Richard Dreyfuss at Capitol Theatre: "I'd do it again in a minute."
Before his Capitol Theatre appearance Saturday night, I asked Academy Award winner Richard Dreyfuss how long he wanted our Q&A session to run, after a screening of Jaws.
"It can go 20 minutes or an hour, that's up to you and the crowd," the Oscar winner said. "As long as we're having fun."
Ninety minutes after taking the stage toting two plates of cookies for the front row, Dreyfuss soaked up one more standing ovation and met me in the wings. Shaking hands, I asked: "Did you have fun?"
"I'd do it again in a minute," Dreyfuss said.
Seconds later he was discussing the possibility of returning to the Cap to discuss Mr. Holland's Opus, an idea raised on stage after a fan's teary question about the film, and his eloquent reply.
"You put it together," Dreyfuss told booking ace Bobby Rossi, "and I'll be here."
Nearly 700 people in the audience would apparently love that. After handing out those cookies, Dreyfuss took his seat, saying they were "to get these people on my side." Not necessary, I assured him.
Dreyfuss was a trouper, flying in from his California home despite being hobbled by back surgery leaving his right leg nearly immobile. The surgery and rehabilitation forced two postponements of Saturday's appearance. Aside from using a cane and sitting through an hour-long meet-and-greet after the show, you wouldn't know Dreyfuss' discomfort.
My job was easy. Just set up Dreyfuss with a Jaws-related topic and he'd roll for minutes, with stories he'd always make sound fresher than the number of times he's told them. One I'd heard him tell barely an hour before, in his dressing room while Jaws was playing. He delivered the memory to his audience as if it had just come to mind, wanting them to feel it, as committed actors do.
When questions came from fans, Dreyfuss offered thoughtful, amusing answers stretching the show's running time beyond expectations. Three fans cashed in on Dreyfuss' pledge to pay $20 to anyone stumping him with a Jaws question he hadn't heard before. A young man stepped up to the mic, telling Dreyfuss he'd been tweeting with the actor's son Ben Dreyfuss, passing along a warm message. That's funny, I said. I got a similar tweet from Ben, asking me to tell Dad he's the best and Ben loves him.
Big "awwww" from the audience, and Dreyfuss beamed.
One of my favorite moments of the evening actually occured while the movie played, in Dreyfuss' dressing room with a closed-circuit television beaming the in screen, with the volume turned down. Dreyfuss was reeling off anecdotes about some of his other movies, Hollywood's union history, and one about Jaws co-star Robert Shaw, who was so angered one day by Dreyfuss throwing away his whiskey that when filming began, Shaw blasted his co-star's face with a water cannon for revenge.
"It's this scene here," Dreyfuss said, pointing to the television, continuing the story. For a minute we had a live commentary track for one of the best movie thrillers ever, a treat any movie buff can appreciate.
My other favorite moment was on stage, at the show's conclusion. I had an idea of how to wrap up the Q&A, envisioned how it would happen - then didn't discuss it with Dreyfuss.
"There's only one perfect way to end this evening, if you'll play," I told the actor, leaning in.
Dreyfuss's blue eyes twinkled and something clicked, an actor's reflex perhaps.
"Show me the way to go home," Dreyfuss began singing, as his Jaws character does in a drunken moment.
"I'm tired and I want to go to bed," I joined in. By the third lyric, the audience joined in, full-throated and cheering as imagined.
A great end to a memorable evening. I'd do it again in a minute.