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Carradine hits the jackpot as Lewis Skolnick Print E-mail
Written by JON SINGER   
Sunday, 28 August 2005
We all know that laugh. That nerd laugh. In 1984, it entered America's pop culture awareness. Robert Carradine wasn't the founder of his laugh in "Revenge of the Nerds," but he is the undisputed king of it.

The original "Revenge of the Nerds" script described a honking donkey laugh. Carradine, who played the lead role of Lewis Skolnick, was struggling to come up with a suitable laugh until, right before shooting began, he happened to see co-star Jamie Cromwell's audition tape. Cromwell played Mr. Skolnick, Lewis' father, in all four "Nerds" movies.

"I saw his audition tape, and he did this laugh," Carradine says. "So I said to him, 'Man, that's a horrible laugh. You have to get rid of that.'"

"But he told me, 'That's not my real laugh, I did that for the audition,'" Carradine says. "So I said, 'You have to teach me!'"

So the day before the first shooting, Cromwell taught Carradine the laugh. The on-screen father-and-son duo were bonding in real life, too.

"We were laughing in stereo less than a day later, while they're cruising at 35 miles an hour on our way to Adams College," Carradine says.

Carradine came from a multi-talented family. His father, John Carradine, starred in more movies than just about anyone in addition to being an opera singer and pianist. Robert's brothers, David and Keith, both play music. Robert plays guitar, too, and has played with his brothers and as a guest star on some major-label albums.

So coming from this Hollywood lifestyle, it wasn't easy for Carradine to humble himself to play a nerd.

"I didn't want to do it, being the macho guy that I was," Carradine says. "But the more I turned my back on it, the more they tried to convince me to do it. Then it became intriguing to me.

"Bobby didn't want to do it," says director Jeff Kanew, "because he didn't think of himself as a nerd. So he came in with a lot of attitude to his meeting. He didn't audition, he did a meeting. And we didn't really hit it off. He seemed too tough and macho to be a nerd."

But Carradine decided to take the role. And once he did, there was no stopping him from becoming an ultra-nerd, one that comes to mind when Americans think of the word.

"He transformed himself," Kanew says. "By the time he had to go on tape for the studio, he became that character. And Bobby and Anthony [Edwards] went down to the University of Arizona and lived for a week before we got there as nerds, and went around and did rushing and everything and got kicked out of fraternities."

"When I did it, and I got on the set, I knew it was going to work and I was happy to be there," Carradine says.

For inspiration, Carradine went to a familiar source: his family. He studied his brother Christopher, who is an Imagineer architect for Disney at the Walter Elias Disney division. The Imagineers design rides and other aspects for Disney.

"They're a really good study," Carradine says. "My brother was upset at first that the character was based off him, but when he saw the movie he felt good about it, that the character was based on him."

The look developed quickly, too. For the glasses, Carradine stopped by an optometrist during his quest. Once the doctor knew the kind of glasses Carradine wanted, he said, "Oh, a nerd?" Then it struck him. He went and got a shoebox full of nerd glasses. And when Carradine picked the pair out, that was it. The look was born.

Carradine also spent time on subtler details. The parted hair with cowlick was his idea. He often had one sock falling into the shoe, and he made sure his fly never aligned with the buttons on the shirt.

"When it was done, I thought I deserved numerous academy awards for it," Carradine says.

Carradine and most of the cast carried over to three more "Nerds" films. Carradine and other actors didn't have much to say about "Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise," and Carradine didn't like the angle of the third movie. Carradine said "Revenge of the Nerds III: The Next Generation," got a little off track with its yuppie portrayals.

But Carradine says the cast learned from the weaknesses of the second and third movies, and came together for a successful fourth film.

"I thought the fourth one should get a theatrical release," Carradine says.

He met with 20th Century Fox to work it out, but Fox wanted something strong for sweeps that year, so "Nerds" was called on to do that.

But the first film is still dearest to Carradine.

"I could sit down and watch the first one all the way through," he says. "But I'd want to take out the interruptions. Sit down, get some buttered popcorn, and watch it. Commercials just break it up so much, and the fact that TV shows the edited version that's not rated R takes away a lot of scenes that are really well shot."

The attraction of Lewis Skolnick is in his innocence and joy.

"Lewis never knew that he was a nerd, and neither did the other guys," Carradine says. "But they all are very interesting and cool people."

Indeed. Lewis is the hero of the "Nerds" movies, a likeable guy that everyone wants to see win in the end. His winning of best fraternity and girl in "Revenge of the Nerds" is the reason for the film in the first place.

Which of Carradine's nerdy aspects did he bring naturally to Lewis?

"I'm not going to tell you," Carradine says. "I've got to keep that a secret. But I do have some nerd traits. I like radio-controlled model airplanes. They're really fun. But if you go out and watch model airplane flyers, they're pretty geeky kinds of guys."

Today, Carradine remains a popular actor. He stars as the father in the "Lizzie McGuire" TV show and movie, and has played TV roles in "NYPD Blue," "The Practice," and even "ER," which starred Carradine's former nerd partner in crime, Anthony Edwards.

Carradine is also working on a re-release of "The Big Red One," a 1980 war movie in which he starred. The original release was significantly cut to fit theater times. But Carradine is working to show the original version to as many people as possible.

"It's really a great movie," Carradine says. "I think it's the best World War II movie ever made."

Carradine, 50, spends summers in Switzerland and heads back to California for the rest of the year. He still has his glasses, his Lambda Lambda Lambda letterman's sweater and his nerd pack (pocket protector kit).

He runs into Curtis Armstrong and Larry B. Scott quite a bit.

"Whenever we see each other or talk to each other, it's just like no time has passed," Carradine says. "All for one and one for all. That's the nerd motto."

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox

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