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EXTRA! Richard Dreyfuss

Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
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February 26, 2020 12:00 am

EXTRA! Richard Dreyfuss

Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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February 26, 2020 12:00 am

This week’s Extra! Is an extender version of Ben Mankiewicz’s conversation with Richard Dreyfuss

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Let's partner for all of it. Learn more at Hi, I'm Jane Pauley and this is our Sunday morning extra. This weekend, Turner Classics movie host Ben Mankiewicz spent some time with Richard Dreyfus. From American graffiti to close encounters of the third kind, and of course, Jaws. He won an Oscar in 1978 for The Goodbye Girl.

At age 72, he's still keeping busy while looking back on more than 50 years in Hollywood. Here's their conversation. Before we get into the big movies, just tell me, remind us how you lied your way into the big valley.

It's a good story. It's the actor's oath, you know. The actor's oath is you do whatever it is they ask you to do and you say, I was raised on a ranch outside of Las Vegas. Of course, I know how to ride. Just to be clear to people, you were raised in New York?

In Brooklyn and I'd never seen a horse. But as I walked in the door, the director of the segment was Paul Albrecht. Oh, really? Wow. From Casablanca. You betcha.

Right. And I said, it's an honor to meet you, Mr. Albrecht. And he said, thank you very much. And I read and then he said, do you know how to ride? And I said, oh yeah. No problem. I was literally raised on a ranch outside of Las Vegas.

No problem. Reinforcing the original lie. Yeah. So we get to the ranch and I go over to the head wrangler and I said, how do you ride one? He goes, oh, damn it. And he said, it's harder than just riding. So I had to drive a buck board with two little children on it. These guys, this is hard. They take it seriously.

You can't wing this. Right. And they take its danger seriously.

But they also take actors for being what they are, which is kind of silly. So he's cursing me. But he's with a good humor. And then Peter Breck, one of the regulars on the show, walked over to me while he was putting on his black gloves. And he said to me, never forget that this animal has a brain this big. And then he clenched his fist and he hit that horse right in the mouth.

Really? And I mean, as hard as he could. And the horse went, and then he walked away, Peter. And I knew that the horse said to all the other horses, he hit me because of the kid. And so I was totally terrified.

Right. So you took that on yourself. And I got with the two kids and the moment they said action, they said cut, because they could see I was out of control, like, wow. And the two kids were the problem, you know.

They only went action. And before you could take a breath, the whole crew was yelling, cut it, cut it. And Henri said, do you know why you got this part?

And I said, I gave a good reading. And he said, no, it is because you said it is an honor to meet you, Mr. Henri. I like that guy who worked with Bergman and Bogart and Casablanca. Now he's got some lying Jew from New York saying he knows how to ride a horse. Saying he knows how to ride a horse.

Another short guy. Yeah, no, that's right. So I want to ask you, start with the, ask you about the graduate. I just want to point out that my daughter is currently on season four of Bewitched. And that part of you will be by far the most exciting thing when I tell her that. She'll be like, ah, Jaws. I don't know, she doesn't know from Jaws, right? But Bewitched, serious business.

Yeah. What a star you're meeting. Well, when I finished The Big Valley, Barbara Stanwyck walked up to me and I knew everything there was to know about Barbara Stanwyck. She walked up to me and she said, you're the best actor who's ever guest starred on the show.

And she walked away. And I, of course, believed her. So I invited all of my friends and all of my family to watch the show with me, which I had never done and will never ever do again. Because as the show unfolded, I backed up unconsciously against the far wall of the room with my mouth, because I was terrible. And I knew why Barbara Stanwyck had said that.

She said to herself, if someone doesn't say something nice to this kid, he's going to blow his brains out. And so she said I was the best actor. In fact, and I can't explain this, I was not a good actor. I was vivid and I was energetic and like that. But if you watch the performances I gave over 11 years, none of them are even close to being acceptable.

And then I got my first job in a real feature and I was good from that moment on. So that great line, though, you have in The Graduate, your only line, shall I get the cops? I'll get the cops. Do people know that line? Do people quote that? Oh, all the time. Yeah. So, but you were hoping to be cast as Benjamin, right?

No, no, no. Every kid in New York and LA wanted that role, of course. But I knew, number one, I wasn't old enough. I was still in school, but I just wanted to get to Mike. There were lots of casting levels and I wanted to get to Mike. Mike Nichols.

And Mike Nichols. And on, and I have to say this, I had been driving through Hollywood one day, I drove past the Greyhound station and I picked up a guy who needed a ride. He was in the ride.

He was a dwarf and he was, all of his bags were in his arms and he just needed a place to stay. And I drove him there and we talked. And he said, I said, what are you doing here in LA? And he said, like you, I'm trying to make it in Hollywood.

I said, well, good luck. And when I went on the casting for, he was the first level of casting. He was casting director or he was?

Yeah. For which? For the graduate?

For the graduate. He had gotten a job and he was doing that. And I walked in and he went, and I went.

The guy who gave me a ride, the great guy who gave me a ride. Yeah. So you got a part. So I went up to the second level. Then I went up to the third level and then I was told next Tuesday night, you're going to see Mike. And that's what I wanted.

Right. And on that Tuesday, I was told Mike had to fly to New York because he's seeing an actor named Dustin Hoffman. And at the name Dustin Hoffman, I swear to God, this is true.

I felt the wind of inevitability go right up the back of my neck. Even though you didn't know him? I didn't know him. I didn't, I never knew what he looked like. I just heard the name. And like Dustin himself, he knew Dustin Farnham and he chose it. And I heard his name and I knew. And within a week, everyone else knew. Right. But Mike was a guy of such class, for real, that he gave everyone who had reached a certain level in the casting process, a job in the film.

Somewhere. They'd give you something. So I was told I was in the movie and I went to meet him and he says, you prepared? And I said, yeah, I was studying with Stella all week long. And he said, okay, whenever you're ready. And I went, I'm ready. Go ahead. Shall I call the cops?

I'll call the cops. He said, you got the role. Well, I can see why you were so confident.

I mean, you nailed. So then we go six years later, we're at, I guess, five years later before casting starts. And all of a sudden, I mean, did you know at the time like, Hey man, this is Francis Ford Coppola producing. This is George Lucas directing. Did you sense, cause you couldn't have known that these were, these were guys with vision? No, I, as a matter of fact, was the only member of the cast who did not know that we were shooting a classic. I just thought we were shooting a little teenage movie.

So on American Graffiti, Ron Howard, Harrison Ford, Cindy Williams, they have some sense that this is something special? Oh yeah. Everyone did.

Everyone. And I, because people don't remember, and why should they, that there had been a little wavelet of nostalgia for the fifties and sixties already. It had already been one. And I thought we were overdue and late.

You mean like where the boys are? I don't remember what they, no, no, it was not as well known as that. It was just a little cultural thing.

Oh, you thought that time was sort of passed in America. Right. Right. I got you.

Right. So we shot this movie and had a blast and George misled me on, in many ways. One of the ways was that he is the only director I've ever met who doesn't like directing. And, and he would, we'd be doing a scene, me and Ron, and me and Ron and some, and he'd come up and say, is that the way you want to do it? Then I said, I would say, yeah. That was your George Lucas impersonation? That was my George Lucas.

And he would say, okay, Haskell. And then that was it. And he was wearing a fur parka because it was freezing cold at night in San Francisco. Was it in San Francisco or Fresno or both? We were shooting it in San Francisco and we may have shot in Petaluma too, I think. It's cold.

Yeah, it's cold. And then, and I really did get the feeling that George, George doesn't like directing. And I will tell you what I think is a coincidence.

And I've yet, even now, I've totally forgotten to ask him after 50 years. I had done my conscientious objector alternative service working at LA County Hospital in the basement. Then I saw THX 1138. His debut film.

Yeah. And I recognized some of the locations as being in the basement of LA County Hospital. And I didn't get it from George, but other people, I seem to have gotten it in my head that that's where he had shot it as a student project.

But I never really confirmed it. And I saw it, I liked it. And then I was asked to audition for graffiti. So you had to audition for graffiti like everybody else? Oh yeah. I mean, there was no like, nobody thought, oh, I've seen this guy on stage and, or I've seen him in Bewitched or Bic Valley and we want, this is the guy we want.

No, no, no, no, no, no, as the French say. Actually, I had made a breakthrough in two plays, both local and the second one was at the taper and who saw me were the writers of graffiti. And they had kind of passed the word along, but I had made a big splash in this play and was the first in my career. What about it's, what about Spielberg? What did you, you saw something in him? Yeah, Steven is, yeah. Steven had called me and said, I want to meet you about Jaws. Don't read the book. To this day, I've never read the book. That's how good an actor I am with directors. And we met. He didn't want you to have any preconceived notions about how the character should be.

Yeah. And for a very good reason. He said, I want to make a bullet. He wanted to make a one, a movie about one thing with tremendous velocity and momentum.

And there was oodles, apparently of subplots in the book. He didn't want any of that. So I didn't. And he told me the story and it was exciting. He said, you want to do it? And I said, no. He said, why? And I said, because I'd rather watch this movie than shoot it because I'm an idiot.

I mean, there's really no other explanation. I'm pretty stupid when it comes to certain things. And I didn't know enough about the movie making process. So when it was over, I actually went on some talk show in New York and I said, oh, it's going to be a failure.

And I said all these things that I then went back and apologized for saying. As you were making it, did the three of you, Shider and Shaw and you, did the shark work for you guys? I mean, I know it didn't literally work, but did you buy it as you're shooting those scenes? No. First, they knew from the beginning. What happened was they had forgotten to ask themselves one question, which was, has any other film ever been attempted on the real ocean?

No. I wonder why. Now we knew why. And so the shark, which had no grounding, would come up and go and fall in. Sink. So we knew, and the radio mics were so ubiquitous on the island, you could follow the plot of making the movie just by walking down the street and hearing from all sides, the shark is not working.

And you could just hear it. So one day my, you heard the shark is working. The shark is, the boat is sinking. The boat is sinking. And I was on that boat and we were sinking in the middle of the Atlantic ocean. We had ripped the anchor out and Freddy Zendar, the head of the stunt people had jumped to the wheel and was trying to power the boat onto the beach at Chappaquiddick Island, screaming all the time, this is the worst.

This is the worst. And Stephen with his megaphone is going, get the actors off the boat, please. Get the actors off the boat. And the safety boats are coming and it's a six foot swell.

And the guys running the safety boats are all local kids. And I'm trying to help a 70 year old sound man get his leg over the side of the boat, holding his $50,000 Niagara tape recorder. And Stephen goes, get the actors off the boat, please. I said, Stephen, he's 70 years old. Get the actors off the boat.

So you can use it or not. And so we lost a Niagara a week. Is that right? Yeah. We, on the very first day of shooting, we're in a boat, a little boat, and it was just doing this and then water went plump and the guy goes, that's a wrap for sound. So you don't have any feel that you've made something great, but you did have faith in Spielberg. Right. If you went and looked and said, pick out the person of authority on this set, he'd never pick Stephen on the first, on Jaws.

After that, no problem. You know, he was crowned and anointed. So, you know, they considered some pretty big actors, including John Voight and Jeff Bridges for your part. Does that still make you feel good that, and that George Lucas was like, no, you should maybe look at Richard Dreyfuss? Actually, I didn't know that until just this minute.

That Lucas? No, that those two actors that you mentioned were being, were mentioned. Yeah. I mean, they were, you know, they were emerging as very big stars right around then. I had told Stephen some years later about an experience that I had of being deal broke out of a film.

And when I was describing to him what they had said and done to get me to quit a movie, Stephen said, oh yeah, that's just what we had to do to get you into Jaws. And, but they had mentioned Timothy Bottoms. Yeah, right. He was among them too. Yeah. So he was the only one I knew about.

Yeah. And I never knew about George's endorsement. Well, George's endorsement definitely happened. And because Stephen didn't want a giant established star, you know, Heston wanted to play Shider's part, wanted to play Brody and, you know, it's Heston and it's, you know, 1975 still a big deal. But Spielberg thought his screen presence would overpower the other actors. He, Roy was second to an actor whose name I don't know, but I knew his work. And unfortunately this guy will never know that he was in first place for this part, but he was busy. And Roy was second.

And then Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden, and then Robert. And Robert and Roy had this thing about billing and they were always arguing about billing. And I said to Roy one day, what difference does it make? Come on, you guys should. And Roy turned to me and said, wait a minute. I don't understand why you're not bothered. We all have the same billing. And I went, we do? Like you thought, this is great.

No idea. I thought it would say, and Richard Dreyfuss as Ludd. That's what they said on Big Valley. So after Jaws, you immediately start lobbying Spielberg for Close Encounters. In the middle of Jaws. In the middle of Jaws. Because they came to the Island, Mike Phillips, Michael Phillips. Who was Michael Phillips?

The producer. And they started talking, he started talking about the film. And when I understood what the film was, originally, it was to star Gene Hackman.

You know, a lifer in the military, 30 year man, and a, you know, gown home guy. And then in the middle of Jaws, in talking to me about the film, he said that he was thinking of changing that character. And I said, to what? And he went, well, to someone more, forget it. And I went, I just focused. And I decided that I would bad mouth every actor ever born that could possibly play that role.

And I did. Those actors were? They were De Niro, Pacino. Every actor, you name it. What would you say about De Niro? I mean, I get it. I said, De Niro has no sense of humor. And I would say, Pacino's crazy. And I would just walk by on the desk and go, Gene Hackman's impossible to work with.

Yeah. And then I said, one day I said, Steven, you need a child. And you looked up and said, you got the part. And that was not only smart of Richard, it perfectly encapsulated our relationship.

Because I knew that that character had to have a childlike quality. And I knew also that I had it. And I was, in a sense, I knew that I was being hired at that time for having that quality and also the quality of awe. And I knew it.

And that's why I got it. It also suggests to me that Spielberg was seeing what Jaws was, and I think probably sensed, oh, this guy's about to be a big star. You might not know it yet, but he knew it.

Well, I think what started to happen is that once we got back to Los Angeles and we were shooting in the tank for just about a week or a week and a half, I would end the night and I would go with him to his office and work on the film with him, just throwing out ideas or like that. And I would park without realizing it in the wrong parking place, because one day in the morning they called and Steven looked at me and said, you're under arrest. I said, really?

Why? He says, you parked in Alfred Hitchcock's space. So I ran out to the car and moved it. But by that time, I knew if I didn't have an inside track for that role, I should have. And I made no bones about it because I had the qualities that they needed for real. And they didn't have to guess. And he wasn't going to have this character have any affairs. He was just going to be this- Awestruck, grownup kid.

Awestruck, grownup, seriously committed. And also you knew that Steven could see the story through this character's eyes. And if you see, when you see the film, you know that every actor in the third act has the same quality on his face.

They're all children. All the technicians, all the governors, all the, everyone in that last sequence has, have got this great quality of childlike wonder. And he needed it. And I knew it. And when I, when I see the film now, I'll watch that last sequence.

And I'm still amazed at how many of those technicians had that quality. Is that the Richard Dreyfus movie you, you watch most? Oh no. It is the movie that is asked about more than any other. Really? And so when I've done autograph convention things, I always say to the audience, I know more about Jaws than anyone else in the world. And if you ask me a question, here's the deal. If you ask me a question that I cannot answer about Jaws, I'll give you 10 bucks.

If, however, you ask me a question that I can answer, you give me 10 bucks and I am way ahead on this one. Oh, people, they, they rise to the challenge. Oh yeah.

Oh yeah. And you take their $10. I certainly do. You know why you do? It's a bet.

You got to pay a bet. Yeah. And I made it clear. Yeah, that's right.

And the first one who ever beat me was a 10 year old girl. What was the question you made? I have no idea, but I just remembered looking at her and going, Richard, thank you. She was great. So always great to talk to you. Thank you. One of the few people I know who has a job that I envy. Oh, that's great to hear.

Well, you have a job I envy, except I'd be horrible at it. The Good Fight returns for its final season. The point isn't the end. The point is winning. There are bad people in the world. The best way to protect the good people is to convict the bad. So here's to us. The Good Fight, the final season, now streaming exclusively on Paramount+.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-28 09:10:29 / 2023-01-28 09:20:22 / 10

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