Martin Short, Very Short

Most people have never seen the funniest character Martin Short ever concocted. The guy behind comedic eccentric Ed Grimley of "Saturday Night Live" fame surpassed even that lunacy with his parody of a Hollywood agent in The Big Picture, for which he taped back his eyes to give the appearance of botched cosmetic surgery and adopted a psychotically ingratiating manner that more than did justice to showbiz b.s.

"Gene Hackman once said he was amazed how small he could go with a character. I'm amazed at how big I can go because people are so out there in real life," says Short. "You can never go too broad with a character. And it's scary in reality when you meet a person stranger than the characters you've created."

Short is getting another chance to go broad in the upcoming Clifford, in which he plays a 10-year-old, much to the surprise of his own three children. "To see their father dressed in clothes like other kids may have seemed unusual to my children," Short jokes, "but it was either do [the movie] or we move into a trailer park."

By his own account, Short is more sedate in the current Pure Luck, in which he plays an accident-prone accountant who's recruited by his boss to investigate the disappearance of his daughter (Sheila Kelley). "The situations are comedic in Pure Luck--more so than the level I'm playing," Short says of the film.

Refreshingly enough, Short doesn't seem keen to prove he can "really act" by doing straight drama. Cross My Heart of a few years back is as close as he's likely to get.

"There are no plans to do a 'Let's see Many stretch' role. Cross My Heart was an interesting pan, but it was also a role many actors could play. Now, having Dennis Quaid inside my body in Innerspace was something few actors would do, and I'm quite sure I'm the only actor whose body Dennis has been in."

The role that promises to reprise the insanity of Short's agent in The Big Picture is his cameo as a gonzo European wedding coordinator in the remake of Father of the Bride, starring Steve Martin. Martin is an old amigo of Short's, and the Martin and Short families socialize: "We go bowling. We did a tour of Ireland last summer and played word games. We do jokes with each other and go to movies. We go to hockey games."

Indeed, as with many funny people, Short's life appears to be as calm off-screen as it is wacked out on-screen. He can't even think of a dubious incident to recount.

"I once went out in public with Chevy Chase and someone thought I was his son. That's not exactly like winning a walk-on part in a Rob Lowe video, but doesn't it qualify as a showbiz story?"