I love Richard Dreyfuss. As an actor, I think he’s really really good. And he fills a certain niche: The Spaz. Being a Spaz myself, I appreciate it when we are represented accurately. My friends, generally speaking, have never quite been able to understand my love for Richard Dreyfuss. It’s not movie-heartthrob love. It’s nerdy actor love. I think this man is talented.
He’s also kind of comforting. How could such a tense and stressed out man such as Richard Dreyfuss be comforting? Because he is in so many movies I hold dear: Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The American President (bearing an UNCANNY resemblance to a certain former VP, no?), American Graffiti, and hell, even What About Bob?
He’s an advocate for his fellow actors. He’s not afraid to push buttons. He held the title of youngest Oscar winner (must have been best actor, because Tatum O’Neill is still out there) for The Goodbye Girl (taken over by Adrian Brody, eventually.) He’s 5’5″ and he’s managed to star in major blockbusters. He even recovered from drug addiction. He does theatre, passionately. AND he’s even taught at Oxford!
Interestingly, due to how physically difficult the preparation was, he left the role of Joe Gideon in All That Jazz, one of my favorite movies. Roy Scheider (an upcoming Movie Hero of the Week) took over, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just interesting to note that it seems the actors I love the most are attracted to the same type of projects.
Notably, his performance in Close Encounters of the Third Kind is frankly, brilliant. He goes down the insanity spiral never losing the sense of ….I don’t know…self? My Dad told me that Spielberg deliberately chose actors that were “childlike” to give a sense of how young humanity is. How much we have to learn. To me, it’s heartbreakingly poignant. Dreyfuss was once quoted as saying, “I really think that living is the process of going from complete certainty to complete ignorance.” I wonder if Close Encounters influenced that?
In the film, Dreyfuss leads the child-brigade. Almost teenager-like. You can see the gears. Usually I don’t like to see…or hear “the gears” in a performance (I’m talking to you Anne Heche), but there is always an exception to the rule. Seeing a character driven purely by instinct, if done right, is marvelous. (It also can lead to incredibly self-absorbed onstage masturbation…but that’s another post. And I digress.)
He’s an outspoken guy with an eye for a good script. And when he’s fed up with that, he does theatre. Also, he is bi-polar, which could easily result in many jokes. But I happen to have a soft-spot for those with mental illness who press on and have great careers. It’s inspiring. And that’s no joke.
Here is his appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio (additional sections available on YouTube). If you can stomach James Lipton, have a watch:
In honor of Mr. Dreyfuss, I think I’m going to span his career a bit as I fatten my queue. I’m choosing The Goodbye Girl (his Oscar-winning performance), Down and Out in Beverly Hills (co-starring Bette Midler), Nuts, W (the man plays Dick Cheney), and his latest available on Netflix – My Life in Ruins.
*What is a movie hero? An un or under-sung member of the filmmaking community who deserves more of the spotlight. And yet lack of such a spotlight often adds to their charm.