After a year of rotating replacements for the late Gene Siskel, Chicago Sun-Times film critic Roger Ebert finally found his across-the-aisle match in Richard Roeper, a 40-year-old columnist — and, as it happens, Ebert’s Sun-Times colleague. After putting his thumbs into action last month as the cohost of Ebert & Roeper and the Movies, Roeper says it was his refusal to kiss Ebert’s butt that landed him the coveted balcony seat. ”I was a fan of whatever it was [Siskel and Ebert] had,” says Roeper. ”You can’t duplicate that. But it was obvious that if Roger was going to have a new partner, it had to be somebody who could mix it up with him.” Roeper recently showed off his sparring skills to EW.
Can you relate to the carousel of Kathie Lee replacements?
Actually, I’m up for that job, too. I’m practicing my crying on cue.
Is there pressure on you to be ”the skinny guy”?
I’m still at my fighting weight of 185 — same as I’ve weighed since I was a 4-year-old.
Is that balcony as creepy as it looks on TV?
It’s a vintage theater, let’s put it that way. But we might be sprucing it up … I’ve also requested in my contract that we have a sticky floor and a guy behind us on a cell phone eating nachos and kicking our seats.
Will you be getting your thumbs manicured?
Never. I’m a South Side Chicago guy. The only time anybody does any cosmetic work on your thumbs is if you don’t pay a gambling debt and they take a hammer to you.
So, Mr. Roeper, if you were a landlord, would you allow two sexy girls to live with a straight guy?
Yes, but I wouldn’t wear the ascot or the sansabelt slacks like the original Mr. Roper.
Actually, that was Mr. Furley.
Oh, you’re right. People are always confusing Norman Fell and Don Knotts. They’re the De Niro and Pacino of the sitcom world.
Have you and Roger ever gone to check out a flick just for fun?
Heck, no. You think Noah Wyle and Anthony Edwards operate on people on the side?
What’s your least favorite film?
I’m not a big Wizard of Oz fan. Maybe it’s those damn monkeys. They haunt me.
What about the Ebert-penned Beyond the Valley of the Dolls?
Uh … I think I better reserve judgment on that.