You, of course, expect that brash, buttoned-down, stubbornly conservative overachiever from television to be doing the talking but Michael J. Fox is all grown up.
Oh, he's not ever going to be a basketball star but, as he points out, he never really was Alex Keaton that pint-sized Wall Street wannabe on the long running series ‘Family Ties.' He played the ultimate money-hungry yuppie for eight years on the show -- still in syndication -- that turned him into a multimillionaire.
The series which ended seven years ago also helped make him a movie star mainly involving the super successful ‘Back to the Future' hat trick of films. There were upsets like ‘Bright Lights, Big City ' and the unfortunate ‘Casualties of War.' But he says of the flops:' I'm not in the mourning business.'
Well, he is now. In the special effects fiesta ‘The Frighteners' his partners are ghosts and there are those beyond and above the grave who would also rather like him to join the hereafter. In the madcap movie that jumps you from goose-bumps to laughter the affable actor holds the edgy mix of scares and silliness together. Without him the frenetic, wacky package would have died
And by making all the fright moves Fox has performed his own Hollywood resurrection.
His last box office success was ‘Doc Hollywood ' in 1993 and it appeared that the emblematic 1980s star had lost the place in the next decade.
Fox says he was simply waiting for the right vehicle: ‘I didn't want to leap at anything that came along. I wanted to wait until I felt confident about a project. And this was it.'
It was a major commitment. He lives in style on a Connecticut estate -- there's also a 100-acre ranch deep in the Vermont countryside -- -- with his wife actress Tracy Pollan ( she was his TV love interest for three seasons of ‘Family Ties'), their 20-month-old twin daughters and seven-year-old son. He likes to be at home.
‘The Frighteners' meant seven months filming in New Zealand the home turf of the movie's writer-producer-director Peter Jackson who created all his sensational special effects -- phantoms skitter across the screen and the walls not only have ears but eyes, noses and mouths -- at his studios in Wellington.
‘I commuted,' says Fox waiting for the frequent flyer miles arithmetic to sink in before adding:' I just got on ‘planes every chance I could. I wanted to be with Tracy and the kids and and I wanted to make the movie. So I went for it.
‘Peter has created everything you can get in Hollywood in New Zealand -- everything technical. Otherwise it is a different world. A much nicer world -- they still haven't got many of the hang-ups we have.
‘It was hard work but it was fun to play. Sometimes I didn't know what I was doing -- you get a little silly in the head with all those special effects going on and you're talking and doing scenes. It was a bit like the ‘back to the Future' pictures -- I was in a flying harness for some of the sequences.'
With the scythe-wielding Grim Reaper, a serial killer apparition, as the central villain -- he describes the film as ‘Casper meets the Silence of the Lambs' -- and other-worldly computer graphics ( there are 570 of them, more than ‘Independence Day') Fox had much competition to get screen attention. He managed it with ease.
He shrugs it off and flares up another Marlboro Light ( he doesn't get to smoke at home) in his suite in a Manhattan hotel. It's a rainy afternoon outside in New York but he's comfortable in jeans, a grey polo shirt and bare feet. At 35, he has retained that boyish charm but when he frowns you see the years have tiptoed around his eyes. He certainly talks older.
He is certainly aware of fickle fame. When he married in the summer of 1988 he had to hire America 's most respected security expert Gavin de Becker to protect the ceremonies from Press and fans. It started as an intimate family wedding but it ended up with helicopters and checkpoints and paparazzi in rented llama suits. With ‘Family Ties' and ‘Back to the Future' the onetime obscure Canadian actor was the most popular star in America .