U-M alumnus finds legal niche

By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News

Actor David Paymer, an Oscar nominee and University of Michigan alumnus, has starred in more than 90 feature films and 100 television episodes.

''I lost count,'' said Paymer, 57, a New York native who has a recurring role as Judge Richard Cuesta on the award-winning CBS legal drama ''The Good Wife.'' ''(Cuesta is) a very complex character,'' Paymer explained. ''He's not a judge who's just 'overruled' and 'sustained.' They just aired an episode, where I'm -- the best word I can use -- is 'impeached.' I have to defend myself for the possibility that I was involved in some improper conduct. It's a very complex role."

The University of Michigan graduate says it was a treat returning to Ann Arbor last year after 30 years to film the romantic comedy ''The Five-Year-Engagement,'' which stars Jason Segel (''Forgetting Sarah Marshall'') and Emily Blunt (''The Devil Wears Prada'').

The movie, which is set in Ann Arbor, opened last month. Paymer portrays Pete, the father of Segel's character Tom.

''It was like going home again because I have such fond memories of being here. It was an intersection of my past and my present. Obviously, Ann Arbor looks a lot different than it did in the mid-1970s. The blueprint of the city is as I remember it, there are just bigger buildings everywhere,'' said Paymer.

The movie opens up in San Francisco where Tom, a talented chef with aspirations of opening his own restaurant, proposes to girlfriend Violet Barnes (Blunt). However, she accepts a post-doc position at U-M, which derails his career plans and forces the couple to postpone their wedding.

Upon arriving in Ann Arbor, Tom hates it. This strains their relationship and their engagement is put off yet again.

"You can't work for a better bunch of people than (producer) Judd (Apatow) and his extended creative family, so it was really a no-brainer to go play with them and go back to Ann Arbor at the same time,'' said Paymer. ''To stroll around and have all these memories of old girlfriends, old friends, plays that I did, and then to be a grown-up and actually doing in Ann Arbor what I was studying in Ann Arbor - which is being a movie actor - and to be back there as a movie actor in a major Universal motion picture, it felt great.''

Now in its third season, ''The Good Wife'' centers on attorney Alicia Florrick (Emmy-winning actress Julianna Margulies, TV's ''ER'') whose husband was jailed in the wake of a very public sex and corruption scandal. Alicia returns to her old job as a litigator after years of being ''the good wife'' and must cope with the stigma of the scandal surrounding her name.

Paymer has high praise for Margulies and co-star Christine Baranski, who plays senior partner Diane Lockhart.

''Julianna is a joy to work with,'' Paymer said. ''These are two of the best actresses on TV today. I just so appreciate their talent and their professionalism. Whenever you're working with someone of the highest caliber, it's just gonna up your game.''

Paymer was nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for his role as Stan Young, the brother and manager of Buddy Young (Billy Crystal, his co-star from 1991's ''City Slickers''), a famous comedian whose ego and self-destructive nature alienates his loved ones in 1992's ''Mr. Saturday Night'' (which Crystal also co-wrote, produced, and directed).

''(Crystal) was thinking I could play the role of his brother. Luckily, he didn't tell me he was writing script with me in mind because I'm sure I would've behaved in a very different and unnatural way...That really got my passport stamped, so to speak. I was invited to dine at the grown-ups table,'' he said, laughing. ''It represented a big jump to me, career-wise. Suddenly, Steven Spielberg was calling and I did 'Amistad' for him. Robert Redford was calling and I did 'Quiz Show' for him. Olive Stone was calling and I did 'Nixon' for him. I had the opportunity to work with all these legendary directors that I wouldn't have had the chance to, otherwise. Billy put me on the map.''

Paymer lives in Santa Monica with Liz, his wife of 23 years, and their two daughters.

Published: Thu, May 10, 2012

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