January 20, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

Mike Starr is hanging at Priscilla’s, a Burbank cafe, talking with friends, nursing a coffee — you know, just being the regular guy he’s played in more than 50 movie and TV productions — when the phone rings. The caller doesn’t care about Priscilla’s menu; it’s a customer he’s after, for a guest shot on a sitcom.

Maybe Starr should start carrying a cellular phone. At 44, the self-described ”working-class-type actor,” who plays a dyspeptic hit man in Dumb and Dumber, is one busy joe. ”It’s been a little nuts the last two years,” he says. ”Close calls on things — when directors say, ‘I’ll keep you in mind,’ and you think, ‘Yeah, right’ — are finally coming together. Seeds I planted years ago have started to flower.”

Anatomy being destiny in acting, Starr, who is 6’3”, 245 pounds, has played more than his share of thugs and lugs. But the delicate expressions that cross his brow have also made the actor, who ends up undone on the floor of a roadside diner in Dumber, a memorable comic foil in fight scenes. He was Bill Murray’s strangely polite henchman in Mad Dog and Glory, slugging it out with David Caruso. He diligently, haplessly attacked Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard‘s kitchen scene. In On Deadly Ground, he got to pick himself up off a barroom floor after calling Steven Seagal a cupcake. Even scrawny Chris Elliott dispatched him in Cabin Boy.

Some filmmakers have seen past the palooka. Cabin Boy director Adam Resnick ”really pumped me to Tim Burton,” says Starr, ”and Burton went ‘Hey, he’d be right for Ed Wood.’ All of a sudden I’m in this hip black-and-white film.” (He played Wood’s penny-ante distributor.) In coming months he’s on the right side of the law, as a decent New York cop in James and the Giant Peach, a deceptive one in Clockers, and a New Age one in Pyromaniacs: A Love Story.

One of four sons born to a meatpacker and a five-and-dime employee, Starr was raised in New York City and graduated from nearby Hofstra U. on a drama scholarship. He worked as a bouncer and bartender before landing a small part in Cruising in 1980. Role begat role begat role, and Starr — based in Westchester with Joanne, his wife of 19 years, a cardiology resident; their daughters, Cassy, 18, and Nicole, 13; and a son, John, 15 — eventually found himself making a living.

His Everyman rep in Hollywood has earned him such favor with casts and crews that a caterer once told him, ”You get treated better than Redford.” But Starr isn’t yet seduced by star treatment. His modest hope for the new year? ”Maybe I’ll actually get to live through a whole movie.”

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