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Steve Martin documentary on Apple TV+: Intimate journey through the life of a private, beloved star

"STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces" looks at the entertainer's stand-up career, family life, and relationships with Martin Short and John Candy

In a more intimate way than we've ever seen before, filmmaker Morgan Neville looks at the life of one of the world's most beloved entertainers, Steve Martin, in STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces on Apple TV+.

Watch STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces on Apple TV+ with 7 days free, then $9.99/month

$10 at Apple TV+

The documentary is split up into the "Then" portion and the "Now" portion, with Neville masterfully using archival footage and present day interviews with Martin to really show the full scope of his career, and personal journey.

For the "Then" portion, the team behind the project spent more than two months scanning archival material Martin had, much of it in the entertainer's basement. But one thing was particularly helpful, found in a box marked "personal," and that was Martin's diary from 1975.

"That turned out to be like the Rosetta Stone to me of his early career," Neville said.

Steve Martin in
Steve Martin in "STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces," now streaming on Apple TV+.

'The audience had to catch up'

Going back to 1955, Martin had a job as a 10-year-old selling the Disneyland News, where he got to spend the rest of the day at the park for free. That's the first time Martin saw a comedian perform.

As he became an adult, and a performer himself, STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces tracks the evolution of his performances, initially including magic, comedy, juggling, and even reading e. e. Cummings on stage.

"There are two types of people in the world, those who understand Steve Martin’s humour, and those who don’t," Stormie Sherk (now Christian author Stormie Omartian), Martin ex-girlfriend says in the documentary. "The audience had to catch up."

As Martin's career developed, he got a big break as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, but with that came fear and Martin experienced an anxiety attack for the first time in his life. In the late '60s and '70s, while in his stand-up Martin was leaning into the trendy hippy style, he never actually did any drugs, couldn't even take aspirin, out of fear that an attack would come on.

But as a way to make his act look less "juvenile," Martin decided to age up his look, which brings us closer to the Martin we know now. He cut his hair, wore a suit and tie, and let his hair go grey.

"I looked like someone from the future," we hear Martin say in the documentary.

Steve Martin in
Steve Martin in "STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces," now streaming on Apple TV+.

'His dad was a frustrated actor who brought all that baggage onto Steve'

While Martin continued to have success as an entertainer, and eventually catching the eye of Saturday Night Live (SNL) creator Lorne Michaels, who was with Lily Tomlin when he saw Martin perform live for the first time, STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces reveals that amid his success was a strained relationship with his family, specifically his father.

“I don’t think he was a good man, and that haunted me my whole life," we hear Martin say in STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces.

As we see in the documentary, Martin's father didn't understand his son's "alternative" lifestyle growing up, and was consistently Martin's harshest critic.

"It's the thing that helps you understand a lot about why he was the way he was," Neville said. "I mean, if you think about Steve's story in simple terms, people go into show business often because they're shown affection and love, and for people that don't get that at home, necessarily, they think, oh well, people love me here and I'll be happy, and the more success I have, the more love I'll get."

"So Steve becomes the biggest stand-up in the world, and guess what? It doesn't make him happy. Big surprise. Ultimately, that's not going to fix the problem. So Steve really worked on trying to figure out his relationship with his parents and he says that he started taking them out to lunch, like weekly. ... He didn't want this to be a thing hanging over him and he wanted to build a different kind of relationship. ... We just talked about it a little bit, his dad was a frustrated actor who brought all that baggage onto Steve."

But Neville believes that at this point in Martin's life, while looking at those memories was "hard" for the entertainer, the filmmaker believes Martin has "processed his way through it."

US actor Martin Short (L) and US actor Steve Martin arrive for the 75th Emmy Awards at the Peacock Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on January 15, 2024. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)
US actor Martin Short (L) and US actor Steve Martin arrive for the 75th Emmy Awards at the Peacock Theatre at L.A. Live in Los Angeles on January 15, 2024. (Photo by Frederic J. Brown / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Steve Martin would stop performing if Martin Short couldn't be with him

As we move into the "Now" portion of the experience, Jerry Seinfeld points out something particularly unique about Martin, he's one of the only comedians who started as a solo performer and progressed into a double act, with Canadian Martin Short, later in his career.

"That's kind of Steve's journey," Neville said. "From the solitary man to a man surrounded by community and people, and love, which is kind of why I ended up making these films the way I made them, because it was like these two different Steves I was trying to reconcile."

From their live shows to the series Only Murders in the Building, and several projects in between, Martin and Short are the most magical comedy duo. In fact, in STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces, Seinfeld asks Martin what he would do if Short dies.

"I would probably stop. I'm serious," Martin says in response.

One of the biggest highlights of STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces is a portion where we get to watch Martin and Short bounce jokes off each other. It's a glimpse into hysterical and skillful comedy, and such a brilliant camaraderie and partnership. It's truly one of the greatest moments we've ever seen captured on camera, and we just feel lucky Martin, Short and Neville allowed us to see it.

"[Steve Martin] said, we need to get together and go over jokes, we've been saving jokes for a year and a half, do you want to film it? And so that's what you see in the film," Neville explained about capturing those moments. "We went and literally spent two days hanging out with them while they were going over jokes, which was maybe the most fun I've ever had at a shoot."

"I think in my initial cut of the film, that scene went on for like 15 minutes, just because it was so great. Just watching them work together is so great."

Steve Martin and John Candy sit in a destroyed car in a scene from the film 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles', 1987. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)
Steve Martin and John Candy sit in a destroyed car in a scene from the film 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles', 1987. (Photo by Paramount/Getty Images)

John Candy 'Planes, Trains & Automobiles' moment, cut from film, that had Steve Martin 'weeping'

While Martin and Short clearly have a uniquely close relationship, STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces also reveals how much Martin cared about another Canadian, his Planes, Trains & Automobiles costar, the late John Candy.

As we see Martin going through some of his relics from the past, we see him pick up a script for the 1987 John Hughes hit, where Martin gets emotional remembering a scene that was cut.

It's the moment when Neal Page (Martin) and Del Griffith (Candy) are at the train station, and originally Candy's character was set to give a lengthy monologue that explained his life in detail, performing what we now know was an impactful piece of writing.

Martin revealed he was "weeping" watching Candy perform, but it was ultimately reduced to just a couple of lines in the film.

"I don’t know why it was cut, except for tempo, and maybe you’re at the end and you don’t want to hear a long speech," Martin says, still obviously upset by the change made for the final movie.

"It got so frustrating I wanted to stop," Martin added, getting emotional, looking at all the screenplays he's kept. "You pour your heart into these movies ... and two years later it’s just another title on the video shelf."

Watch STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces on Apple TV+ with 7 days free, then $9.99/month

$10 at Apple TV+

'That is the best review I think I'm going to get'

For Neville, who clearly established an immense amount of trust with the entertainer, he does think he knows the real Martin at this point.

"I said to him in the beginning that I don't need him to bare his soul, ... [but] I need to glimpse your soul," Neville said. "I think the kind of relationship we got into was strangely therapeutic, because I did hours and hours and hours of audio interviews with him before we ever filmed, and when you show up with a tape recorder and just start talking to somebody for hours about everything in their life, it becomes like their therapist, patient relationship."

In terms of Martin's response to STEVE! (martin) a documentary in 2 pieces, Neville revealed that Martin was initially adamant that he likely wouldn't watch it, but he did in fact see the two parts shortly after the filmmaker sent them to him.

"I sent it at noon and at three o'clock I got an email back saying, 'I loved it,' one line, and 10 minutes later I got another email saying, 'Can I show it to my shrink?'" Neville said. "That is the best review I think I'm going to get, is that he learned something about himself in the process."