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Richard Dreyfuss weighs in on society's changes, favorite roles

Duddy Kravitz | The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz

Elliot Garfield* The Goodbye Girl

*Dreyfuss won the Oscar as Best Actor in 1978 for this role.

**Nominated for Best Actor Oscar in 1996.

Glenn Holland** Mr. Holland's Opus


Times Film Critic

Richard Dreyfuss is fighting an earache when reached by telephone in Toronto, where he's filming the graphic novel adaptation Red with Bruce Willis.

As if this Academy Award-winning actor needs a reason to sound cranky.

Irritated is Dreyfuss' most familiar tone as an actor, with brash wisecracker close behind.

In the 1970s, Dreyfuss, 62, memorably played fussbudgets hunting dream girls (American Graffiti), killer sharks (Jaws) and UFOs (Close Encounters of the Third Kind). From his Oscar-winning portrayal of a struggling actor in The Goodbye Girl to his current role as a crusty seaman in The Lightkeepers, Dreyfuss refined the art of being an adorable pest — with the occasional Mr. Holland's Opus sweetening the brew.

The Lightkeepers, with Dreyfuss' grump finding love with a widow (Blythe Danner) in early 1900s Cape Cod, is a dull movie. (It opens Friday only at Veterans 24 in Tampa.) But as executive producer, Dreyfuss is doing interviews promoting it.

The conversation with this mercurial star is much more interesting than the movie:

A lot of actors don't act their age in movies — they're 60 and behave like 40 — but in recent films you've been acting beyond your age.

I've never really thought of it like that. I do believe that I kind of fell into a — not a rut because it was enjoyable — but playing political villains, or political people. None of them were the heroes of my youth, as they say.

This (role in The Lightkeepers) was not just a chance to play an older love story, which was the first way it was approached to me. I read the script and I was reading a story about a time that wasn't far away from now, and yet was so completely different in terms of what we value. In a century we went from oath-taking to sniggering at oath-taking.

This comes from the guy who played idealistic Curt Henderson (in American Graffiti). What changed since then?

Everything has changed, and because human beings haven't, the fault line has widened and the danger to all of us is greater. Man has a brain — the most powerful tool in the universe, according to Buckminster Fuller — and no operating manual. … We have created … immense amounts of technology that are sophisticated beyond perception, and we have created almost zero of the ethical foundation to restrain ourselves from using that technology.

Any roles that you'd enjoy revisiting now, as an older man?

Oh, yeah. Glenn Holland, for sure. Who else? Hmm. I've never been asked the question exactly like that. Elliot Garfield in The Goodbye Girl. There are so many things he could be by now. The traps of celebrity are huge. Duddy Kravitz, obviously. Duddy could either be a cab driver, or he could've taken over Canada.

Fifteen years later, why does Mr. Holland's Opus still resonate with people?

I couldn't tell you the answer to that, except that two weeks after the film was released, I was listening to a radio show, one of those shows where people are calling literally from everywhere. Everyone was talking about the movie, and the topics were deaf people, bands, schools, budgets, parenting, music, and I realized then that we had hit a home run. We made a film that touched people in so many ways that it would outlive us. And it is a finer film than any of the clones that came after.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at

The Goodbye Girl.

American Graffiti.

The Lightkeepers.

The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz.


Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Down & Out in Beverly Hills.

Mr. Holland's Opus.

The American President.


Three to revisit

A trio of characters Richard Dreyfuss says he wouldn't mind checking in on now:

Richard Dreyfuss weighs in on society's changes, favorite roles 03/17/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 4:30am]
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