He directed “The Bodyguard”, “L.A. Story”, “Volcano”, and was one of the first film directors to embrace prestige TV projects with HBO such as “Temple Grandin”, now Mick Jackson has returned to the big screen to tackle a very relevant social justice theme – the truth. “Denial” is the true story of how an American professor was called on to prove the Holocaust happened in the court of law, or be found libel..
Released in cinemas late last year, it was somewhat overshadowed by another male/female truth/lies contest playing out in real time – the U.S. Presidential election. Ahead of its release to Digital and DVD 26 July, Mandy spoke with Mick about the trend of “alternative facts”, how closely they followed the real story (spoiler – very!), the lessons we can take from the film about how to battle destructive fake news, and going against the grain of traditional courtroom dramas.
I really loved the film, I thought it was so fascinating, You get so used to the structure of these types of movies – the three acts and the build-up and the arc of the main character finding their voice…and this wasn’t like that!
Mick: No! That was one of the attractive things about working on this movie. Like you said there are many films – every Jimmy Stewart film or Henry Fonda film you saw, or “Erin Brockovich” with Julia Roberts – starts out with a timid character who doesn’t have a voice, a nobody, and something happens in their lives, something crucial, some injustice, and through the film as you watch you’re really with the character because they’re getting a voice, and at the end, they stand up and say a brilliant speech and everyone applauds and everyone leaves the movie theatre feeling really great. Well this isn’t that!
In fact it’s the opposite of that. It’s a woman who starts out as that end point in fact. Deborah Lipstadt, who the great Rachel Weisz plays in the movie, starts out as a very very enabled woman. She’s articulate, articulate, well informed, passionate, she speaks and argues very well in public and in private. She’s very media savvy. She eats interviewers for breakfast and knows reporters on a first name basis. She’s extremely lonely but very driven and self-reliant. She’s the kind of person who pushes past you to open the door for herself. Her one passion is for the survivors of the holocaust. She’s Jewish and her gifts, whatever they are, are to tell their story. She’s involved both politically and socially. So she comes with all these gifts – a natural for standing up in court and confronting this man who has sued her for libel – David Irving.
Instead of what she expects to do, which is just that, stand up and say ‘you lied about this and I can prove this’, she is told by her very eminent British legal team ‘look I know you want to do that but you can’t do that because if you do, he’s very clever, and he’ll make the trial about you. And he’s got a dossier about you as long as your arm, and he’ll reduce you to that and make it not about him, but about you.’ And she was like ‘I don’t get to testify at all?’ And they were like ‘no no! And you can’t speak to the press because that will just piss off the judge. He’ll say, naturally ‘oh you refuse to testify in court, then how come you’re talking to the Evening Standard?’. ‘Well,’ she says’, then I can at least bring Survivors in. I am their champion, I can have them speak their story in court’. And again, ‘no. Sorry. If you bring them to court he’ll do what he’s done in trials like this before, he’ll reduce them to tears – they’re old people, they’re on the verge of death, their memory isn’t that good anymore, if he challenges them on a tiny detail and they say ‘oh I don’t remember’ or ‘maybe it was over there’, he’ll say ‘no it was over here, see, you can’t trust a word they say, they’re all liars and cheats.’
So it was very difficult for her. Not only is it difficult to be deprived of all your major weapons, your articulateness, your feistiness. But she was in a very unfamiliar environment. Where you come from you’re a tenured professor, it’s nice and warm and you have a very nice life. Here you’re suddenly on the world stage in an unfamiliar, alien environment almost, where it seems to rain every day, it’s cold, it’s windy, it’s foggy, it’s dank, the people are very stuffy, they wear horse hair wigs in court, and their hearts are stones just like the building, you know, ‘why has no one warmed to me?’. So in the middle of this she goes through that. In effect, the title “Denial” has a double meaning because of this. We realised as the film that David Irving, for ideological reasons, denies the truth in order to serve himself. But she has to do the opposite, deny herself the opportunity to stand up in court in order to serve the truth. So there’s a self-denial on her part that gives the film a kind of structure.
Yes that was great. There’s a great line from the lawyer, ‘They’re a strange thing consciences. Trouble it, what feels best isn’t necessarily what works best’.
Mick: It’s interesting, this film, I’ve been working on it for – well I’m not working on it anymore apart from this interview I’m doing with you now [laughs[ – but I worked on it for about five or six years to get it off the ground, and David Hare, the writer, worked on it for about a year longer than that. It was originally about truth and lies and it still is, and it wasn’t really as topical then in 2011. There was a Donald Trump then and he was going on about [Obama’s] birth certificate, but nobody in their wildest dreams thought that he could be the President. The more we pursued this film the more timely it seemed to be getting. We know as we knew then that we were watching lies and blatant lies about climate and immigration and race and photo fraud and fake news of all kinds. Back then it was true, but now it is more so, and the principal antagonist in this story is somene who is described as a liar, a racist, anti-semite, misogynist, hangs out with extreme white workers who distort tracts of history, and a demagogue whipping up crowds of supporters with outrageous statements for political reasons. It couldn’t be better. And a misogynist too, he referred to his assistants as being ‘very nice girls with very nice breasts’. And a bully, there’s a scene where Irving reduces Deborah Lipstadt to silence by invading her lecture and haranguing her. He’s a bully.
So it was inevitable that it would get more and more topical. But nobody knew it would get this topical. Except our distributor I have to say, Bleaker Street, as we approached release date, had this idea, and I thought it sounded like a good idea at the time, why don’t we do our platform release around the Presidential debates – in other words, we open in a few theatres before the first Hillary Clinton / Donald Trump debate, maybe people will see a comparison there. A couple weeks later, another Presidential debate, more theatres…And to some extent that happened but I think people were so tied up in the debate itself that people didn’t see that this was an analogy of it. It is about truth and lies as those debates were. So in that sense I think people relegated it to a Jewish movie. Which it is – it’s about the holocaust, but it’s not just about that. You can the holocaust was just about the Jews but it isn’t, and you can say Hiroshima was just something that happened to the Japanese but it isn’t. These things happen to all of us. We all live in the same world. For whom the bell tolls and all of that.
I think what’s happening now, interestingly, it’s taking on a different form. It’s not a predictor of what would happen if you elect someone like Donald Trump or David Irving to a position of power, so much as a, so this is what we’ve got now. We’ve got free speech and fake news and alternative facts and those terms that get chopped and turned around depending on political gain and obfuscation. What can we learn from this film? One thing we can learn is that a forum for fighting this sort of denialism is in the courts. It seems to be happening in the United States, and in this movie it’s happening, where you can’t get away from the awkward questions by making a snappy one liner that gets the crowd roaring. You actually have to stand there and answer the question, and when someone says ‘well what is your evidence for that?’ you actually have to say it rather than ‘no everyone knows this, everyone knows this’. Well, you tell us why they know it.
I think that is one lesson you can draw from the movie – go to the courts. And that’s one reason why now this particular administration is attacking the upper estates of the constitution, like the press and the courts, because they fear this is going to their undoing. It’s going to be about the truth. So that’s comforting if that’s true.
You mention the traditional formats of this type of film and that it’s uplifting at the end, this film did have that aspect too, it was uplifting, justice prevailed, which was good!
Mick: Yes even without that reverse dynamic, she does fight through, and with Richard Rampton as her champion as it were at the end. The truth is proved.
Which is comforting, we will have to start applying it!
Mick: I must say, it was great for me, and this may not have been a question you were going to ask, it was great to work with such a wonderful cast of English actors. I’ve been in Hollywood now working for 26 or 27 years, and it was great to back to actors of the calibre of Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, really really great, They’re all actors of great passion. Rachel spent a lot of time with the real Deborah Lipstadt before we started shooting and she, the real Deborah, was often on set to be consulted and say ‘yes that is how I felt on that day and you’re getting it right’. Rachel is a great person to work with because she is so like the real Deborah Lipstadt – she’s very feisty, very passionate, smart above all, headstrong, opinionated, spirited, and is insanely talented. Which is great! There are downsides to that because she wants to be in the moment at all times. She’s very intensely in the moment but it’s great, it brings that vulnerability in terms of being in the story without knowing what comes next. You’re just in the moment of that scene. So that’s great.
Tom [Wilkinson] I think brings a different kind of passion to it. I find that in all the things he’s done, as decent as someone like Ed Murrow [gave eyewitness reports of WWII for CBS and helped develop journalism for mass media], or Joseph Welch, the secretary of the army who famously said to John McCarthy, ‘at long last, have you left no sense of decency?’ I can see Tom doing that.
Tim Spall who plays Irving, wonderfully courageous actor. Initially we had a very wide list of people as David Irving – not an easy role to cast – and we sent out the scripts to a lot of agents and a lot of them said ‘what? Are you crazy? I’m not putting this in front of my client! They don’t want to play someone like this!’ A lot of very well-known actors said they’ll die forever if they played this part. All except Tim, and he wasn’t the last choice to play this part, of all the front runners, he was the one who said ‘yeah I’ll do it’. If you look at all the movies he’s done he’s played very conflicted and challenged characters, most recently playing Ian Paisley [in “The Journey”] and JMW Turner [in “Mr Turner”] and he even played the last hang man in England, Albert Pierrepoint [in “Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman”]. So he took this part and ran with it. And I know it cost him a lot playing Iring. There’s one part at the end where Irving is arriving at the court room, and demonstrators outside are throwing eggs at him. And we had to do a lot of takes because the people throwing the eggs didn’t have very good aim.
Mick: Yes! He got hit with a lot of eggs and it hurt him. It hurt him physically and it hurt him emotionally because if you really immerse yourself in this character – unpleasant as you find the character – you try and be him and people humiliate you by throwing eggs at you. It was fortunately one of the last scenes we shot of the movie as I don’t think he could have taken many more takes of that. But I was surprised how intensely he was in the character that he could have that reaction.
It was a fantastic performance. I know a lot of the real life counterparts were involved in making this film as well as Deborah, I was wondering, did you reach out to David at all during this process?
Mick: No. No we deliberately didn’t do that. The position we decided to take is that we were telling her [Deborah’s] story and we were not going to do one of the things which she objects to when she goes on television, is they interview her then they surprise her by bringing someone else who is a rabid alt-right person and say ‘and now we’d like to hear from the other side of the story’. And she would say, and quite rightly, ‘there isn’t another side of the story. There’s only truth. What’s the other side of truth? Lies.’ She doesn’t like that. So what we did is say, okay, everything that happens in the courtroom is from the transcript of the trial. We may edit it so it doesn’t last 17 days but everything said in court is true. With Irving, we’re not going to consult him and say ‘how did it feel when…’ and all that sort of stuff but we will take every single word he utters in the film from a pamphlet he wrote, a book he wrote, an article, a speech, a lecture, whatever. Everything he says is true in that sense. It says at the top of the film ‘based on a true story’, well both David Hare and I think it should say ‘this IS a true story’. This all happened, not just because of the words, but the actions and the fights and the arguments between her and the lawyers all happened and for those reasons. She did have a row with the real Richard Rampton in Auschwitz because she thought he was being disrespectful and essentially, trying to play Devil’s advocate. And they did reach a reclushmore at the end and he became her champion in court. And it’s nice that there is thing that is the opposite, as you say, of the classic Hollywood movie, this odd couple things that runs through it and they become the best of friends. And he actually wins the case for her and she loves that and they’re best friends still.
Aw that’s lovely. But I imagine David Irving had a few things to say when the film was released?
Mick: Oh he did. He’s not a man to mince his words, and they’re almost always offensive. He is an equal opportunity offender. When he heard that we were making a film and he was in it, he was outraged that we cast a glamorous Hollywood actress as, his words, ‘the Neanderthal Deborah Lipstadt. A better and more appropriate casting would be Ernest Baorgnene but he’s dead.’ Isn’t that awful?
It’s terrible! It’s hard to fathom, although, I’m getting more used to it I think. That’s the sad thing about Trump, I’m getting used to the fact there are people who can make these vile, misogynistic remarks.
Mick: Don’t get used to it!
I know! We should not normalise this!
Mick: When I did Q&S with the real Deborah Lipstadt when we had screenings of this movie, someone always asks, ‘what is the lesson of this? How can we take your story and draw a moral from it? What can we do?’ And she says, ‘if somebody says something that you think is doubtful or outrageous and you’re wondering if it’s true, go to the source. Not someone saying ‘I heard this is true’ but who told you that or where did you read that? Track them down, track those sources down, you can do that online, that’s one way the internet is good, and find out who said this, why did they say this, what’s their political background, why are they saying this. If it’s not true, where did they get the story from? And if they can’t say where they got the story from and there’s no evidence, then unfortunately it’s true, if your opinion is based on lies, then ipso facto, your opinion is a lie. Don’t, whatever you do, hit re-tweet or re-send. If you can’t prove it, you can’t vouch for it, don’t tell someone else, don’t spread it even further on the web.
Absolutely, and I fell this movie is going to have long legs, it will be relevant for a long time.
Mick: But for the wrong reasons I fear!
You were on to it! It’s great that you were so sadly prescient in bringing this to us now. I’m wondering though, you have an incredibly diverse range of projects, what’s next for you, what are you working on?
Mick: I try to do things that have a social content to them. I’ve done things like nuclear war and child abuse and journalistic ethics, so this fits into that school of movies. I’m interested in the story of Wernher von Braun at the moment, he was a Nazi rocket scientist. He didn’t start as a Nazi, he was a German rocket scientist who was co-opted by the Nazis and made a member of the Nazi party and a member of the SS in order to get the resources he wanted to make the two rockets which fell on London during World War II. The German secret weapon. Actually, the very first guided missile. He did that claiming he had no knowledge, or very little knowledge, of the vast slave labour and underground factories that manufactured them in inhuman conditions on a production line basis. And he defected to the Americas at the end of the war, and because of his knowledge of rocketry he found himself designing the Saturn V rocket that got the Apollo astronauts to the moon. So you have to ask the question – is this is a story about a visionary of space? A national hero? Or is he a war criminal? So that’s kind of an interesting project.
Well you find excellent projects, and thank you for your time, really loved the film.
Mick: Thank you.
“Denial” is released on Digital and DVD 26 July.
Interview : Dome Karukoski director of Tolkien
Lisa interviews the Finnish director of “Tolkien”
A 30-time award winner of directing films, Dome Karukoski is perhaps one of the most interesting filmmakers around to be chosen to direct the biopic “Tolkien.”
The only Finnish director to win all the main Finnish national awards, Karukoski had two films that were Finnish selections for the Oscars Best Foreign Language category and his American father George Dickerson was a famous poet/actor.
Moviehole was able to get some time to talk with Karukoski about his challenges growing up and his fascination with J.R.R. Tolkien that started long before the film was made.
Moviehole: How did you get into the film business in Finland?
Dome Karukoski: My father was an actor and a poet by heart, but as a poet he couldn’t support himself. I started knowing him in my late teens, I was an expressive child and I loved drawing in kindergarten and there was something inspiring about my father that he was an actor. I wanted to be in film school — there was a main film school and a main acting school in Finland. The film school is called art and design (UIAH). Hundreds apply and they only take two or three students a year. It’s free but it’s very costly and they want to make sure of you. I applied four or five times, it’s very hard to apply. I got in the first time, you spend a week at the school and they test you, you send a film. It’s quite guided, it’s a good school, the industry knows you and you have a certain label on you.
That’s the first step and the second is making your first feature and I did one as a master thesis. It takes weeks to apply and they give different assignments. In film school they might give you a still camera and give you four hours to shoot maximum photos and take five to tell a story. Or they ask you to make a short film better. I’d only been in front of a camera in high school, I’d never done anything like that before with film, but it helped a lot. They do psychological tests during the week, they really try to push you. It’s about endurance and they want to know every aspect of your talent. They don’t want to make a mistake basically.
Moviehole: How did you get involved in the Tolkien film with Fox Searchlight?
DM: I made a couple films at the Toronto film fest and people saw the films in Toronto and so I met Fox Searchlight people in 2014 — you just meet people who you like. I’ve done a couple of scripts over the years for them. It’s a normal way where you meet people and connect with them and might want to work with. I was sent the Tolkien script a few years ago, but I had finished a biopic and I didn’t want to do that at the time as it’s one of the hardest things to do. I was a Tolkien fan and had read many of the books twice. What surprised me was the touching story about friendship and love, it wasn’t a biopic in that sense, it’s a story about friendship and love.
I told Fox Searchlight it should have more fantasy and different things about war aspects. That’s when I thought of Tolkien and Lewis meeting in the pub and talking about elves. It’s fun but it’s not an epic emotional journey; it drew me in because as an orphan, I had similar experiences not growing up with a father (like Tolkien) — I felt like an outsider and so friends are important. Tolkien found his own voice during those formative years, the idea of fellowship. It feels like an epic cinematic story and I felt it needed to be told.
Moviehole: What was your toughest challenge about making this film?
DM: The one thing is, I hate biopics where it’s based on beats. The challenge was how to show the mind of a genius without being too on the nose with inspiration, there are no inspirations — he’s sketching and building. If you see the film it’s the first or second thoughts that he later uses. It’s a balance and expressing things. The good thing in working with Fox Searchlight is that they give you that time, with every crazy idea you have. While I was shooting I was forming those ideas. In a way I was still rewriting the story, it was great to be able to do that.
Moviehole: What do you find fascinating about JRR Tolkien and his books/films?
DM: One thing is that it allows you to positively escape, that I read those books as a young man. Now as an older man, I found his passion in language now that I’m reading the books in English. Some people look down on his writing as just fantasy but if you look at his writing it’s very high quality and shows the passion he had for writing. It’s a high class way of writing, that’s something I value a lot. And it has meaning — if I could be 12 or 13 and be a hero and get married to an elven princess you are allowing your imagination to fly, it has power to heal and open up your mind. When I watch this film, with so many of his experiences with friendship and turmoil, I can understand his inspirations and have more emotional layers and thoughts towards his character.
Moviehole: You’ve won over 30 festival film awards. What do you attribute to this?
DM: It’s great and you are thankful, you are always feeling there is part of you that fears failure. There is the value of someone seeing you and sees something of you in your work. It shouldn’t be your motivation but I can enjoy and be happy about that. And if a film is getting awarded, you are accepting it for the whole group that worked with you. And it helps you get more films made. What I value about the film festival system is that films get seen.
Moviehole: What are your directing methods?
DM: I usually listen a lot and then decide. Always I want to do something that is real life. I asked actors to live like in a religious sect for two weeks to find that banter and that pace about a religious sect. I explore a lot, and if you see the last shot of the trailer about the war, I asked Nick (Nicholas Hoult) that I wanted to have this shot and play with the camera and try to find things all the time.
Moviehole: You were bullied as a teen – what would be your advice for kids today about this?
DM: I was bullied at the age from 7-14, growing up without a father. I played dungeons and dragons so making stories was a method for me; you are basically creating a story, and the Tolkien stories became my friends. You find something that you strongly focus on and I used my own imagination, watching films with an escapist world and then creating and drawing stories. But there are a lot of things you can focus on. If you can, focus on something you greatly enjoy, even if it’s alone or with one friend and put energy into it. If you dwell on the negative it will swallow you but if you focus on the positive it will help you. One great thing too was the extreme love from my mom.
Moviehole: What is one thing about the film that you want to get through to audiences?
DM: These young boys wanted to inspire and change the world with art and it’s very beautiful to watch. I’m a young man but an aging man and when I watch that I get inspired. I feel for young people as it inspires them to change the world whether it’s moving bricks in society or using art, to do something inspiring. I hope the audience can take that away with hem.
Moviehole: What are your upcoming projects?
DM: We had a really great experience and are trying to find a mutual project with Fox Searchlight; I really liked how they (Fox) supported the film and how they view cinema. I get two months of press as we are going wide with the film. By July or August I will find a project by then. I’m waiting for a different kind of energy to know what I will do.
“Tolkien” will have a special event screening at the Montclair Film Festival with a Q & A with the stars on May 7th, and then be released theatrically on May 10.
For details, please visit: https://www.fathomevents.com/events/tolkien
Moviehole interviews Kirk Taylor for Revival!
Lisa chats to the actor about his latest role and acting advice
Kirk Taylor is a man who knows where he’s going in life and he should. An actor once praised by the great Sidney Poitier, Taylor has acted alongside the likes of Charles Bronson, Robin Williams and Ben Affleck.
Taylor has also worked for Stanley Kubrick, Frances Ford Coppola and Spike Lee. Just in time for Easter, he has a faith-based film called “Revival!” coming out which is a gospel musical retelling the Book of John.
Moviehole was able to spend some time with Taylor to talk about “Revival!,” a new direction in composing music and how his faith has helped him navigate the entertainment industry.
Moviehole: How did you get into acting?
Kirk Taylor: A cousin of mine blackmailed me into acting. We were in Connecticut and her name is Monica Davis — I asked Monica for a ride home from a play. I kept hearing the drama teacher yell “Boring!” in our class and I was scared of her. Monica said if I auditioned for the school play, she’d give me a ride. And it was raining and sleeting! But I got the lead in “Cabaret,” the Joel Gray part, and Monica got the chorus. The next time I did “Pajama Game” and ”Li’l Abner,” and that was my start in musical theater and acting.
Then the teacher said I should go to New York when they still had Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler teaching, so I got away from musicals. I didn’t tell them (Strasberg and Adler) I could sing then. They said they needed an actor who could sing and I surprised them that I could sing. In NYC I started working in Broadway productions and I’ve done film, teaching and TV ever since.
Moviehole: What was your chance encounter with Sidney Poitier?
KT: I didn’t realize until later that God had plans for me. I did the film “MacArthur Park,” it was directed by a guy named Billy Wirth and it had Sydney Tamilia Poitier, Sidney Poitier’s daughter in it. I played a cop in that one. We got to Sundance and the film comes up and I really believed myself in the film, I believed the role that I was a cop. But when the credits rolled I wasn’t in the credits. I was pretty crushed, they apologized and they gave me an extra $150. I brought friends to another screening but again the credits rolled and I wasn’t in it.
Then Sidney Poitier came and walked right over to me and said, “Did you play the cop? I did not know if you were a real cop or an actor.” I told Poitier about the missing credits and he said, “Where you are going in your career, that will not matter.” I call that a God Nod! That was a startling moment. I was also left out of the credits in “The Cotton Club,” and I walked out discouraged. Two girls walked up to me after and asked if I played the waiter, it was a journey. Those kinds of things, sometimes the gas tank is low and working in this industry, and you need a fill up.
Moviehole: How did you get involved with “Revival!”?
It’s been a real labor of love, we started choosing reshoots two or three years after principal photography/ I came back to do ADR seven or eight hours, clearing up the vocal acting. It was rough, but it’s one of those projects where your whole life prepared you to do it. Actors will tell you a role comes at a certain point in their life.
My wife, Richelle Taylor, was the script supervisor so she had pitched me to Harry Lennix (writer/producer and stars as Pilate) and I had an interview. A week later I had the role of Simon Peter. It’s a big arc, he’s a great pillar of the church, he was a daredevil and made big mistakes. I have had successes and had failures as well. They called him Cephas. I had a cousin who was a staunch atheist come see the film who was weeping after. I was able to understand; my most beautiful scene was the denial of Christ and Harry added a moment where my brother calls me Cephas and I deny him as well when I was warming my hands at the fire.
They shot my hardest scene first. Harry said, “Your work in this scene brings me to tears.” I felt that this was the guy, I believed his suffering and passion. Peter goes through pendulum swings for sure. I got to play Simon Peter and walk on water. I call our production, “Jesus Christ Superstar and Godspell meet 2001 Space Odyssey.” It’s a hybrid film, it started as a play written by Harry Lennix and they thought they’d film it. It expanded. It starts on stage and turns into a film with an actor coming to the theater and then goes to the first century, played by Grammy nominee Mali Music. Mali was called “the future” by Stevie Wonder.
Moviehole: Will this film be different than other films like “Son of Jesus”?
KT: It goes into the future in 2050 in L.A., this message about God’s love. The cast is predominately African American, but represents every shade of the rainbow. This film presents a message for every time and season, that will not pass away until everything is fulfilled.
Moviehole: What was it like working with Chaka Khan?
KT: I worked with her in a stage musical called, ”Signed, Sealed and Delivered” and got to sing songs from the Stevie Wonder songbook with her. She plays Queen Herodias and has a wonderful scene and song trying to persuade her husband to kill John the Baptist. Michelle Williams also sings a beautiful song to open up the movie.
Moviehole: What is your acting method, as you are an acting teacher too?
KT: I studied with both Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler and I teach a combination of their approaches.
Moviehole: What is your advice for acting newbies?
KT: I would say examine your heart and see if this what you want to do and need to do. Many of my students are working but it’s not easy. The majority of people went into other parts of the business, such as producers and casting directors. Ask is this what you want me to do? Ask God. I asked my wife to pray for me if this is what I should continue to do. The phone immediately rang and it was my agent who had just been contacted about my availability for a role in major motion picture. Within a week I’m standing with Robin Williams and Mila Kunis in a major scene that had been added. God gave me a major nod on that one! Everyone who asks receives.
There are certain things. Examine your heart in prayer and then learn your craft. It’s like learning to walk a tight rope. Take classes, do plays, study actors you like, study their body of work, do singing classes and train. Search your heart and pray about it. Get your tools ready. I have one friend who was a very talented actress. She realised something had to change, so she got on her knees and surrendered all of it to God. The next day she got a writing job and now she’s an A list writer. In order to be ready, you need to be ready emotionally too. It’s easy to get crushed in this industry, it can be a rough road; use it as a time to build yourself up. Ask if there are course adjustments or something you need to do.
Moviehole: What are your upcoming projects?
KT: I’ve been working on my original musical compositions. I did a film for B.E.T. called “One Special Moment” and had a song adapted into the film, launching my publishing company Rising Oak Music. I have 75 songs that are ready to go. Years ago I had a visit with a well-known Evangelist turned Pastor named David Wilkerson and I was in Paster Dave’s office to talk to him about some things — I mentioned acting and teaching acting, and he asked me about composing and asked if he could pray for me about writing music. I went home and I didn’t feel anything but then the next morning I competed the music for a gospel song in less than an hour! For the next week I was writing a new song almost every day. I’m still teaching, I coach privately. Now that I’m in possession of a never recorded song my late uncle John Eaton wrote for Nat King Cole, I’m going to be getting that song and my originals onto an album.
*”Revival!”premiered and opened in 10 cities in December, and at Easter it is back in theaters in some major markets.
Interview : Richard Dreyfuss – on Jaws, Oscars & ‘Sequel Syndrome’
Moviehole’s Mike Smith talks to the legendary actor
With my 15th birthday approaching, my father asked me what I wanted to do. Having been intrigued by the television commercials for a new film, “Dog Day Afternoon,” I told him I wanted to see that movie. On Sunday, September 21, 1975, my father dropped me off at the University Square Mall Cinema in Tampa to see the movie. Sadly, I didn’t know it was rated “R” and was told I couldn’t buy a ticket. As I began to dejectedly walk away, the girl in the ticket booth called out to me “have you seen JAWS yet?” I hadn’t. 124 minutes later, my life was changed.
I include this because of what I did after the film. Like a normal kid, I wrote fan letters to the three stars. I soon received a letter from Richard Dreyfuss’ cousin, Arlene, who informed me that she ran Richard’s fan club. If I wanted to join, it would cost me $5.00 (a week’s allowance at that time). I immediately sent her the money, along with a note saying “if you ever need any help.” Within a few months, I was helping her with the club – basically I handled the fans east of the Mississippi river. It was a great time for a teenager. I’d scour the newspapers for articles about Richard and each month would send out a packet to the fans, which usually consisted of Xeroxed newspaper clippings and the occasional photograph. Not sure how many members were in the club, but when it disbanded in November 1978, shortly after the release of “The Big Fix,” I was dealing with almost 1,000 fans.
I’ve been very fortunate to have met Mr. Dreyfuss twice in my life. Once, in Baltimore, when he was on the set of the film “Tin Men,” and in July 2017 when we were both guests at a Hollywood Celebrity Show. At that show I was able to stand near his table and listen to him tell the most amazing stories. I mention this because Mr. Dreyfuss is currently traveling around the country, offering fans the opportunity to take in AN EVENING WITH RICHARD DREYFUSS. He will be in Kansas City this week (April 4th) and I have been honored to have been chosen the moderator of the event. Call it practice, but I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Dreyfuss and ask him some questions, a few of which may be included when we’re together Thursday night.
Mike Smith: What led you to pursue a career in acting?
Richard Dreyfuss: Wow! I don’t know….what leads someone to follow what they love? I don’t think I really had a choice.
MS: Was there a film or performer that inspired you? I acted a lot through my 20s but couldn’t make a living at it, but the inspiration came from wanting to do what YOU did. I know you’re a fan of actors like Charles Laughton, Irene Dunne and Spencer Tracy, among others. Were they the catalyst?
RD: They were, of course. I have no memory of NOT wanting to be an actor. I think the first time I got on record was when I was nine years old. We had just moved to California from New York, and I said to my mother, “I want to be an actor.” And she said, “Don’t just talk about it.” So I went down to the local Jewish Community Center and auditioned for a play. And I really never stopped. I realistically never had more than ten days when I wasn’t acting in a play, or a scene or a class or a job until I was 27.
MS: You made your film debut in two very different films in 1967 – “The Graduate” and “The Valley of the Dolls.” What do you think is the biggest difference between filmmaking then and today?
RD: There are so many. The general level of quality for an actor has plummeted. When I was younger I never hesitated telling young actors to “go for it”…to pursue it. And now I don’t say that, because the real rewards are so rare…so few and far between The quality of scrips, from an acting viewpoint, suck. The sequel syndrome that we’re in, which we can’t seem to get out of, has really lessoned the level of quality of writing. Of story. And it seems more arbitrarily decided upon as an element of chicanery and thievery, even for a business that’s famous for it, it goes on. Film acting is not something I really recommend. If you want to be an actor in America you can live a very great and satisfied life if you never think about being a star. You can have a great life in Kansas City. Or St. Louis. Or a million other places. But if you want to go for that kind of brass ring, which I would question – if you do want to go for it, go to therapy first – you’ve got to go to L.A. or New York. And those towns are pretty sick.
MS: You famously almost turned down your role in “Jaws.” Are there any roles you turned down and then later regretted your decision?
RD: Oh yeah. I was once watching a movie and I kept thinking, gosh, this seems so familiar.” I thought “oh, shit,” and then I remembered why. And I didn’t ALMOST turn down “Jaws,” I did turn it down. I turned it down twice. And then I changed my mind and begged for the part. (NOTE: The story goes like this. After turning down “Jaws” – twice – Mr. Dreyfuss saw his upcoming film “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” and thought his performance was so terrible that he’d never work again. He then called director Steven Spielberg and accepted the role. Of course, when “The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz” was released, Mr. Dreyfuss received rave reviews for his performance, even being named Runner Up as the Best Actor of 1974 (tied with Gene Hackman for “The Conversation”) by the New York Film Critics Circle.)
I will never tell you the ones I turned down that became hits. Thank God there aren’t that many of them!
MS: What fuels the passion for your work?
RD: If you asked me a question about my process – how do you do this…what’s your method? – I would completely be unable to answer that. And I’ve always known I’d never be able to answer those kind of questions. But I know that, in a business where if you’re a successful actor you want to direct, I’ve never wanted to direct. So I didn’t. I wanted to act! I had made a decision when I was very young, which probably wasn’t the most strategist thing to do in the world, but it was the way I chose to live. Which is to day, if I do a drama, then I’ll do a comedy. Then I’ll do a drama. Then I’ll do a comedy. That’s basically what I tried to do. And the mistake in that is that I don’t think I ever did something enough times to establish a kind of signature recognition of what I do. I did both. I did lots. And I thought that was the best way for me to pursue my life. And that’s what I did for sixty years.
MS: Where do you keep your Oscar? (NOTE: Mr. Dreyfuss received the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Elliot Garfield in “The Goodbye Girl.” At age 30, he was, at the time, the youngest actor to win that award).
RD: For the most part, in the refrigerator. (laughs). I always want people to know about it, but I don’t want to brag. But I figure that sooner or later they’re going to open the refrigerator.
And I’m also very aware that the list of actors who were ever nominated or won an Oscar is as great a list as the ones who never were. It’s a wonderful evening, but it’s rarely more than that. It’s a great evening. You’re aware of the film work because the audience for film is in the millions. But I make no distinction between film and theater. And, of course, the audience for the theater work I’ve done will be 1/100th of that of the film audience. But to me, it was always – if not equal than more important –so that is something that I travel with. I have a little bucket list of things that I check off every once in a while. “OK, you did a Broadway show…check.” From the time I was nine, into my teenage years, I was always in acting classes. At acting schools. I was always with actors. And they would always talk about a “National” theater. And I would say, “There’s never going to be a National theater in this country. However, there could be fifty “State” theaters. And, as someone who lives in Kansas City, I would say to you that, something that people should not ignore, is the fact that we are from so many different places…so many different cultures…that we come together as Americans only when we’re HERE, and we learn to be Americans. And each of us, whether you live in Seattle or Mississippi, you have different strains of a culture. And I have always wanted each state to have its own theater. And, in a state like California, which is huge, you could have two, anchored North and South. And, instead of trying to get everyone to agree on A National Theater, we could have one in every state. It’s silly to think we can’t afford a State theater, to be able to see how Missourians and Floridians and North Dakotans approach theater. I think that would be a great endeavor and a great thing to do. Only because we teach so few things that we share. We’ve actually given up on the notion of teaching things that are of shared values. And that’s causing this terrible breach in the country. And we should try to find things that we can share. And one of them could just be the artistic endeavor of a State theater.
MS: That makes a lot of sense.
RD: And they’ll never do it (laughs).
MS: Quick follow-up to the Oscar question, one of your fellow nominees that year was Richard Burton. When Sylvester Stallone read the name of the winner, and you heard “Richard” did you think Burton had one?
RD: My competition was Burton, Marcello Mastroianni, John Travolta and Woody Allen. There was no easy answer. But I just knew I was going to win it. (laughs) That’s all I cared about.
MS: Me too, that night. I always wonder how people sometimes vote. You were also nominated for “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” but I thought you were most deserving four years earlier for “Once Around.”
RD: It’s probably the easiest vote to define. There are two ways people vote in the Academy. One is, you vote for your friend. Or, you vote for who you think is best. In that order. It’s simple. You may not be able to predict it, but that’s the way people vote. And it’s the reason why people do vote. It’s not a mystery. The only thing wrong with the Oscars now is that there are too many other awards, and it’s cheapened the whole thing.
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