in the feature films 'Trial Jury' with William Hurt, 'Ed Wood' with Johnny Depp, 'Radioland Murders' with Mary Stuart Masterson, and 'Dumb and Dumber' with Jim Carrey.
Spilling over a cane-backed chair in a San Fernando Valley deli, Starr looked more like slab of granite than an actor as he sipped a cup of coffee. 'I didn't change my name to Starr when I became an actor,' he said. 'My family changed it from the original Polish name, Dwiazda, which means star. I'm half Polish and half Irish. 'I grew up in Flushing, right near Shea Stadium where the Mets play. I've been a baseball nut all my life, so doing 'Hardball' is a perfect show for me. 'I have a lotta different relatives and the guys in the projects were Italian, Jewish, Polish and Irish. Some were Yankee fans or Brooklyn fans. I was a New York Giants fan. 'My wife and kids are still in New York. They come out here as often as they can and I fly back there. We're making it work. Look, as long as I'm doing the series and Hollywood movies, I've gotta spend time here. 'It would be nice to get back to my old neighborhood roots.' In 'Hardball' Mike plays an out-of-condition baseball catcher patterned somewhat after the beloved Ernie Lombardi, who also was a neighborhood guy. The beefy Lombardi had to hit a double to make it, puffing, to first base. 'My first paying job was in summer stock, where I met my wife about 20 years ago,' Starr said. 'But no matter where I go, I always make it back to Queens. 'I stayed in New York to work because my family ties are so strong. It was great that my kids had two full sets of grandparents and great- grandparents. I saw guys burn themselves out in Hollywood. I did off- Broadway and regional theater to be respected as an actor. 'I could have come to Hollywood earlier and done commercials and TV. But I wanted to be an actor not a personality. 'Somebody told me you don't get the work and then be ready. You get ready first and the work will come. It's true. 'Where I come from 'neighborhood guy' is a term of respect. My pal Frank Ranzuli, a writer from Boston, likes to put neighborhood guys in his scripts. 'A neighborhood guy is somebody everybody in the immediate territory knows. They may not like him, but they know him and they understand him. Usually he's a working class guy. Maybe a blue collar guy. 'He's a man who shows up. Other people may not understand their behavior, but they understand each other. A neighborhood guy from Boston automatically recognizes a neighborhood guy from the Bronx. 'It's an attitude, and maybe an accent too, you know.' Starr's speech is a mixture of accents, Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and with a touch of Bostonese. He drops a lot of Rs in casual conversation. He volunteered, 'Give you a classic example of a neighborhood guy actor -- Jerry Orbach. He's a guy who plays cards backstage with the crew, you know? A knockaround guy. 'Jackie Gleason was a real neighborhood guy. You read biographies on Jackie and see how he remembered his friends. A neighborhood guy never cuts old ties. They never change. 'I'm comfortable being one of 'em. The man I play in 'Hardball' is definitely a neighborhood guy.' (