Rick Moranis: Honey, I shrunk the career

He was Hollywood's archetypal nerd, star of 'Ghostbusters' and 'Honey I Shrunk the Kids'. Then Rick Moranis vanished. Some even said he was dead. For the first time, he tells the true, tragic story behind his demise - and unlikely comeback. Interview by Michael Park

For most of the 1980s, Canadian actor Rick Moranis seemed to be as ubiquitous as big hair, legwarmers and Duran Duran. Audiences around the world watched him play the wimpish nerd in films such as Ghostbusters, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Parenthood, Spaceballs, and Little Shop of Horrors. Then in the mid-1990s, and seemingly without warning, Moranis vanished. He stopped making movies and quit acting. Two years ago, rumours of his demise started bouncing around the web.

The rumours turned out to be untrue but, ironically, it is the internet that can now be credited with Moranis's resurrection and slightly wary re-emergence into the spotlight.

Last year Moranis unexpectedly recorded an album of comic country and western songs, The Agoraphobic Cowboy. What made Moranis's new opus extraordinary was not simply that he is known for being an actor rather than a musician, but that he doesn't have, and has never been offered, a record deal.

"I'm not a band. I'm not a country singer," he says from the depths of an enveloping sofa, in his well-decorated and obscenely spacious apartment overlooking New York's Central Park. "So I knew that if I was going to do anything like this it was going to have to be done at the garage level and put out over the web - which is what I did."

How the now 53-year-old actor ended up quitting a successful movie career, writing and recording a colourful collection of country songs, and latterly penning comment pieces for The New York Times, is a tale that has its roots in tragedy.

In 1991 Moranis's wife, Anne, died from liver cancer, leaving him to raise their two young children alone. It becomes obvious very early in our interview that Moranis prefers talking about his work rather than his family life (he won't divulge the names of his children), but after a bit of meandering he does reveal how he made the transition from movie star to widowed stay-at-home dad.

"For the first couple of years I was able to make it work - doing one and a half pictures a year for three months with no problem," he says. "But I started to really miss them. It got to the point where I was doing a lot of pictures with kids - really nice kids, but not my kids. So, I was like, 'You know what? I'm tired of talking to my kids from a hotel room. I'm going home.' So I turned down the next pictures that came along and the break just got longer and longer."

He says it wasn't always easy being a dedicated single parent.

"In the beginning the hard part is the technical part," he says. "The nap and the feeding and the schedule and the play dates and this and this. Then when they get older and when they can wipe their own behind and you're not busy with that, you're busy with other emotional issues and developmental issues. But I never viewed what I was doing as anything other than what my instinct was telling me. I did live every day believing that kids really need one good parent. I had had a very, very happy childhood. I had a mother who was home until I was in high school. And every day when I came home from school, the lights were on, music was playing and there was something on the stove and she was there and I just wanted my kids to have that."

He pauses for a moment then adds poignantly, "And, you know, if my wife had lived she would have done that for them and I would probably still have been making movies. But I decided if she wasn't going to be here, I wanted to do that."

Spending so much time with his children, Moranis says he realised how vital that part of his life was compared to movies.

"I didn't miss the work, I didn't miss the travel, I didn't miss the people. I didn't miss any of it," he says, and reveals he has made a conscious decision not to return to acting. He also acknowledges that experiencing the death of his wife and raising two children alone changed him.

"How can one's exposure to that evolution - if one is at all a thinking person - not turn you into a different person than you would be just going to movie set after movie set?" he asks.

Growing up in the understated suburbs of Toronto, Moranis never dreamt he would ever make a living from acting.

"In Canada you don't think that show business is an opportunity for you," he says. "You think it's something that happens across the border. I really thought I would just keep going to school until I became something my parents wanted me to be. I had no burning ambition whatsoever - and still don't."

Moranis was born in 1953. He grew up listening to the classical music his parents liked and then, when he got his first transistor radio, "to 50,000-watt stations coming out of Boston and Chicago and New York leaking into the Toronto atmosphere carrying big-sounding voices and Beatles music and that stuff."

While he was still in high school, Moranis got a job at a local radio station and started writing witty links for the presenters. He soon got offered his own show and began writing more and more material. He performed at a couple of comedy clubs but found he didn't like stand-up.

"I didn't like repeating the material and I didn't like the subculture," he tells me, leaning back on the comfy sofa. "There was nothing about it I enjoyed beyond the writing." He gave up performing and became a writer at the Canadian Broadcasting Company - but was soon asked to join the cast of Second City Television (SCTV), Canada's answer to Saturday Night Live.

Working with fellow comedians including John Candy and Eugene Levy, Moranis claims the experience was comparable to "lunatics running the asylum".

"It was as wild as the Monty Python stuff must have been because we could do what we wanted," Moranis explains. "It was all about making each other laugh."

Moranis left to make a spin-off movie of an SCTV character soon after, and landed his celebrated role in Ghostbusters a year later. More films followed including Brewster's Millions with Richard Pryor, Spaceballs with Mel Brooks, as well as Little Shop of Horrors and Parenthood with Steve Martin.

"I got into this rhythm of going from picture to picture," Moranis says. "In the early films it was very enjoyable because I was always hired and encouraged to write my own stuff, so all those scenes in Ghostbusters... I wrote them. When I did Spaceballs, Mel and I rewrote the script and every day it was fun."

He leans forward and talks animatedly about working with fellow comics.

"Working with comedians is a different experience from working with actors and non-comedians," he says. "You work with Mel Brooks, or Steve Martin or Eric Idle or Bill Murray and Danny Aykroyd and Harold Ramis - that's a very different experience than working with Actor X or Actor Y. Actors are much more loyal to the script - that's their training, that's their orientation - as opposed to the comedian, who's looking for, just by instinct, a way to undermine it, destroy it, come up with something better, torture everyone along the way, make his life more interesting and yet somehow come out with a better time."

Moranis says on a day-to-day basis working with comedians rather than actors made life more enjoyable, but as to its effect on the quality of the finished product he acknowledges, it is a "crapshoot. Total crapshoot".

By the time the final, straight-to-video films in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids series came along, Moranis felt truly disillusioned with Hollywood.

"When I just started being an actor for hire, it was lucrative and it fit into life, but it wasn't enjoyable to me," he says, as all the passion drains from his voice. "That's not who I am. It was just more travel: hotels, airports, locations..."

By 1996, Moranis knew that he had had enough. He withdrew to concentrate on raising his children, living quietly with them in Manhattan ever since. And while they have been the focus of his life for the past 15 years, they also played a part in their father's move into music.

"I used to play songs for my kids on this when they were little," he says, picking up a well-strummed, 1967, 12-string Martin guitar. He explains that after his daughter started dating a mandolin player, they began jamming together and songs started popping into his head.

"I wrote one and then I wrote another one and I wrote a third one and as I would write them I would sing them to a couple of my closest comedy-writing friends and get their reaction," he says. "I got on a bit of a roll and when I got to about six or seven, people started to say, 'You should do something with this.'"

After thinking about it, he sent a demo tape to a Nashville agent and an acquaintance at a record label. He got the same quizzical response from both people. "They asked me, 'Where is the movie these come from?'"

Realising the record company men were always going to be more interested in the marketing than the music, Moranis contacted an internet site, ArtistShare, which had only specialised in the internet distribution of jazz records. The site's owner, Brian Camelio, nevertheless believed in the project, helped Moranis find a producer, agreed to promote it and shortly thereafter The Agoraphobic Cowboy was uploaded into existence.

While Moranis insists it is an homage to the country genre rather than a parody, all of the songs seem to champion wit over wisdom. The lyrics to I Ain't Going Nowhere (sung to the tune of the country classic, I've Been Everywhere, recorded by Johnny Cash) include, "I go/Online, DSL, Amazon, buy and sell/eBay, layaway, last bid noon today/Plasma, Judy Judge, broadband, Matt Drudge J.Crew, B&N, dotcom, CNN/JPEG, email, pop-up she-male/Shower cam, filter spam, slam bam/I think it's ma'am."

He spent a lot of time crafting the album's 13 songs and a Grammy nomination earlier this year was a pleasant validation. Moranis says he is considering recording more songs and perhaps even performing live although he seems fairly relaxed about if and when. He can certainly hold a tune, and claims, "I would probably have tried to make a living as a musician, had I not been able to make a living as a comedian."

It appears from his grand apartment and his relaxed attitude to work that Moranis has already made his living and is now enjoying the fruits of his labour. He says that he spends his days writing, walking downtown to do the occasional voice-over, or golfing with his son on public courses - "I'm not a club guy. I don't have the social skills and I don't have the wardrobe."

I'm not sure what special clothes Moranis thinks are required to join a golf club. For our interview he has dressed in a perfectly acceptable light-blue shirt, what look like green moleskin trousers and comfortable, if not fashionable, brown shoes. His full head of dark hair has thinned quite a bit and he has certainly aged. Despite his size (he's under 5ft 5in) he looks grown up at last, but is still recognisable as "that guy from Ghostbusters", and is still prepared to pull funny faces for the camera.

After the ups and downs of his personal and professional lives, Moranis seems to have found a pace and a place that suit him. Looking out across New York, guitar in hand, he says, "I'm having the time of my life."

Download 'The Agoraphobic Cowboy' at www.rickmoranis.com

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

East15 Acting School: Finance and Contracts Officer

£20,781 to £24,057 per annum: East15 Acting School: The post involves general ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: A mainstream Secondary school in C...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks