Richard Dreyfuss is currently channeling the genius of Albert Einstein eight times a week at Hartford TheaterWorks in a new work by Mark St. Germain "Relativity." For Dreyfuss, the part is an act of love, just one example of his dedication to his craft, one that he has pursued from the time he was nine and a half years old when his family moved to Los Angeles.
On Sunday night, Dreyfuss took time out from his busy schedule to share his thoughts about his career, with insights into his psyche and into his films and stage career. He was interviewed by the theater's Producing Associate Taneisha Duggan and Award Winning filmmaker Pedro Bermudez in TheaterWorks' intimate space at 233 Pearl Street, Hartford for a crowd of interested attendees. Using the framework of five of his films, hand chosen by the star, Dreyfuss expounded on his philosophy of life and his work ethic.
He is understandably proud of "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz," one of his early works which he termed "the greatest role ever for a young actor." He confesses wanted the"role so bad I could spit." The part is of "a young kid raised so he misunderstands what he is taught and has no ethics at the end. It's a great complex story and I was only 26." He is proud that the film took first place as the best Canadian film ever made.
For Dreyfuss, acting is all he ever wanted to do. His mother's advice: don't just talk about it, do it. He admits that everything on stage is make believe and he seeks to find the "nobility" in acting, its deeper meaning. At age 15, he was in awe when he saw John Gielgud perform, so much so that he went to his dressing room after the performance just to say "thank you." Gielgud, who did Shakespeare's "The Ages of Man," changed the younger man's life by his fantastic acting skills. Two decades later, Dreyfuss approached him to play a part in a show he had written "Funny You Don't Look 200" and he accepted. He was clearly a childhood hero.
Dreyfus takes credit for his life and his decisions and "knew I was going to make it."
He confesses that "I live in a constant sense of happiness and completion," which he wishes others could say. He works and he enjoys it, and is in control of his own destiny. He does wish, however, that theater paid what films do and he tries to balance them both. He feels, however, that no art "hits you harder, darker or quicker than theater," which is why he is enjoying his role as Einstein so much. He has even studied the man and his mind long before he secured the part.
He calls Steven Spielberg "a gem," only one of a handful of directors to earn that accolade. He admits he won the Oscar when he was too young, just 30, and too soon, for "The Goodbye Girl." Being on "the hunt," is better than the achievement. To Dreyfuss, acting is a "house of pretense that builds truth in art." To him, "comedy is a mitzvah, a gift, one that scraps away the sadness." He should know, as he has played roles in both genres to great acclaim.
In the film "W," he played Dick Cheney and he feels that "inside of us is Hitler and Jesus and the actor finds both the meanness and the kindness inside of himself." Calling actors "some of the bravest people I know," he also modestly admits "I'm really good at what I do." He credits the study of improvisation with giving him a good grounding in what it means to act, write and direct all in one package.
After discussing many of his films, like "Mr. Holland's Opus," "What About Bob?," "Jaws," and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," he became serious when he broached a topic near and dear to his heart: the teaching of civics in the classroom. He took four years of his life to attend Oxford University and he is impassioned about the need to educate our youth. "If I could bring back the teaching of civics, I'd be one happy dude." His love of his country and the current political arena make him even more dedicated to this cause. He urged the audience members to get involved.
In conclusion, Richard Dreyfuss admitted, "I've had a blessed life, one that is reflected in my principles and ethics. I am the luckiest actor in America."