Hector Elizondo has done much acting over a 50-years-plus career, but he knows he owes much of his fame to a pretty woman.
Now appearing as Tim Allen‘s boss on ABC’s Tuesday sitcom “Last Man Standing,” the stage and screen veteran didn’t suspect the impact his 1990 teaming with director Garry Marshall — his frequent movie collaborator — would have. ABC Family will televise “Pretty Woman” Friday (Jan. 25), and Elizondo remains stunned by the effect of his playing helpful hotel manager to Julia Roberts‘ gold-hearted prostitute.
“I was bowled over by it,” he confirms to Zap2it. “I never expected that at all. I went away, hiking in the desert, before it opened. And when I came back, my answering machine was blinking like crazy and I thought, ‘What happened? Something’s happened.’ I pressed a button, and it was Garry: ‘Hector! Ya gotta go to da Westwood Village Theatre! I think we gotta hit!'”
Indeed they did, to the tune of an eventual $460 million gross worldwide. “The lines were around the block,” Elizondo recalls, though he regrets some scenes being lost to editing. “They sort of explained my character, why he had this empathy for people who were struggling … good people who needed a break. That’s because that was him at one time. There were two or three scenes that explained it, but you’re left with enough that suggests it.”
Ultimately, Elizondo had less than 10 minutes in “Pretty Woman.” He reasons, “That proves it’s not the amount of time, it’s whether your character resonates and moves the story along, whether he influences and affects the narrative. That’s what does it. You could be on screen for one minute, but if you impact the other characters’ actions and the consequences, it means something.”
Elizondo’s first encounter with Roberts meant something to him. “I notice two things immediately about people: I notice what they read, and I notice what they listen to, and I noticed that she was reading some interesting books. She was an intelligent lady who was interested and paying attention. And had no idea what was about to happen to her.
“I did, because agents started coming around to watch the dailies. And I guess I was a little avuncular off the set, giving her advice if she asked. I said, ‘You’re getting popular, kid,’ and I remember thinking that I hoped that gooey thing called success didn’t happen for her overnight.”
“Chicago Hope” Emmy winner Elizondo notes he has seen sudden fame “difficult to handle, unless you can take it in context. I told [Julia], ‘One day, if you get popular and your showing up on the set is enough, you know you’re in trouble. Stick to work. Stick to making it better. Stick to honing your craft, so that you feel good about you.'”
In the end, the success of “Pretty Woman” and Elizondo’s role in it earned an apology of sorts from Marshall, who directed the actor in “New Year’s Eve” most recently. With a boisterous laugh, Elizondo remembers, “Garry said, ‘I never shoulda cut out dat moment of yours! I shouldn’t-a listened to da studio!'”