It is often true that good things come to those who wait. This was never truer than with Tom O’Connor, screenwriter of “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” who waited years for the film to come to life. Tom sat down in a local Hollywood café to give Moviehole the word on the ever-changing industry as well as some tips to impatient writer newbies.
Moviehole: How did you get started in writing?
Tom O’Connor: In college, I minored in theater and I studied playwriting – David Mamet, Eugene O’Neill, but I didn’t do anything with writing at the time. I wasn’t ready to be a writer yet but a lot of stuff ended up in the back of my head. I ended up working in advertising with commercials like Nike, that got me to L.A. with an advertising agency and it got me used to writing as a daily thing. Like writing on deadline, being creative on deadline. But I came from the east coast where I had never thought of writing movies or for TV as a job – I thought magic elves did it or something (laughs). I met writers and started writing scripts on the side, it was a gradual transition and I was able to quit my day job. I moved into it over time.
“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” was the script that got my career going. I wrote it on spec, it sold in 2011 to Skydance Media. They bought it and it got me my Writers Guild card. It sold right away – it made the Black List long after it sold.
Moviehole: How do you write, what’s your method?
TO: I get up early and turn off the world for the morning hours and write until the afternoon. I unplug the Internet and turn off the phone. I might think of ideas one day, and I might do a rewrite another day. How do I get from this scene to that scene? How do I fix this character issue? How do I get from this moment to that moment? It’s a little like being an architect. You’re just trying to get this house to stand up and not get pulled over.
Moviehole: Do you outline?
TO: I do, every script I outline more and more. I work in Highland, which is the software that John August created, it’s really helpful and you can move seamlessly from a treatment to a screenplay, because it’s all the same format; you’re not worried about page breaks or line breaks or screenplay formatting until later. I will start writing paragraphs like prose, almost like a novel. I write it that way, and then I’ll transition it into scenes. I also jump back and forth.
Moviehole: Did your writing background help?
TO: My family are a family of writers and my dad was a journalist, we’re very verbal and very much in love with the word and reading. My background in advertising helped. With “Hitman” I could see the trailer and the poster and I thought, that’s a movie, I knew what the common market needed.
Moviehole: Were you creative as a kid?
TO: I wasn’t writing formally, I was creative — but I didn’t have the discipline to sit down and write until well after college. Also being creative with other people, screenwriting is very much about adapting to other people’s needs, like the studio and the director, and advertising is like that too.
Moviehole: On the movie, were you able to get on set and do rewrites?
TO: It was a great process, the movie took a long time to get made – Millennium Films picked it up and Ryan (Reynolds) got on formally so I got to do drafts with Ryan and the studio. Ryan is great about development – not just about his own character, but all the characters and story and development.
He brought up “Planes, Trains & Automobiles” a number of times, one of his favorite movies, that was definitely an influence. We had to change directors close to the last minute, it was nothing nefarious, just that the previous director had contractual commitments on another movie.
Patrick Hughes (director) came on and he was great, he took the reins in a short period of time and put his own stamp on the material. It was a really good process, I saw that thing through so many revisions on and off for years, at the end you have to hand it off and let them do their thing on set. It was nice to turn it over to them and have them bring the movie to life in this cool way.
In their interplay, Ryan and Sam (Jackson) were such great pairing. Sam’s character was originally written as a 35-year-old Irishman in the draft. But when Sam’s name came up, we were all, “that’s perfect” and it was such a great contrast with Ryan; Ryan is a 40-year-old guy, Sam is older, and they got different energy but also they got along really well. That casting worked out great. We were really fortunate that it came together that way.
Moviehole: What was the biggest challenge of this film?
TO: I would say the biggest challenge was keeping a consistent vision of course of the rewrites, different directors off and on, different ideas on how the movie would go, and being able to stay flexible through a succession of different people. I had to be flexible to seeing different points of view while also holding what made the movie work together. This movie was an endurance test (laughs). I really started in 2010, it’s been off and on for six years, that’s a lot of time, although I was doing things in-between.
Moviehole: What has been the challenge of your career?
TO: I can tell you that very successful writers have their moments; it’s not all about making money or not, it’s about are you creatively satisfied, are you feeling good? I think what I would say to anyone in their career, just get back to what you love to do and write. If that’s what you are meant to do, you’ll go back to that, and the slings and arrows will just fall away. I really fell in love with it, the frustrations in writing were nothing compared to the frustrations in advertising. Once I worked in advertising I thought “if this is what I’m going to be doing the rest of my life I’m going to drive off a cliff, this is bad!” It’s a great field to start on, but it’s a small box to work on.
I think for me, like “Hitman” is the first thing that sold. I remember I was in my apartment in 2010, writing the first draft and I wrote a dialogue exchange between Michael Bryce (Reynolds) and Darius Kincaid (Jackson) where Bryce says, “My job is to keep you out of harm’s way” and Kincaid says “I am harm’s way.” I got out of my chair running around my apartment giggling like a little girl because I knew this is a movie! Whatever is going to happen, that’s a trailer moment, that’s a character anyone could understand. So all the ups and downs that were writing in general, that scene always stayed the same, that was the core of these two people and the movie. That was my little rock in the midst of the storm.
Moviehole: Who are your writing idols?
TO: Aaron Sorkin, Elmore Leonard, David Mamet – primarily they have specific voices particular to them. I love their work, I watched “West Wing,” I reread David Mamet’s plays, Leonard’s novels.
I was thinking about Shane Black when he was at the peak of his writing career, he said something like “I didn’t write any scripts to make money, I wrote them because I liked those kinds of stories.” I think that’s advice for younger writers, write the stuff you like and what you want to see, the things that are exciting to you.
I say that as someone who broke in with a commercial script which I didn’t write because I thought, “oh, I can sell this thing” — it was a cool story where I liked the characters and for something you want to go see. Pursue the kind of career you want to have. If you are lucky to get any traction in this business, producers and so on will pull you in to help achieve their agenda which could be great. Make sure you are not pulled into others’ agenda if it’s not what you want to be doing.
Moviehole: I had read an article once where it said if you want to be scriptwriter, write a low-budget film — if you write a bigger film like a Sci-Fi film, people would think it’s too expensive.
TO: I disagree with that, because you are thinking, is the movie is going to get made or not? You should really write the story you want to tell. If it doesn’t get made and the writing’s amazing, you get the opportunity to write other things. You should be writing the story you want to tell, especially these days. Most writing careers aren’t based on writing original pieces of work, they are based on writing a great script that makes everyone want to work with you. Look at the business, that applies to everyone, people who sustain careers these days aren’t usually writing their own material exclusively — maybe TV writers, but look at Christopher McQuarrie (profiled by this writer in Moviehole awhile back) who wrote “The Usual Suspects” — he’s a brilliant writer with original material, but what he’s doing mostly these days is being a director on “Mission Impossible” and being a writer/producer on big-budget movies.
You would assume Chris McQuarrie would have smooth sailing from that time on (from “The Usual Suspects”), but big-time writers have ups and downs, feelings of discouragement that’s never going to go away. I have successful friends who feel they need to go to the well and change up what they are doing. Tell a story that excites you, don’t lose that, I’d tell that to anyone.
Terry Rossio has a great line, something like, “If you are trying to be a writer and you love it, keep doing it until it’s no longer fun to try.” There’s other things in life; like having financial security, friends, a family, having a life — sometimes aspiring to be a writer can block you off from those other parts of life.
Another writer named Josh Friedman on his blog said the only guarantee as a writer is that you will spend a lot of time being alone in a room wondering if anyone will ever give a s—t about what you write (laughs). That’s every writer.
Moviehole: Are there any books you recommend about writing?
TO: I’d recommend all of them once, and then take what feels useful to you and then discard the rest. I do enjoy Aaron Sorkin’s Masterclass. Sorkin is fun, he is very honest about the process and confident and self-effacing.
Moviehole: What is your hope for the future, your biggest dreams?
TO: For right now I don’t look too far into future, fingers crossed and if “Hitman” does well enough, I can do more original material. I have a couple of original ideas I just wrote on spec; a historical drama, I will see where it goes, it’s under wraps right now.
I just want the collaborative art with actors/directors, getting to work with great people is really fun. The only piece of advice from someone else is that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, about being a writer. This movie took seven years to make, which is not unusual for movies. When you are an aspiring writer it’s hard not to be impatient, but when you finish a script and are waiting for an agent or actor to read it, be telling your next story.
I try to follow that advice now. It’s better for your mental health too. If you like writing, you are happier when you are writing.
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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