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    Premiere Magazine 11/92

"Hyphenate Thomas Ian Griffith"

by Pam Lambert

 
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There's more to Thomas Ian Griffith than the muscular six foot four frame that meets the eye. Sure, he's got the black belt in Tae Kwon Do to go with the blue-ribbon physique-- maybe you caught his slick moves as the charismatic heavy in
The Karate Kid III. But the guy also sings opera, plays piano, and dances well enough to have been on Broadway. That is, when he's not adting in, writing, or producing movies.

Or doing all three. That's the case with
Excessive Force, an action-drama that's the first of three pictures Griffith has signed to make for New Line. In it, the 32-year old stars as Terry McCain, a short fused but sensitive Chicago cop fighting the mob. The script he penned gives the actor ample opportunity to show off his chops- jazz piano as well as the karate kind. "He's a damn good writer", says James Earl Jones, who appears under Jon Hess's direction as a jazz club owner. "What ordinarily would have been what I consider gratuitous violence did not seem so; it seemed like part of a very tough story."

Show biz wasn't what Griffith planned on back home in picturesque Wethersfield, Connecticut, he admits in a deep, surprisingly soft voice. He planned to got to law school like his father, although "my prime interests were music and karate." His mother ran several dance schools, where Griffith played piano to earn his allowance. There he picked up tap and her speciality, Irish step-dancing. Then one day his high school drama group needed an emergency replacement for the piano player. Griffith was drafted-- and hooked.

By nineteen, he'd made it to Broadway. Griffith had dropped out of the College of Holy Cross to kick up his long, long legs as lead soloist in the musical
The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and moved on to other shows, both on Broadway and in the boonies, until being cast on the soap Another World. "I was the rogue trouble-causer who comes into town and falls in love with the ingenue," says Griffith with a smile that lights up his blue eyes. That's also the way it played off-cameras. Last fall, he and the ingenue, actress Mary Page Keller, married after eight years together (including three on the soap).

left side: Griffith's Tour de "Force"; he enjoys action--"It's like a kid playing, all the things you got in trouble for"-- but he is wary of typecasting. "Genre karate movies don't interest me." (click to enlarge)

Griffith headed west with Keller when she snared the lead in the TV series Duet. Frustrated by the initial loneliness and lack of work, the actor found other outlets: Excercising his trained basso profundo  in a University of Southern California production of Puccini and writing his first script.
As it turned out, Griffith got onscreen before his story. (Considerably altered, it became the "artsy-looking exploitation piece"
Night of the Warrior). Making a splashy debut as an �bervillain with a dash of humor in Karate Kid III, Griffith was, according to star Ralph Macchio, "the best and freshest thing in the movie."

Much as Griffith enjoys doing action-- "It's like a kid playing, all the things you got in trouble for"-- he is wary of chopsocky typecasting. "Genre karate movies don't interest me," he says. Griffith's next project, Ulterior Motives, has yet to be released, but, he says, "I want to do things with character, passion, heart."

In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, Griffith, who lives in North Hollywood with Keller and their golden retriever, expresses concern about any contribution action pictures such as
Excessive Force may make to the general climate of violence. "When you see the real things, the Rodney King stuff, it's just nauseating," he says, fingering the tiny gold cross dangling from his ear. "Hopefully, people watching this movie will understand why the word 'excessive' is in the title."

 

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