But what about his personality, which in the comics was alternately rude tempered and philosophical? Huyck and Katz say their Howard isn't as mean spirited as his comic counterpart, but neither do they want to make him too adorable. "Steve Spielberg was petrified that E.T. would be too scary," says Huyck. "We have the opposite problem: we want to make Howard tough enough that he's not too cute."
So they've made him "a pretty cantankerous duck," says Thompson, who has a love scene – albeit a weird one – with Howard. "He's always getting himself into trouble with his big beak, but he's really a knight in shining feathers." Adds Jones, "He's definitely pissed off to be here. He's not very impressed with human beings, he has a short fuse, and he's not about to take any shit from anybody."
As for the often surreal tone of Gerber's books, Huyck says they tried to ground things a little more in "movie reality," keeping in mind that the whole project was odd.
"We'd think things like 'Should we have a mock-heroic theme for Howard?' " laughs Katz. "And then we'd think, 'What are we talking mock-heroic? We have a duck.' "
In adapting the comic books, Huyck and Katz even won a fan in Gerber, who says, "Oddly enough – and this was an incredibly pleasant surprise – I think Willard and Gloria came closer, certainly, than any of the other comic-book writers to capturing the flavor of the character." That's the crucial trick – capturing Howard persuasively enough so that once the audience figures out how it's done (which won't take long), they'll see a cranky interstellar waterfowl, not an ingenious creation given life by those amazing Lucasfilmers.
Actor Tim Robbins, who plays a hyperactive lab assistant, thinks the filmmakers succeeded: "About three weeks into shooting, I realized how much of a person Howard had become," he says. "He ran into something and got a hole in his beak, and I thought, 'Oh, shit! Get a medic!' "
So Howard, in the end, is simply Howard. He walks, he talks, he gripes, he flirts. He even does interviews. Not in person, mind you – but written questions were answered in time for a reporter's visit to the production offices.
His answers suggest Howard's not about to hang out with Hollywood's Duck Pack. "When I came to earth and initially saw these 'funny animal' comix, I was appalled," he says of Donald and Daffy and Scrooge McDuck. "These cartoons are full of fowl aspersions. These characters are an unfair and biased representation of ducks. All I can say is nobody compromises my dignity, dresses me funny and lives!"
What, then, of the rumors that Howard has been dallying with Donald's girlfriend, Daisy Duck?
"This is a sad commentary on contemporary journalism," Howard begins, in a transparent attempt to deflect attention from the public's right to know what's up, duck. Then he issues the oldest denial in the book: "Daisy is a close personal friend. That's it. We've gone to a few movies, some gallery openings, a couple of restaurants, shared some laughs – but nothing more."
And Lea? "Lea Thompson is a great actress and a real lady. Just because she looks human, she doesn't behave like one. When she first met me, she did not scream, she did not look down upon me condescendingly like I was the main course at a banquet. She treated me as an equal."
Then the duck gets testy. "But the gossip items linking me with Ms. Thompson are the grossest exaggerations. We starred in a major motion picture together. We toiled together as artists. It's as simple as that. What happened after hours is nobody's goddamned business."
So now that ducky's gone to Hollywood, what happens if he's a hit? The cast seems eager to do sequels (and some are contractually bound to do them): Tim Robbins wants the next movie to be based on Howard's comic-book battle with the Deadly Space Turnip; Lea wants to see her character in Duck World; Willard Huyck wants to shoot it somewhere warm and sunny, like Hawaii. Even Steve Gerber – who repeatedly says he has no interest in the movie business – would like to try his hand at a script. (He'd really like to return to the comic, but he says he can't work with Marvel's conservative regime – "the one sour note in this whole experience.")
As for Howard, he's preparing for stardom on his own terms. "The market is foaming at the mouth to offer a talking duck up to the media-blitzed public," he says. "But I ain't playing along. All right, I do have an agent, Michael Ovitz, one of the most powerful hairless apes in showbiz, but he was the first to say to me, 'Howard, I do not want to exploit your duckness. It's cheap, it's gaudy, it's undignified. I am going to find you nonduck roles. The Robert Redford roles, the Bobby De Niro parts you can sink your bill into.'
"That's what I'm doing now, reading scripts, talking with directors. Reminds me, I've got to return Marty Scorsese's call . . . "
This story is from the August 14th, 1986 issue of Rolling Stone.
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