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Interview : Richard Dreyfuss – on Jaws, Oscars & ‘Sequel Syndrome’

Moviehole’s Mike Smith talks to the legendary actor

Mike Smith

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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.

Richard Dreyfuss

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.)

Richard Dreyfuss in “Jaws”

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.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

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.

Interviews

Moviehole interviews Kirk Taylor for Revival!

Lisa chats to the actor about his latest role and acting advice

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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.

For more details:
www.revivalthemovie.com
www.kirktaylorofficial.com

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Interviews

Aquaman screenwriter talks Justice League cameos, Julie Andrews & more!

Lisa Carroll talks to the co-writer of the blockbuster

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Most people who want to get into entertainment have to leave their small town; writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick’s career literally got started in his.

“Shawshank Redemption” happened to be filming at the local prison in Ohio and Johnson-McGoldrick was able to work with the production, becoming an assistant to producer/director/writer Frank Darabont. However, it was patience and resilience that got him the rest of the way and now he’s part of one of the biggest blockbusters to come along this year.

Johnson-McGoldrick sat down with Moviehole to talk about the intricacies of co-writing “Aquaman,” Topo the bongo-playing octopus and Julie Andrews’ great role (not Mary Poppins!).

 

Moviehole: How did you get started in writing?

David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick:  I got started at a very early age. I was interested in putting on shows and I liked entertaining people from childhood. In my teenage years, I thought I would be an author and it was more because growing up in Ohio, it never occurred to me that you could work in movies. Back then to me, movies in the theater came out of a little box. At 16, I realized it was a job to make movies, and I decided not to write books so I went to film school. I wanted to direct and did a film and the script was good but the movie was terrible…that’s how I got started.

David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick

 

Moviehole: Your mentor was Frank Darabont. What are the most important things you learned from him?

DLJM: It was a great mentor ship. At the time I was frustrated, because it was five years between “Shawshank” and “Green Mile” and I was like, when are we going to make it? He was writing and I got to see firsthand the emotional rollercoaster of it, the ups and downs — it’s a lot when you’re in your office by yourself all day long, you’re part of a process with no complete control over things. It helped prepare me emotionally for the excitement and disappointment of that job. He knew it was what I wanted to do and he was reading everything I wrote and giving me critiques. I remember reading “Saving Private Ryan,” (Darabont worked on the film) and reading his writing; I think stylistically in my approach in writing I’m very influenced by his writing. We are still in touch and there is stuff we want to work on someday.

 

Moviehole: What is your writing style?

DLJM: I have only worked with a partner once on “Wrath of the Titans.” I work on my own, and on this film we (Will Beall, co-writer) didn’t work at the same time — he did a draft and I did a draft, they went back and forth between us and he was the one who started that process on “Aquaman.” I actually met him for the first time at a WGA event. Meeting him went well. It’s the nature of the beast, you’re hired and fired and rehired. I have found mostly that writers understand that when you meet up. I don’t have hard feelings about being rewritten, especially on a movie this size. I used to have to be alone with total silence, I’ve since learned to do it in different circumstances and while working consistently, I am not precious about it.

I have to work on a plane or in a coffee shop and so I make a mix of soundtracks as music is a big part of it for me, I love soundtracks.  I can’t work with others talking. The music depends on what I’m working on. The only thing I have to avoid is a soundtrack if it’s too iconic, so I get soundtracks of movies I haven’t seen.  My favorite all-time soundtracks are “Star Wars” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” but it’s too much of a visual image with those movies, I need to picture something original.

 

Moviehole: What was the biggest challenge about working on “Aquaman”?

DLJM: It was a lot of fun to be honest, you’re writing “Aquaman!” It was a little like getting to go play and I felt like the challenges that were faced were harder for Zach Snyder for “Justice League” — because he was the one who had to figure out who Aquaman was. It’s a maligned character and people are more familiar with the robot chicken character of Aquaman — a guy with a blond pompadour riding a fish is the conception. Zach cast Jason (Momoa) which completely shattered people’s perceptions and we were able to steer Jason back to the classic Aquaman. I don’t think you could’ve shown him in a suit right out of the gate. He had to show Aquaman was cool.

 

Moviehole: There’s a lot of psychology to writing then?

DLJM: Sometimes you have to break people’s expectations, like with Daniel Craig with “Casino Royale” breaking someone’s head with a toilet seat; two movies later on, he’s in a tux and he’s fighting komodo dragons.

 

Moviehole: What was your biggest surprise learning about the character Aquaman?

DLJM: When I first got this job, I went back to the comic issue one of Aquaman and was pouring through the issues, knowing we are doing a different take on the character. The biggest surprise I had reading it was that everyone had in their head an antiquated idea of who Aquaman was because of the cartoon show – the one with Aqualad  where he had an Aquacave, and he got married and had an Aqua baby and it was an innocent comic at the beginning.

Then it took a dark and sophisticated turn long before ”Watchmen” came about, it became about what comics could be. You had Black Manta kill Aquababy! It took a dark turn and it was that abrupt; Aquababy didn’t even have a name. The stories changed from Superman under water to a broader scope where he had to deal with politics and palace intrigue and he was a king. You went from the bongo-playing octopus Topo to a baby getting murdered. James Wan (director) was all into the octopus getting into the movie so Topo made it in the movie. He was all into the old school hat tip to Topo.

 

Moviehole: What about the special effects on “Aquaman”? 

DLJM: James early on was making a comparison about “Star Wars” under water, and I think it will surprise people — it takes us out of the typical superhero story. It’s not about a nuclear bomb, it takes place on a grand scale in a world we’ve never seen. It’s what makes that character different from other superheroes. We have a whole underwater civilization to explore and it feels like the opening of a giant world.

 

Moviehole: Not to do any spoilers, but how did Julie Andrews get involved?

DLJM: That was a surprise! Especially as “Mary Poppins” is coming out? That came early on from a very early incarnation as James always had this character that was going to be in it and communicate telepathically. At some point in the process, he said this type of creature always had a male voice so he thought why can’t it have a female voice? And it needed to have a lot of menace and gravitas. When he said it, I wasn’t thinking about the Mary Poppins thing of it.

 

Moviehole: Any Justice League stuff going on here?

DLJM: There are no Justice League cameos in this film. We discussed doing that and it was a fun thing to get to write, but it was the decision to have Aquaman stand on his own two feet that was the right way to go.

 

Moviehole: Any advice to newbies getting into the business?

DLJM: The hardest thing to do is getting your foot in the door. The thing I found was that I got very lucky in that I graduated from film school and just a few months after that “Shawshank” came to shoot in my hometown and I got hooked up in production. I gave Frank a script and he liked it and read it and that’s how I got my foot in the door. You have to be prepared for that luck when it happens. I had a script to give to Frank, plus I was working on a script after working 12 hours a day. There was stuff outside of my control, but I was also busting my ass to take advantage of that luck.

Sometimes it seems pointless, but if you have a pile of scripts to hand to someone, as long as you’re working you’re ready to pounce when luck turns that way. I always found pitching to be really difficult, it was hard to go out there and sell myself and I had to force myself to go and drive to meetings. Every nerve in my body wanted to turn around and go back. But eventually I can do it and be good at pitching. I had to learn though countless pitches and it seemed pointless but it was actually not.

 

Moviehole: Any upcoming projects?

DLJM: Next year I’ll be working on “The Conjuring 3,” the script is written so we will hopefully shoot it next year.

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Interviews

Interview: Judy Craymer, conceiver of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray

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When you hear the word “ABBA” you may not think automatically of Judy Craymer, and yet, she has almost single-handedly been the driver behind ABBA’s prominance in popular culture in the last decade. Craymer is an English creator and producer of musical theatre, bringing the musical “Mamma Mia!” to life, first on the stage, seen by more than 60 million people worldwide, and then in film.

As the conceiver of the sequel, we also have Craymer to thank for “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”. Now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray, we sat down with her to get some behind the scenes insight.

Did anything go wrong behind the scenes – any injuries, funny moments?

Everyone got the giggles when Julie Waters did anything. they always had a surprise from her.

Did Cher make any changes to the script or was there anything she suggested that made its way into the movie?

Cher had input on the script. They always wanted her and the role was written with her in mind. When she confirmed she had her own suggestions, Cher had an ear for her dialogue. She knew who the mother was and she had a lovely time. Loved it. She had an input in what she was wearing and suggestions from the team about her hair.

Did the actors playing the younger versions of Pierce, Stellan and Colin spend time getting to know/bonding with those stars before filming took place?

We had a dinner at an outdoor restaurant and it was like being out with the parents. Younger cast, older cast, with the younger cast belting out songs at the table.

What was the most difficult scene to film and why?

Dancing Queen was a challenge. Men with megaphones, music, ques and dancers, and marine safety with wind and rain. Quite complex timings and logistics wise. It was very bumpy on the water and people’s feet were worn from the 1970s sneakers.

The Super Trouper scene – they didn’t know what they were doing until halfway through it. They had to shoot in London and just didn’t know what it was going to be but knew they wanted costumes with sparkles to make it ahead of time. Choreography took about a day for that scene alone.

Which star got the giggles the most on set during filming?

So many! It was all great. Meeting and working with Cher and bringing everyone together. Every song was a highlight. On Judy’s birthday they all sung happy birthday to her including Cher, Meryl.  On the music side of things – being in the studio and hearing the music with a six piece orchestra is mind blowing.

How did the concept arise?

In mymind there was always going to be another film. I went to Richard Curtis and spoke to Catherine Johnson who wrote the original and asked how we could revisit it. Richard Curtis said she could go back and forth in time and then the light bulb idea came.

“Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray. 

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