Oliver Platt: Overwhelmingly Successful Everyman

Star of Lake Placid and Bicentennial Man Lights Up the Village

Oliver Platt greets fans after a performance of Guys & Dolls at the Nederlander Theater in Manhattan in February 2009. (Charles Richard Clark II)

The worst thing a writer can do is to mention how normally a celebrity behaves during the interview. But if that’s a crime, then Oliver Platt is guilty of entrapment. The guy is just so regular and easy to hang out with, you stop noticing that people at the other tables are staring at the suddenly omnipresent character actor, half working up the nerve to approach our table and half trying to put their finger on why the round face and shaggy dark hair are so familiar.

Meanwhile, at an outdoor pub on the first super-fine day of Spring, a truth is revealed: It’s good to be a big guy in a crowded city. Beautiful women and cel-phone glued stock-brokers alike recognize Platt from any of two dozen movies over the past decade, often as the likable friend or frazzled advisor. He’s enjoying a cheeseburger (rare, no bun) just a few blocks from the home he shares with his wife, Camilla, and their growing brood: Lily, George, and as of six weeks ago, Clare.

The location is good because the husky six-foot-fiver is notoriously fussy about staying as close to home as someone who works like John Henry can manage. It’s not easy.

Platt has three features about to hit the screen—Three To Tango, a sexual-identity gagfest with Matthew Perry; Bicentennial Man, an Isaac Asimov story with that adorable Robin Williams as the robot; and Lake Placid, whose one-sentence pitch had writer David Kelley’s backers mortgaging their third homes to buy shares: “Jaws in a lake, with a crocodile.”

Platt does indies (The Imposters) and epics (Three Musketeers), and he’s good in bad movies (The Temp), and great in good movies (Funny Bones). But why so damn MANY movies?

“I grew up in Asia and my family would go to big event movies on Christmas,” he tells me. “In Hong Kong, you don’t get Merchant Ivory. And to this day, my wife and our best friends have a tradition. Every Christmas, we have an incredible lunch at Union Square Cafe and go to the big cheesy epic of the moment.”

The reason Platt grew up in Asia (and the Middle East, and Washington, D.C.) is that his father was an ambassador, but there’s that modest regular-guy thing again. His brother Adam Platt is a well-known writer in town.

Well, here’s a telling story.

The writer Charles Gandee, a Conde Nast guy who for a time was rumored to be the heir to GQ’s Art Cooper or even to take over Vogue, supposedly ran into Oliver in the elevator of their building in Greenwich Village. The guy who told me the story recalled that it was near University Pl. at 9th St, but it really doesn’t matter — the point is that the building had a number of artsy types, including Helmut Lang and the head of marketing for Clinique. Platt was in the elevator wearing no shoes, only socks, and upon seeing Gandee, he asked if Gandee would want to come up and see his apartment. (Gandee had been at Home and Garden before Vogue and writes a lot about architecture for Vogue). So Gandee saw the apartment and deemed it huge and beautiful but was mostly struck by Platt wandering around the building in just his stocking feet.

So about that regular guy thing. Is it schtick?

“My taste is broad and movies are a populist medium,” Platt told me. “Being in big movies enables you to be in small movies. And then being in the small movies makes you want the big movies.”

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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