He’s a living legend, from the first second he appeared in Jaws, to his latest uplifting trip, Richard Dreyfuss is never less than an enthralling watch. Here he discusses the Oscars and reflects on the direction of his career up to his present role in the feature film Cas & Dylan.
“I loved my life as an actor. And I don’t mean that I loved parts of it. I mean I loved all of it. I loved not getting jobs, I loved getting jobs, I loved turning down jobs, and I knew – and I’ve said this to other actors – that if you are handed a great role and you are 18 years old, do you have the life experience to do it?”
When we meet celebrated actor Richard Dreyfuss he’s deep in thought about his career trajectory to date. He’s stepped away from the limelight of late, but casting his mind back to the start of it all, does he believe he came into the game at the right time?
“I look back and I think: I never worked for money until I was 57 years old. Never. Every single job I had, I did because I loved it.”
One of Hollywood’s most recognisable faces from his 1970s heyday to the present moment, Dreyfuss has had a long stint in the limelight. Rising to fame when cast by Steven Spielberg in both Jaws and Close Encounters, the actor has only kind words to say about his time with the legendary director.
“Spielberg and I have one thing in common. I was an uncrowned prince of the actors – even though I was a teenager they knew I was their man. And Steven was the uncrowned king of directors. In that way we related to one another. Steven is an enormous personality and he’s the only director of his generation that has made in every genre of film.”
And when it came to his own success?
“I was in no hurry,” the actor tells us. “I knew I was going to be a star – and I had to take in life experience. You know, falling in love, experiencing loss of love, all those things that happen. And I’m very proud of the fact that I put together a body of work that reflected me, and was not something that I chipped away at my soul to achieve.”
“Spielberg and I have one thing in common. I was an uncrowned prince of the actors – even though I was a teenager they knew I was their man. And Steven was the uncrowned king of directors.”
Winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1978 for The Goodbye Girl, he was also nominated in 1995 for Mr. Holland’s Opus. Yet with a Golden Globe, a BAFTA and a vast array of other nominations, Dreyfuss is critical of the resonance given to such accolades.
“Well, first of all there are too many awards. It’s like when Las Vegas was the only place to sin – that was better because you had to go there to sin. Now it’s all over and it’s shallow – there is no sin.”
And when it comes to his own Oscar?
“I know that I won that award far too early, far too early. Because I’m built for the hunt, I’m not built to have achieved something. I’m built to try to get it. And so I won that award when I was 29 and I remember taking it from Sylvester Stallone, making the shortest of speeches and getting out of there. I left the stage because I didn’t know or care about one person in that audience and I knew that I should be winning an Oscar now that I’m 66, not when I was 29.”
Like it or not, his latest film, Cas & Dylan, may just add another trophy to the collection. The independent film stars Dreyfuss as the titular Cas, a suicidal older man with a terminal illness who reluctantly gives 22-year-old Dylan (Tatiana Maslany) a lift across Canada. In the heartfelt comedy, Dylan offers her older car buddy a new lease of life. A recurring theme throughout the film is one of metaphorical and spiritual images; something that Dreyfuss finds familiar in his own life.
“I left the stage because I didn’t know or care about one person in that audience and I knew that I should be winning an Oscar now that I’m 66, not when I was 29.”
“I have had some of the strangest encounters in the world with what I call angels. I’m Jewish, and I really am an agnostic, which I think is the only mature thing to be. But I’ve had some serious encounters with people who gave me advice and disappeared. You know, really weird stuff.”
After years of being, in his own words, “a low down dirty dog”, it was a vision of a girl in horn-rimmed glasses that eventually led a younger Dreyfuss to sobriety. The image of the girl lingered after Dreyfuss suffered a car crash one November night many years ago. “Ten days later I sobered up. It took m 20 years to realise that on the same date the following year my daughter was born.”
These days, Dreyfuss is happy with his lot.
“I think I’ve led a blessed life. I got to do what I adored, I was paid for it, I was praised for it. What’s wrong with that? 40 years of that!”
Richard Dreyfuss was interviewed at the Glasgow Film Festival for the premiere of his film, Cas & Dylan.
Words Camilla Davis.