Elliott Gould requires further explanation, but you don't really get that from Elliott Gould. You get things like, "I say to people that I appear in "2001' at the end of a picture as a cameo. I do. I'm the Star Child."

Oh, Elliott.You can imagine his mother saying it aloud when he was a kid in Brooklyn, which he pretty much still is -- a big, tall, too-graceful-to-be-lumbering, 42-year-old kid whose face can go instantaneously from a saggy sack of potatoes to a sudden rosy-cheeked and cherubic smile.

It's difficult to know whether Gould's career is floundering or he's just playing hard-to-get. He's always in some movie or another, but not often terribly good ones. You never know quite what kind of picture he'll turn up in next -- Robert Altman's nihilistic detective thriller "The Long Goodbye," Ingmar Bergman's mopey "The Touch," Joseph E. Levine's "A Bridge Too Far" or a silly paranoid sundae like "Capricorn One."

Next week Gould will show up on area screens in a G-rated Walt Disney picture, "The Last Fight of Noah's Ark."

This is his first film for Disney. "Yes it is. Although I had appeared in several others. I was one of the crowd who couldn't believe that Dumbo could fly," he says -- with a straight face but mucho twinkling of the big brown eyes. "No one can argue with Bambi and the dynamics of family," he says.

"What's interesting here is that Pinocchio will always be Pinocchio. And Goofy, Goofy remains to be seen. I'm still trying to figure out what Goofy is. Dorothy Lamour, the last time I was here, at the Kennedy Center, we did the 75th birthday of Bob Hope for the USO, and Dorothy Lamour said to my wife, 'Can I talk dirty in front of him?' And she said, 'Yeah, try it," so Dorothy said to me, 'You know why Mickey and Minnie aren't together?' I said, 'No, why?' And she said, 'Because she was ----ing Goofy.' That was Dorothy Lamour! Ha ha ha ha ha."

For Elliott Gould there are simple questions but no simple answers. Asked by an interviewer at National Public Radio about his relationship with the Disney organization, Gould replies, "I don't want to sound pretentious, but it's a very interesting thing for them to allow me to play a part in their pictures in relation to my life happening, you know, as we speak and always aiming to expand in terms of what our ideals are and what the purpose of making pictures is in relation to the business and the corporate structure in the country and the world."

Is that so? Somewho all this stream-of-consciousness malarkey from Gould sounds classier than it does from most other flaked-out actors. The man has an utterly disarming natural talent for pulling the leg of the world and appearing to have a wonderful time.

He does keep working. He has three or four other pictures hovering overhead right now and waiting to be released. One is "Dirty Tricks," in which he plays a Harvard history professor teamed up with Kate Jackson. "We did a week's work in and around the campus. I got to have a room at the faculty building. It was great. I even smoked a joint. That was great, too."

This leads, in a way, to a question about how many movies are being made by people who are stoned all the time. To look at a number of recent films -- almost all of them.

"Do you mean, do people imbibe while they're working? I'm sure you could ask some of your congressmen and senators the same question. With the kind of attention we have through the camera, we have to be where we're supposed to be, otherwise we can't work. As far as how you get there, it's up to you. How you stay there is basically part of your craft. I don't take painkillers. I don't have to take any pills to put me to sleep. And so I think the value system sucks.

"And, uh, you know, I've been buying insurance now," he says absolutely without a pause or a blink, "and buying disability insurance just in relation to the economic swirl and the high cost of living and making sure that my family and my children don't have to suffer for anything I've had to do. Now security is something between your heart and your mind, that's it! But I've also bought security in relation to our society. Which is relative to, 'Does anybody get stoned while they're working?'"

On earth HOW?

In response to that query, he tells an anecdote about how he and Donald Sutherland were making "M*A*S*H" and he left the studio lot one day to cash a check, and when he and Sutherland came back through the rear entrance the guard didn't recognize the two actors but they drove onto the lot anyway and, with the guard in pursuit, swiped a golf cart belonging to producer Arthur P. Jacobs, then making one of his "Planet of the Apes" pictures. And eventually after leading one and all a merry chase he and Sutherland were apprehended by studio guards, but not before co-star Fred Williamson knocked over young John Landis, then working in the mail room but later the director of "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers."

"But EVERYBODY in Los Angeles is stoned, you understand?"

Why isn't Gould a bigger star? Maybe he's too good an actor to be a star. Mabye he's too good for success, success on a Burt Reynolds scale, that is. He certainly has played an almost wacky range of roles. He thinks the unpredictability is good; "If you can't predict, then you have to come and see the picture."

He is also authentically unpredictable in his private life. Once married to and later divorced from Barbara Streisand, he subsequently married, then divorced, then married once more Jennifer Bogart, to whom he remains married. He loves children, but he loves old people, too.

"I was very close with Groucho at the end, you know. He told me that when I screwed a lightbulb into his roof, it was the best acting I'd ever done. Groucho wanted me to sing at one of his parties. I was going to do 'Let Yourself Go' which I eventually did on 'Saturday Night Live.' But I was sitting next to Mae West, and Bud Cort was singing already, and so I said, 'If Miss West will sing "Frankie and Johnny" then I couldn't ever refuse to sing.' So she went up -- it took her a while, but she eventually did -- and she sang all of 'Frankie and Johnny,' which absolutely destroyed everybody, and I didn't have to sing.

"She was unbelievable. She said to me, 'You could be my pleasure man.'"

Later, though, at a Women's Press Club luncheon in Hollywood, Gould -- who has a background in Broadway musicals, having met Streisand during "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" -- spied Carol Burnett, who'd been traipsing through the talk-show circuit on an anti-drug bender because her daughter had been hooked but later unhooked one some filthy substance or another.

And Gould consulted his memory bank for song lyrics to speak from the podium. He recalls them and, sitting in his chair, thoughtfully, and heartfully sings them -- the verse to a great and undersung ballad called "Young and Foolish." To wit:

"Once we were foolish children, playing as children play, Racing down a meadow April-bright, Playing on a hilltop half the night; Now that we're growing older, We are too wise to say, Now that we're growing wiser, We are not wise enough to stay, Young and foolish, why is it wrong to be, Young and foolish, We haven't long to be. . . ."

"So I was sitting next to Bette Davis on the dais, and I was supposed to give the Golden Apple award for the most promising newcomer, which was Mariette Hartley, and Alan Alda comes up to accept the award and he says, 'Thank you, Miss Davis,' and he looks at me and says, 'Old and foolish.' And I said, 'You scumbag! How the ---- do you take so much of this and still be jealous of nature taking its course?' No, I didn't put down Carol Burnett! I said to her, 'Look, I know what you're going through, and what you've been through, but it's not dope. Not narcotics. It's not just that, that's an effect. It's a way of life and a value system. And thank God, I've been around and I'm back and I've got a lot of information to share.'"

Oh, Elliott! You card.

Gould notoriously does not like to talk about his first marriage to Streisand, but asked cagily if he saw the version she made of "A Star is Born," he says, "You mean, the one with my wife? Sure. Oh, I'm a sucker for her. I think she's great. I think she's absolutely the greatest. Up until a point. Up until a point. But her voice is really great. I'll tell the man in the street. Her work is fantastic.

"I was at the closing night of 'Funny Girl.' Sat in the first row. I don't know, I never really approved of the 'People' song. In 'Dirty Tricks,' when I'm hiding out in the apartment of Kate Jackson and taking a bath, I'm singing, 'People, people who need people, are the horniest people, in the world.' And I called [composer] Jule Styne, that little creep, and I said, 'Jule, we gt "People" and I want to use it in the picture.' He said, 'Well, it's going to cost you a lot of money.' And I said, 'Well, that's my point. We don't have a lot of money.' And he said, 'Well, you'll have to speak to my publisher.' So, we don't have 'People' in the picture.

"Anyway -- Streisand? 'I'll tell the man in the street, that you and I are sweethearts.' She's great."

Gould wants to make at least one more Disney picture, which he would produce and star in, an adaptation of Bernard Malamud's "A New Life" which he for some reason wants to call "Anewlife."

Elliott gould says, "I tend to be extreme sometimes because I'm always working and developing the outer limit." And: "Sometimes I have been known to over-act and known to misbehave but I hardly ever lose my temper. I've never punched a soul. And: "I don't have any rules other than my own feelings."

Elliott, you might as well have sung the rest of "Young and Foolish." To wit: "Soon enough, the carefree days, the sunlit days go by; Soon enough, the bluebird has to fly. . . ."