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Albert Finney

‘Erin Brockovich’

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He doesn’t have a Hollywood agent. He resists most interviews so as not to spoil what he’s called ”my scarcity value.” And never, ever has Albert Finney consented to attend the Oscars. ”If I know I’m going to win, I’ll go,” he told a journalist in London last spring. ”But if I don’t know, I’m not going to sit there. And [since] I smoke, I’d be in and out every half hour.”

Four times Finney has been a Best Actor nominee — for Tom Jones, Murder on the Orient Express, The Dresser, and Under the Volcano — and four times he’s been an absentee loser. But if he’s borderline hostile about the flesh-pumping niceties of awards season, he’s nothing but solicitous on the set. Just ask Julia Roberts, who wouldn’t be nearly so memorable as Erin Brockovich without Finney opposite her as a sometimes patient, sometimes brusque boss.

”His approach is so positive and he is so energetic, I can’t express that enough,” enthuses Roberts. Not that she wasn’t intimidated by him anyway. ”That’s just kind of built-in,” she explains. ”Even though he’s so sweet and dear and nice to be around, you think, ‘God, when we start working, he’s going to be all groovy deep-actor guy and I’m going to look like I’m over here rubbing nickels together.”’

Supportive as he was once he got there, Finney wasn’t initially keen to play the Ed Masry role. Reportedly, the original shooting schedule would have required him to be in Los Angeles far longer than he was willing to cope with. But as Danny DeVito — one of Erin‘s producers — has told it, he happened to know Finney’s girlfriend, a travel agent. DeVito sweet-talked her into sweet-talking Finney, easing the decision by bunching Finney’s scenes closer together.

Mission accomplished. Just don’t expect Finney to jet to L.A. again come March 25.