Richard Dreyfuss Interview

The actor talks about money, politics and Jimmy Bennett

You make a film like Jaws, and people associate you with water films. So, when Richard Dreyfuss was approached to join the cast of the new film Poseidon, his answer was 'yes.'

But, not for the reasons Kurt Russell had, like working with director Wolfgang Peterson, a great script; no, it was for money. Plain and simple, he wanted some income. At this stage of his career, who can blame him; on the bright side, he's glad he did it. Richard has said in other interviews, 'I'm glad it was a great script, cause I would have done it even if it wasn't. For the money they offered me, who could turn that down.'

All kidding aside, Poseidon is a fantastic film! Great action, awesome stunts - performed by the real actors, and a great story! Richard plays a very wealthy business man, who's on the Poseidon ship to celebrate the New Year; he's one of the people who survives the initial hit from the rogue wave that capsizes the boat.

Right after shooting this film, Richard decided he wanted to semi-retire from acting and start teaching civics and American history; he's currently a professor at Oxford University. He's also a member of a committee to teach American history in elementary schools.

Besides his vast knowledge and his teaching, we did get into a small discussion on the film. And during my interview with Richard's 10-year-old Poseidon co-star, Jimmy Bennett, I was told to tell Richard, 'hello.'

Here's how the conversation went:

I spoke with Jimmy the other day and he says, 'Hey Reechard!'

Richard Dreyfuss: Yeah, Reechard! Yeah, where is he? He should be here, man. He had one great moment in that movie, boy; they cut out great moments of his more than anything like the moment with him on the other side of the grid.

You guys obviously really connected on the set; what was that relationship like?

Richard Dreyfuss: What did he say?

He said that out of everyone, he really connected with you and had the most fun with you.

Richard Dreyfuss: He didn't tell you anything about the Christmas gifts and the playing doctor and all that? He's an extraordinary kid and you should meet him; I'm sorry he's not here because he's nine-years-old and he's got the temperament of a g-d, and he's got talent out the kazoo, and he's got willingness to work and he does not whine and he does not complain; he is a pro. And at nine, I was a 9-year-old actor, and I know what damage a poorly, unprofessional 9-year-old can do to a set, and vice versa, and he was a pro. Brilliantly talented, never gave up, never whined, and that's him in that water, and he was in danger all the time and he never ever lost it, and I have tremendous admiration for him.

After that, we got to talking about the movie; check out the rest of the interview:

We hear that you're the joker on the set.

Richard Dreyfuss: The joker?

On the set, you kept everybody entertained.

Richard Dreyfuss: Yeah, I did anything; I had a funny nose, anything for a laugh.

What was your attraction to this film?

Richard Dreyfuss: Money! Big surprise, they offered like a lot of money and I love money and didn't have a lot and I thought this is a good way of doing this.

How selective do you get when picking script?

Richard Dreyfuss: Well there was then and there's now, right? There's then, which was when I was like really committed to being an actor and I really had a very picky kind of weird criteria, but I'm not that person anymore. I am basically retired; I don't consider myself urgently connected to it, I don't have to do it emotionally, I have to do it financially, and so my present criteria is far different than it was.

So what was your reason for doing the TV show, Copshop?

Richard Dreyfuss: In a TV series, it's the only time when the character is open-ended and you can change him, and you can literally come onto the set on a Tuesday and say, hey, let's have him commit adultery and see what happens. Let's do this, and that was thrilling; that was really exciting. And if we had been able to do another season we would have; I would have been really thrilled.

What did you think about this shoot? Did you know it was going to be this hard?

Richard Dreyfuss: This was the first time I knew I was going to earn my money.

Did you get hurt or sick while shooting this film?

Richard Dreyfuss: I was the first one actually, but so early that everyone forgot. I wrenched my back the first week or second week and I was out for a day. Then, I was ok and then everyone else got hurt. You know, Jimmy got hurt, Josh got hurt, Kurt got hurt; everyone, you couldn't avoid it, it came with the territory. Everyday I'd go home, I'd crawl home; it was hard because I'm lazy. One of the things, I don't care what any artist tells you, acting is easy and you want to be an actor because it's easy. And my acting was just talking; I thought I was doing a movie called 'My Dinner with Andre,' (referring to Andre Braugher, who played the captain in Poseidon).

What about the underwater stunts?

Richard Dreyfuss: If I was 30 years old and at the top of my form I wouldn't have done it because I'm too lazy; not because it's a bad movie or a good movie, I just thought I don't want to work that hard. I thought that at 30; I'm 58! I really thought that now! So I'm at Oxford right now and I teach and I am studying.

What are you teaching at Oxford?

Richard Dreyfuss: I am a member of the St. Anthony's College senior advisory research project, and I am developing curriculum for the teaching of civics in American elementary public schools. I am seriously designing how to teach five basic tools that are inescapably important and without which you will commit national suicide and we are.

What are the five tools?

Richard Dreyfuss: It is reason, logic, dissent, civility and debate as tools. We are a partisan, toxic country and even the mention of teaching civics makes people think that one has a hidden agenda and we're nuts about this, totally crazy. The fact is that one must teach the maintenance of a republican democracy; it is far more difficult to do than to run a film studio or to do any other endeavor, and without a rigorous and entertaining and demanding study to teach the sovereign, who is the people. They must learn and enjoy the process of reason, of how to look at an issue in a way that is not overwhelmed by melodrama or partisanship; they must learn how to sparse information. So I teach reason and logic and the parsing of information; I teach debate so that one can take the other side of an issue without being demonised. I teach dissent because dissent is held up as a virtue but absolutely held in contempt by every aspect of the culture; there is not a dissenter in the culture who is actually heroic, none.

So the analogy is that the Poseidon is due process?

Richard Dreyfuss: Yeah, that's good.

Whether it's due process or not, you should really check out Poseidon! It opens in theaters May 12th; it's rated PG-13. Warner Bros. is also releasing the film in IMAX, also on May 12th.