Call him Mahoney, the smooth cadet/cop from the “Police Academy” films. Or Eddie, the nervous groom who wants his wedding in team colors. There’s the jovial Nick from the Hallmark family film “Single Santa Seeks Mrs. Claus” and its sequel. Most recently, he’s answered to calls of Colton West, the everyman fighting giant lava-spewing spiders in Syfy’s “Lavalantula” movies.
Steve Guttenberg is a man of many characters as we’ve seen in the more than 60 movies throughout his 30-plus year career – and that doesn’t count TV or theater.
His newest role, though, isn’t something you’ll see on screen or stage: it’s as a Buffalo ambassador. That’s right - the actor has fallen for the Queen City and he’s happy to tell you so.
“I think the people are wonderful. There’s an honesty and integrity in the people of Buffalo and the surrounding areas,” Guttenberg said in an interview from his home in New York. “There’s a real imagination toward living life with quality and a great endeavor to have community and family. A lot of the big cities are losing that because of the cost of living and the culture of money, status and class. Every city, large and small, has a point of view, a very human typical point of view and there seems to be a focus on family community and quality of life in Buffalo.”
Guttenberg has become familiar with the Buffalo area on visits with his girlfriend, Emily Smith, a Grand Island native and reporter at WCBS-TV. That connection is bringing him back here for appearances Sept. 17 and 18 at Buffalo’s Comicon in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
On his trips to Buffalo, he’s found some favorite spots - “I love Williamsville – it’s a terrific neighborhood. I love Grand Island, of course,” he said, adding he’s especially impressed by Buffalo’s architecture which he has seen on tours with Emily’s dad, John W. Smith, who owns the local architectural restoration company, Abraxas. Guttenberg marveled at the city’s architecture, even gushing about “the beauty, the majesty, the grandeur that Buffalo has.”
“Police Academy” gained the national spotlight again at, of all places, the Democratic National Convention when both Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea, said in their speeches that they watched the six movies together during family time.
“It was so great when Bill Clinton gave us a shout out. It was a terrific compliment to our film and film series. The president has a myriad of films to choose from and he chose ours,” Guttenberg said.
When he talks about the appeal of the comedy franchise, Guttenberg becomes quite serious. “The foundation of the film is taking ordinary, average individuals who want to make a difference for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “No matter how far down the line we human beings go, deeply rooted in our souls is the desire to do the right thing and that’s why ‘Police Academy’ succeeded – it’s about people doing the right thing.”
He worked again with “Police Academy” co-stars Michael Winslow and Marion Ramsey on the two B-movie lovefests “Lavalantula” and “2 Lava 2 Lantula.” The trio picked up right where it left off with a lot of ad-libbing and hilarity on the set. “It was terrific fun. There’s nothing like a giant spider movie,” Guttenberg laughed. He said he especially enjoyed working with the visual effects on the movies, marveling at how they become more sophisticated each year.
“It’s art and science together. A movie is only light on a sheet. You put up a sheet, with light on it and you sit and believe a man can fly or Dracula is real. You believe an alien can get you. You believe the Blair Witch Project and you’re afraid to go to sleep,” he said.
Guttenberg said he’s looking forward to meeting fans at the Buffalo Comicon – “Most people never see a celebrity so a convention is a great way for people to communicate with those actors.” He’s also looking forward to returning to the area for another reason: he wants to build a hospitality business in Buffalo.
“I think Buffalo has a lot of interested, curious people who like a good place to go. Buffalo is growing by leaps and bounds and I’d like to be a part of it,” Guttenberg said. “I really want to help make the city greater and give it more tools for people to enjoy life.
“The great thing about Buffalo people is they show up and come whether it’s 0 degrees or 90 degrees.”
When he’s asked if this means he’ll be spending a lot more time in Buffalo, you can almost hear the wink in his voice over the phone.
“Oh I think so.”
What: Buffalo Comicon
When: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 17 and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 18
Where: Buffalo Niagara Convention Center, 153 Franklin St.
Tickets: $8.50 single day, $13 weekend