F. Murray Abraham receives key to hometown of El Paso, talks 'Amadeus'

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The laid-back and good-natured F. Murray Abraham returned to his hometown of El Paso on Friday to be honored and talk about his Oscar winning role in "Amadeus" at the Plaza Theatre.

Abraham was one of several celebrity guests of the El Paso Community Foundation Plaza Classic Film Festival. The festival ends Sunday, Aug. 7, with several movie showings.

El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser, who seemed moved to meet the actor on the Plaza stage, welcomed Abraham by giving him the special key to the city. Leeser mentioned how he used to see autographed photos of the actor inside Como's Restaurant and how he admired his career.

"The people of El Paso, Texas, proudly present the key to the city to F. Murray Abraham and sincerely say 'mi casa es su casa,'" said Leeser to Abraham, who is from El Paso and graduated from El Paso High.

Scott McGee from Turner Classic Movies, sat down with Abraham and asked him questions about his early career, his experiences filming "Amadeus" and his moment of winning an Academy Award for playing Antonio Salieri in the drama about Mozart.

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Abraham said everyone has dreams but it's not always easy to know when that dream is a reality.

"You can tell yourself you're an actor, and you can tell yourself you're a doctor or whatever it is you pursue. But until you know in your heart that you are that thing, it doesn't exist," he said. "It's fake. But when you find out, you slip into that person you always wanted to be - you know it."

Abraham got the audience laughing quite a few times, sharing anecdotes about his career and life, such as hitchhiking to Los Angeles (saying L.A. is not that far away) and doing commercials at the beginning of his career.

"I was in a Fruit of Loom pair of panties commercial," he said to amusement of the audience. "Those commercials paid for my children," he joked.

Abraham said it took a while to get the part of Salieri. Many actors who had played the part on stage wanted to get the film role. He heard of actors that dressed up in costume and brought makeup people to try out for the role.

"Milos (Forman) wanted me. I'm not too sure why but he did. And I auditioned for him and I got it. It was a mystery, I barely knew him," he said.

However, before he heard he had the part, he had already committed to a part in "Scarface," with Al Pacino and had started rehearsals at Universal Studios.

"They had it worked out where I would shoot some of 'Scarface,' then fly to Prague and shoot some of 'Amadeus.' And I did that back and forth three times," he said. "So I did both films at the same time."

"And it may sound very typical. But in fact one role was so different from the other. That on one long flight from Prague, Czechoslovakia it was like a vacation. On the plane, I would start working on 'Scarface.' On the flight back, I would start working on 'Amadeus.' It was an actor's dream," he said.

The audience laughed again when he said his mother saw the film and chided him for throwing the cross into the fireplace.

So he warned her not to see "Scarface." But she did. And so she had one thing to say, "'you tell Al not to use that language. He's a big star, he doesn't have to talk that way.'"

María Cortés González may be reached at 915-546-6150; mcortes@elpasotimes.com; @EPTMaria on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: F Murray Abraham given key to the city of El Paso at Plaza film fest