Richard Dreyfuss: The Rolling Stone Interview
“What bad reputation?” I asked.
“Don’t you read? I’m an arrogant asshole. I’m a loudmouth S.O.B.” I was not sure if he was genuinely hurt by the labels or if he wanted me to agree with him. Instead I told him it had been interesting talking with some of his old high-school buddies. I had some questions about him running for president of Beverly Hills High on a platform of bringing Paul Newman to the school as a speaker.
“You mean,” he said, “if we did this interview, I might possibly have a chance to hear some of this stuff that people say about me . . . and respond?”
I nodded tenuously.
“You may not have enough tape for that . . . ”
And so we struck a bargain. After finishing ‘The Big Fix,’ Dreyfuss would be leaving the Hollywood guest house of Rob Reiner, Where he had been staying. We would meet again in Manhattan and I would give him a report on his BAD reputation in exchange for the ROLLING STONE interview.
Everyone in Hollywood, it turns out, has a Richard Dreyfuss story. In most cases, the moral is the same. For some time the only person who believed in Dreyfuss was Dreyfuss. “They called him arrogant a long, long time ago,” said Carl Borack. “It comes from Richard telling people he would be a success. I happen to think it’s him being fucking honest. He’s always believed that he was at least good.”
Beyond this fact, Dreyfuss is a collection of paradoxes. He is a left-wing Social Democrat and a millionaire. He has a genius IQ and a bad school record. He is a staunch supporter of the equal rights amendment and has a reputation in the press as a womanizer (“It’s just that most of my friends are women,” he said).
According to some, Dreyfuss never improvises before the cameras. Others swear that he comes alive once they’re rolling. “He scared me,” said Teri Garr, his costar in ‘Close Encounters.’ “There’s this one scene, and it’s still in the movie, where he’s digging up grass outside the window . . . and just puts his head through the glass. He had this look in his eye. It was unrehearsed, and I thought he had truly lost it. It’s an incredible scene.”
Nothing, however, would prepare me for my next meeting with Dreyfuss as much as a comment made by author/screenwriter Roger Simon, who has worked with Dreyfuss on “The Big Fix’ for the past year. “He’d love to hear every one of your tapes,” said Simon, “because he really wants to know what people think. When we ran some audience tests on ‘The Big Fix,’ Dreyfuss wanted to call up some of the participants and talk to them. Not the extreme ones, but the ones that had no reaction at all. He’s very much a populist. He loves those Frank Capra stories where the little guy stands up for what he believes.”
RICHARD DREYFUSS CAME walking through the revolving door of New York’s St. Moritz Hotel with a slow swagger. Hands thrust into the pockets of a tan corduroy suit, he wore an unburdened glow. In the weeks since we’d last met I had seen all of his films again — with the exception of ‘The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz’ — and had begrudgingly taken on a few of his mannerisms. Like Curt Henderson’s mercurial “cute. . . cute.”
Dreyfuss greeted me warmly and excused himself to call a friend, who was joining us for lunch. I heard him arguing with a hotel operator. The operator hung up on him and Dreyfuss stared into the phone. “Cute,” he said, “cute.”
In many ways, Dreyfuss is the ultimate Richard Dreyfuss character. He is luxurious with the one-liners and even quicker with his acerbic laugh, which now identifies him in any public place. He is always thinking, always reasoning. On the streets of Manhattan, he is a hero. Most stars can walk around there in anonymity. Not Dreyfuss. As we walked down Fifth Avenue, he was accosted by hot dog vendors, people yelling “Hey, Jaws” from cars, grandmothers who pinched his cheek and told him he reminds them of a young Paul Newman (“Stop it,” Dreyfuss would say, motioning wildly for more). Proud to be a man of the people, he stopped to chatter with anyone who wanted to joust with him.
We agreed to sit down in Minneapolis that night, where Dreyfuss would be flying for ‘The Phil Donahue Show.’ He had done one interview since winning the Academy Award, and as we were flying to Minneapolis, well, things got sticky. Dreyfuss slapped me on the arm with a rolled-up copy of ‘Esquire,’ featuring him on the cover with the headline: RICHARD DREYFUSS OUT OF CONTROL. “I am kissing this route goodbye,” he said.
Dreyfuss was still subdued as we began our talk later that evening at the Registry Hotel in Minneapolis. He did not touch the champagne left him compliments of ‘The Phil Donahue Show.’ Instead, he picked at a bowl of fruit and, stretched out on a brown leatherette sofa, seriously considered each answer. At first his manner was brisk and professional, as if he was clearing every thought some intricate checklist before parting with it.
By the end of the evening, of course, he would be coming at me with an empty Perrier bottle, threatening me with passages from ‘From Here to Eternity.’