Hello Richard, how are you?
[Puts on a posh English accent] I’m very well, thank you.
Aha, good English accent…
Thank you. Just imagine if you were Serbian, I would have had to do a Serbian accent. I do it automatically, it’s instinctive…
So do you have an ear for languages?
No, I have only one language and that’s English as an American dialect.
What can the UK audience expect?
Anything goes… but I have certain limitations. One is, if there are journalists in the audience they must promise to be off-duty. If they’re off-duty, I’ll tell the truth. If not, I’ll lie as necessary. I say it to every audience. There are journalists who’ve got up and left at that point.
What do you hope people ask you?
Anything about film and film history and acting, most questions about most of my films, although God help me, if they only start talking about Jaws I’ll kill myself.
Ha, are you sick of that?
Yeah, I dined out on Jaws for years and years before I realised I was being asked the same questions and I told the same stories and I got the same laughs. It was great but after a while — alright, already! I have a deal with the audience. I say: ‘I’ll make a bet with you, if you ask me a question I have not heard I’ll give you ten bucks and if you ask me a question I have heard you give me ten bucks.’ I come out on top every time.
When did it click in your head that you should be an actor?
Prehistory. Actually, if you look in the hieroglyphics it will say that Richard wanted to be an actor.
What did your parents think?
When I was nine I said to my mother, ‘I want to be an actor’. She turned to me and said, ‘Don’t just talk about it’, so I went to the local Jewish community centre and auditioned for a play and I never stopped.
They’re re-releasing Close Encounters in 4K. Do you have happy memories of that one?
In the sense that I think of it as a uniquely noble endeavour, yes. I have one thought about it, which is that if we had opened Close Encounters six months earlier than Star Wars, Tom Stoppard would be writing about aliens and the disaffection of cultures in space. Close Encounters was a film made for and by adults about an adult theme and had it come out earlier than Star Wars it would have kind of set the territory, but Star Wars came out first and it was for kids and it set the territory.
Do people still talk to you about aliens?
People come to me all the time and say, ‘You know there are people out there and they’re on the other side of the moon?’ and I say, ‘Did you ever entertain the notion that we might be first? That we might be ahead of everybody and they’re waiting for us to fly around their planets?’ And no one ever thinks that.
What are you up to currently?
Well, I’m writing a book, actually, on the necessity of teaching civic authority and clarity of thought to the young. In my country we are undergoing a specific kind of neurotic behaviour because of 50 years of irresponsible behaviour on the part of parents and superintendents and politicians, so we have to reclaim what position we had before.
Do you have any recurring dreams?
No I don’t, oddly enough — although I reference Paul Newman’s recurring dream all the time. There’s an eye thing, it whitens the white and brings the blue out — it’s referred to in show business as ‘Paul Newman’s eye stuff’. Paul Newman went back to his college once — I love this story — and they asked him, ‘Mr Newman, to what reason do you attribute your success in Hollywood?’ And he said, ‘I have a recurring dream and in the dream I can see my tombstone and on it is written: “Here lies Paul Newman, dead, a failure at 44 because his eyes turned brown.”’
Finally, is it true that you keep your Oscar for The Goodbye Girl in the fridge?
Yeah, I don’t like to brag that I won an Oscar but I want everyone to know, so I put it in my refrigerator and sooner or later they’re going to go and open the refrigerator.
An Evening With Richard Dreyfuss is on September 24 at Leicester Square Theatre, London. leicestersquaretheatre.com