Gary Coleman, the diminutive ne’er-do-well child star of the television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes, has been hand picked by Martin Scorcese to helm Scorcese’s next picture, Albatross Junction, according to sources at the Hollywood Reporter. Coleman, 30, was most recently in the news in late August, when he pleaded not guilty to assault and battery charges for allegedly punching an autograph-seeking woman in the eye. We spoke to Coleman about his odd directorial developments over the telephone early Friday morning.
O’MALLEY: Gary. Brian.
COLEMAN: Hey, what’s up?
So what’s the scoop? Is it true?
It’s true. I’m aboard. We’re locked. We roll in March.
Aren’t you a little overwhelmed here? This is a pretty big step. Did you know Martin before?
No. He just called me out of the blue.
Out of the blue?
Out of the blue.
Okay, forgive me if I’m ignorant, but I’ve gotta ask: what are your directorial qualifications?
(laughs) You’re not ignorant. Don’t sweat it. A lot of people don’t know much about me other than what I did on tv. I’m just a regular guy. But I’m not gonna say that I’m not qualified to direct a motion picture. I’m more than qualified. I’ve been in the industry since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.
You’re still knee-high to a grasshopper.
Yeah, I guess I am.
So what are you qualifications?
I directed several plays in college, including an all-black Glengarry Glen Ross, which is by Mamet, and then an improvisational piece called “The World Don’t Move To The Beat of Just One Drum.” A kind of a one-man band type of thing about my experiences working on tv. I wrote, directed, and starred in that. And got the snacks for it as well.
Did Scorcese have other directors in mind? Or just you?
Well, he mentioned he’d talked to Barbara Edens about it, and that she seemed really interested, and when I was still making up my mind, he talked to Todd Bridges about it a little.
Man, if he heard you call him that he’d flip out.
Tell me about the project.
It’s called Albatross Junction, and it’s about an old woman in her late eighties who drives a powered wheelchair from Maine to Oklahoma to visit her sick niece. It stars Willem Dafoe and F. Murray Abraham.
You a David Lynch fan?
Who plays the old lady?
You’re playing the old lady?
You think that’s a stretch?
Believe me, they’ve done makeup tests, and I look great. You put me side-by-side with Nedra Volz and you can’t tell us apart, except for I’m black.
So it’s a comedy.
What makes you say that?
Sounds like a comedy.
It’s a drama. With comedic elements. I really liked the script. Marty let me do a bit of a rewrite though, to trim up a couple of loose ends. He was pretty impressed that a kid like me could take a script he thought was perfect and just turn it around lickety split, make it 100% better. 110%.
Did you pick the actors?
Marty picked the actors, but I was jumping out of my socks when I heard I was working with F. Murray Abraham. I mean, this is the guy that played Gandhi! I got Gandhi and Jesus in my movie! My movie!
Ben Kingsley played Gandhi.
I have to say, Gary… This all sounds extremely…
Well, you’re just a fortunate guy. Let’s put it that way.
God knows that. But I’m taking this very very seriously. I look at it like this: It’s my chance to redeem myself. A lot of people think right now that I’m all washed up and have no talent. I wanna be able to prove to those people that I’m not just a security guard in a mall–
–Biting peoples’ kneecaps.
Exactly. I want to break free. Marty saw this. He’s been watching my career from afar. He’s kinda my guardian angel, you know? He calls every Christmas, and sends me birthday cards… We’ve kept in touch over the years… This is just his way of believing in me. Giving me that chance… handing me the golden monkey and letting me spank it.
Can I come to the premiere?
Absolutely. I’ll put you on the list. What’s your address?