December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

”I have a dressing room on the Home Improvement set that I really should lease out,” says Tim Allen, ”’cause I never use it.” How can he? He’s too caught up in a hurricane of work: Having already hit No. 1 on TV as Improvement‘s power-tool-fancying handyman, Allen became a No. 1 best-selling author this fall with his first book, Don’t Stand Too Close to a Naked Man, and a movie star as his first film, The Santa Clause, bested Interview With the Vampire and Junior to become the holidays’ top-grossing film. No one but Bill Cosby can rival the half billion dollars experts expect Improvement to earn in syndication — and Allen’s triple-crown victory beats even Cos at the top of his game.

Yet Allen is more inclined to cerebrate about success than to celebrate it — his antic imagination and rapid-fire mouth are offset by a warily analytical mind. ”There’s a hierarchy in every situation men go through,” Allen observes, his college philosophy studies having been deepened by a two-year prison stint (and reading binge) in the early ’80s for drug dealing. ”You’ll find the same dynamics at work in gangs, work, prison, anywhere. It’s like warfare. Everything is on the line. It’s serious now — the cameras are rolling!” Allen’s train of thought covers a lot of territory, from Hollywood to jail to Hollywood in a single monologue. (In fact, he claims in his book that ”prison and Hollywood are exactly the same thing.”) Though drug-free now, Allen naturally speaks in a manner that has been likened to ”George Bush on speed.”

When cameras roll again for Allen next year, he’ll put his new clout to the test in a sci-fi movie inspired by a 1950s classic that he declines to specify, lest somebody steal the idea. That film will be more action-packed than his current hit, and his character will be darker. Though he loved Clause‘s script, its warm-and-cuddly tone was not close to his heart: ”I thought it was funnier before.” (The original script, written by two cynical stand-up comics, was brightened up for commercial purposes.)

Allen’s amiable Everyguy quality may account for his success, but he can hold his own in cynical circles as well. It’s not that he shares no traits with his TV self, just that there’s more to him than meets TV’s cyclopean eye. And there’s an edge of anxiety in his comic shtick — this is the man, after all, who fended off a prison bully by cracking him up with his Elmer Fudd impressions.

Allen now plans to use the high-powered tool of his art in a series of motivational videos targeting potentially jail-bound kids. ”I know young men that think they’re way smarter than everybody. I’ve been there. They stop learning, and they’re on their own path.” Allen is on a rising path, and because he never stopped learning, he gets to put the pedal to the metal in a 575-horsepower Mustang. And right now, he owns the road.

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