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February 28, 1992 - Image 65

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-02-28

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Special to The Jewish News


ven stints as a vi-
cious killer in a
television movie
and a transvestite
on Broadway
could not tarnish
Michael Gross' image as a dad for
all seasons. For seven years, he
was the quintessential television
father — loving, sensitive, some-
times stern — on the show "Fam-
ily Ties." Now he is trying his
hand at parenting on the big
screen in his new film, Alan and

One of the so-called "little
films" which tend to get buried
by the competition and the pomp
and circumstance surrounding
holiday blockbusters, Alan and
Naomi is a sweet film about
friendship, parenthood and trust
in the shadow of World War II.
The film also stars Lukas
Mr. Gross, 44, plays Sol Sil-
verman, a Jewish man living
with his wife and 14-year-old son,
Alan, in a mixed neighborhood in
Brooklyn in 1944. He is a man of
average means and looks who
charts Hitler's movement on a
large map in his apartment.
Then Naomi Kirschenbaum, a
young Jewish girl from France,
who is catatonic after witnessing
the murder of her father by the
Nazis, moves into the Silvermans'
building. Sol volunteers his son
to help Naomi adjust to her new
life and come out of her shell.
After days of
sitting together
The close
in total silence,
Naomi begins
to respond to
Alan and the
and son
two develop a
Sol and
close friendshi p.
Alan Silverman
It was Alan and
is part of
Naomi's rela
what attracted
tionship and
Michael Gross
the bond be
to Alan and
tween Sol Sil-
verman and his



son that first attracted Mr. Gross
to this movie.
"I love a story about people and
human relationships, well told,"
he said during a recent inter-
view. "Everybody responds.
to those little ads they see in the
paper about the pet that's going
to be put to death in the pound if
no one comes to get it. And I feel
like Naomi was this little, lost,
forlorn soul who needed someone
to take care of her. Here was
someone who was wounded, the
lost pet, the innocent, who,
through no fault of her own, had
been damaged and needed care."

Ironically, Mr. Gross made his
Broadway debut in a Holocaust
drama. He played a female im-
personator named Greta oppo-
site Richard Gere in Bent.

Listening to Mr. Gross describe
his new film, it was hard not to
make comparisons between the
actor and the beloved paterfa-
milias he played on the situation
comedy "Family Ties." He
was even dressed in
clothing that would
have suited the pas-
sionate, '60s activist
Steven Keaton —
pleated jeans, plaid
shirt, knit tie, plaid
blazer and leather
moccasins. His gray hair
was neatly combed. He

wore little jewelry — a silver stud
earring, watch and wedding ring
on his pinkie.
While his role on the television
show introduced him — and co-
star Michael J. Fox — to Ameri-
can audiences, Mr. Gross
eschews comparisons between
fathers Steven Keaton and Sol
Silverman. In fact, he intention-
ally added flaws to Sol to break
the mold of the sitcom "superfa-
"I didn't want to make him an-
other television father, perhaps
as I was, sort of fit and trim,
wearing the right
clothes," said Mr.
Gross, who por-
trayed a cold-
blooded killer in
the 1988 TV
movie, "In The
Line Of Duty:
Murders." He
suggested that
his tall, lanky
frame be padded for

the movie, to give Sol more
"girth." He also had his hair
shaved back to show more fore-
"He was a clerk, faceless,
anonymous in a sense — never go-
ing to have a great job," he said.
"And he sat and dreamed. As a
result, I wanted to make him a
little bigger around the mid-sec-
Mr. Gross also had his ears
built out so he resembled the ac-
tor who played his son. "I said,
`Look, I'm this child's father so
give me some of those things,' "
he said, gesturing to his ears.
"It worked into my concept
of his being a very plain
man. He was no
great catch physi-
cally, but I wanted
the feeling that in
terms of his soul,
his psyche, no wom-
an could do better
than a man like this.
And ultimately, no
child could do better
It than this for a fa-

in theater — he earned a master's
degree in theater from the Yale
School of Drama —Mr. Gross said
he learned a great deal about
playing a father from his two
stepchildren, who are in their ear-
ly 20s.
"I think what I've learned from
my own children was to listen a
little more carefully to them, in-
stead of merely giving orders," he
said. "I sort of came on like gang-
busters in the first years of my
marriage ... a mix of Captain
Von Trapp, Charles Dickens and
Joan Crawford, all rolled up into
one. I've learned over the years
that maybe there's a reason we
have two ears and only one
mouth — that we should spend
twice as much time listening as
we do speaking."
Indeed, in the film, it is Sol Sil-
verman who listens to Alan's
complaints about being chosen to
help the troubled Naomi instead
of playing his usual game of stick-
ball after school. Sol's wife, Ruth,
played by actress Amy Aquino,
expects Alan to do as he is told.
"It was like a good cop/bad cop
thing. She was more like. There's
a job to be done, do it. I've given
an order,' " he said. "Sol would
say, Wait.' He is, in his own way,
wonderfully manipulative be-
cause he wants the same thing
she does but he's going to
finesse it."
In one of the movie's most mov-
ing scenes, Alan asks his father
why he has to help the girl his
friends call "crazy kat." Sol re-
sponds, "Maybe because you're
one of the lucky ones."
While the film centers on Jew-
ish characters and the Holocaust,
and Yiddish terms are used
freely, Mr. Gross, who is not Jew-
ish, believes Alan and Naomi
touches on universal themes.
"They talk about God in this
movie. They talk about moral im-
perative," he said, leaning for-
ward for emphasis. "This is a
story, you can call it talmudic.
It's perfect New Testament. It's
perfect Old Testament. Reach
out." 0




Michael Gross of "Family Ties" is playing Dad again,
this time in a poignant new film with a Holocaust theme.

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