For the past decade, Cheech Marin has been an actor with a mission: ”I was looking to do anything that didn’t have a big joint in it.” Today, at 50, the 1970s pothead idol is more likely to be seen going around with a set of golf clubs — and not just because he plays Kevin Costner’s faithful caddy in Tin Cup. After dissolving his partnership with Tommy Chong in 1985, he ran from the reefer fog of such Cheech and Chong movies as Up in Smoke. In fact, the man whose records parents once banned from the house got so clean that he found himself a children’s entertainer, turning out the album My Name is Cheech the School Bus Driver and providing the voice of a hyena in The Lion King.
A chance meeting with Robert Rodriguez kept Marin from a fate worse than Disney. The young director gave him a small role in last year’s Desperado, then three outrageous cameos (one as a ribald strip-club barker) in From Dusk Till Dawn. Ron Shelton hesitated before casting Marin in Tin Cup ”because he hadn’t done that many movies playing anything other than Cheech,” explains the director, who discovered Marin to be a perfect foil for his stars. ”No actor standing next to him can be pompous or arch.”
Perhaps the easiest Tin Cup costar for Marin to keep in line was Don Johnson — a cohort he had caroused with 20 years before. ”We’d hung out a little bit in the early bachelor-on-the-loose days,” Marin says. ”We found ourselves chasing the same women.” And their bond today? ”We hate the same people,” he says, laughing. Johnson swiftly offered his kindred spirit a sidekick role on his then-brewing CBS cop drama, Nash Bridges. Its success as a mid-season replacement last winter prompted Marin to move his second wife, artist Patti Heid, and two of his three children to San Francisco this summer, where the CBS series shoots. While packing, the legendary party animal was also preparing for his 50th birthday on July 13. How did he plan to celebrate? ”I don’t know,” he says. ”Get a prostate exam.”