Actor serious about kids' stuff

by Stephen Galloway, Daily News of Los Angeles, July 3, 1989
Peter MacNicol, the would-be villain in "Ghostbusters II," says the film has already had an unusual impact on
at least one aspect of his life.

"A lot of children are drawn to me," MacNicol said. "I've been mobbed by kids."

But MacNicol isn't talking about your average, run-of-the-mill children. He's referring to a group of abused
and neglected children whom he and his wife, Marsue, along with other actors and writers like John Patrick
Shanley, Kate Burton and Kate Nelligan, help in the 52nd Street Project, a New York theater group.

"The principle of it is to write plays for children, and sometimes have plays written by the children, who
range in age from 5 to 13," MacNicol said. "A lot of them come from the most desperate lifestyles. Some of
them have (prostitute) mothers and drug-addicted fathers -- that's those that are lucky enough to have two
parents. We're trying to make these children play, because they're haggard and wizened from having
parental roles thrust on them -- many have to look after siblings from the age of 6 or so on."

Most of the children, despite their tough backgrounds, are "really sweet-natured and fun. One of them I've
gotten to know is a young child named Arlen who suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome. He must be about 11.
When you get him up on stage, you don't know what's going to happen, what he's going to do or say."

MacNicol admitted "it can become complicated. You do develop a relationship. There are all sorts of invisible
bonds developed. We maintain such close touch; they're constantly coming into the little office and
answering the phones for us and wanting to use the typewriter. I don't know how spoiled they get by the
attention -- the ratio is one adult to one child, and sometimes two adults per child."

Maybe he could persuade his "Ghostbusters" stars to join him. Of Rick Moranis, he said, "He's a sweet,
bright, extremely articulate man. He's a solid citizen. Dan (Aykroyd) and Bill (Murray) I didn't get to know all
that well. Dan was always rushing off to his office. Bill seems to keep (the craziness) going. Dan is more

It was Harold Ramis whom he knew best. MacNicol -- who starred in such films as "Sophie's Choice" -- had
met Ramis before shooting the film and auditioned for the actor-writer when he was up for the role.

MacNicol said he played the role rather differently from the way it was written. Originally, his part was
conceived "as a kind of scary Anthony Perkins, but I didn't want to play it like that. So, at the audition, with
(director) Ivan Reitman and Harold, I said, 'Can I try it another way?' I played him like a Rumanian fruit fly --
he's an art restorer who becomes possessed by a demon in a painting. After the audition, the look on their
faces was: Either we've got to get rid of this guy or we're going to have to use him."

No prizes for guessing which one it was.

Peter MacNicol Online