REVIEW: An Evening With Richard Dreyfuss

On June 27th 2019, Hooper himself, Richard Dreyfuss was in my home capital London for a one-off appearance at the Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square.

This close encounter with Dreyfuss was billed as an intimate evening with a living legend. This opportunity to see the last living main cast member of Jaws without having to travel to the US (where Dreyfuss does the vast majority of his personal appearances) was a chance I had been hoping would eventually come. Like many Jaws fans, as soon as the event was announced I was first in line - well online - for a ticket.

Arriving at the hall early, I went to the main bar area to soak up the atmosphere and get a feel for the audience. It was a great feeling to see and hear so many Dreyfuss fans (Dreyciples?) chatting eagerly about their favourite of Richard’s movies and thinking of interesting questions to ask - if given the chance. My heart was lifted when I saw at least a dozen Jaws t-shirts swimming throughout the crowd.

We began to seat at around 7.15pm with the evening’s moderator warming up the crowd and playing clips from Dreyfuss’ best known movies on a large screen above centre stage, including Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Always, The Goodbye Girl and Mr Holland’s Opus. The Indianapolis speech got the biggest round of applause, which seemed odd as this isn’t really a Dreyfuss scene and there are some epic Hooper moments they could have chosen but hey-ho.

The last clip to be played was Richard singing solo accompanied only by a piano, singing a love song. This clip seemed out of place to rest, something very few of the audience recognised (myself included). About half way through the clip something happened… 72 year old Dreyfuss appeared from behind a large door at the back of the stage, walking cane in hand. As the realisation of the star’s appearance started to dawn on the audience, a really energetic and warm round of applause began to fill the Cadogan Hall. Dreyfuss lapped up the welcome and took his seat next to the moderator ready for the first question. Showtime.

Dreyfuss, resting on his cane was like a family member recounting the good old days.

Dreyfuss, resting on his cane was like a family member recounting the good old days.

The first topic on the agenda was London. Classic get the audience on-side early question but it allowed Dreyfuss to show his love for people with a story about ‘Sally’ the owner of the only hotel Richard stays at whenever he is in London. He described Sally as dame. She could be one of the guys as well as one of the gals and was usually the last one standing, singing with the band making sure everyone was having a great time. Sadly, Sally died a few years ago and is missed by Richard dearly but he sites her as one of the key female role models in his life - a theme that would come up throughout the evening.

Acting

Beyond Jaws, I was really keen to hear about Richard’s love for acting and his fondest memories and it was great to see this get talked about early on in the show. Richard shared how he fell in love with acting as a child. He told how he remembered immersing himself in TV shows from the age around 4 years old.

He went on to share his admiration for his inspirations including Spencer Tracy on TV - Dreyfuss would play the Tracy character in the loose remake of A Guy Named Joe in Always, reuniting with Steven Spielberg for a third time - Irene Dunne, Errol Flynn, Charles Laughton. Dreyfuss learned to imitate these greats and says of Laughton specifically that he discovered a way to find a rhythm in prose. “When you hear Laughton discover a rhythm for the character, it’s like an artist watch Picasso.” We were then treated to a clip of Laughton in I, Claudius (1937). The film Dreyfuss describes as the “epic that never was.”

Industry

Dreyfuss made it clear he is not a fan of today’s movies. Everything needs multiple, unnecessary sequels nowadays - Jaws case in point. The industry seems much more about the squeezing as many summer dollars as possible from the new blockbuster formula. He went on to say that twenty-something directors “are handed the reigns to make billions of dollars… but they are neglecting the two key elements to any successful movie - story and character. Of course a certain Steven Spielberg was only 27 when he was handed the reigns to Jaws - and you can’t say that Jaws, or his follow up which also starred Dreyfuss, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, lacked story or character. These seem to be afterthoughts in today’s modern mainstream cinema. Dreyfuss summed it up with “…we have an obligation to fill out this art form and make us feel ya things. Anything else is a waste of our time…. We want more of an experience as you used to see the best actors working from the best scripts on the best topics…. Watch movies between 1930-1960 to understand me.”

Dreyfuss feels Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ is the last great film he’s seen.

Dreyfuss feels Clint Eastwood’s ‘Unforgiven’ is the last great film he’s seen.

“I looked up in awe at… nothing. I expressed awe better than anyone else.” Richard Dreyfuss on Close Encounters (1977)

“I looked up in awe at… nothing. I expressed awe better than anyone else.” Richard Dreyfuss on Close Encounters (1977)

Happy Wife, Happy Life

Richard has been very open about his battle with manic depression and addiction. He has done talks about his personal challenges and says his wife Svetlana (married 2006) changed his life in ways not even he could have imagined. Dreyfuss passionately describes his soulmate as the most ‘vivid, incandescent human being’ he has ever encountered and “way above my pay grade.“ Svetlana is his everything and was in the audience that evening.

Dreyfuss went to recount how while needing a ride he and Svetlana once relived a scene from one of his favourite all time movies, It Happened One Night - see video below:

Robert Shaw

The moderator turned the questions over to the audience and Robert Shaw came up almost instantly. “Can you tell us a little bit about working with Robert Shaw.” Dreyfuss took a breath, as I’m sure anyone who has been asked the same question at least 5000 times but the answer was worth the wait. “About 15 years ago, someone started the rumour that we hated each other. Rank nonsense! I adored him. I admired Robert as an actor and as a writer. I had more respect for him than any other actor I worked with. His Henry VIII was the best I have ever seen. Ever.”

“He was also the largest personality I had ever met - and he had my number. Pyschologically, he knew what to do to get me going. He would bet me I couldn’t do 25 push ups or he’d dare me to jump off the top of the mast of the Orca. I knew I could do these things but because it was Robert, I just couldn’t. He had me.”

“Off set, we would spend a lot of time together and talk about acting. We’d have our little actor fantasies - he was the ghost to my Hamlet only if I would be the fool to his Lear.”

“I had more respect for him than any other actor I worked with.” Dreyfuss on Robert Shaw

“I had more respect for him than any other actor I worked with.” Dreyfuss on Robert Shaw

Indianapolis Speech

Then came the topic of the Indianapolis speech. And here is when things took an unexpected turn. Dreyfuss discussed the all too-familiar story of Shaw being drunk on-set when shooting the scene, blowing 90% of the speech. He then called Spielberg at around 3am asking ‘How badly did I humiliate myself?” “Not fatally.” was Speilberg’s response. The next day, the scene was reshot with a sober Shaw who did the whole speech in one take. One take! “You can read that speech and shake. A very difficult thing to do.”

The moderator, who did a great job allowing Dreyfuss to talk while moving things along nicely, then revealed that they had 3 copies of the speech printed off and this next part required audience participation. Shaw’s speech last about 4mins so the next 12 minutes were fun but felt a little unnecessary - Dreyfuss’ time’s a wastin!

3 audience members were picked to read Shaw’s famous Indianapolis - the kid nailed it.

3 audience members were picked to read Shaw’s famous Indianapolis - the kid nailed it.

The last audience member to finish their rendition of the speech, asked if Richard would sing ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home.’ along with the audience. He did…

JAWS

Richard discussed how he didn’t want the part of Matt Hooper but changed his mind after seeing himself in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. He then turned the conversation away from himself and started to talk about Peter Benchley. Dreyfuss said “Jaws turned sharks into monsters when they weren’t. Peter was heartbroken by that. He and his wife Wendy worked tirelessly up to the very end of Peter’s life to save as many sharks as possible.” In fact, their efforts went on for 10 years after Peter’s death with Benchley Ocean Awards.

If I had been chosen to ask Dreyfuss a question, I would have asked him if he had known how much of a positive inspiration his portrayal of Hooper had been on shark lovers over the last 40 years and that the enduring legacy of Jaws may end up being a driving factor in the saving of them. The Daily Jaws gets hundreds of messages from kids, or parents of kids, wanting to study sharks after watching Jaws.

Farewell & Adieu

After reading Dylan Thomas’ famous poem, a tearful Dreyfuss signed off with “That’s why I do what I do. I hope you got it.”

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After a 2 minute standing ovation, a clearly emotional Richard Dreyfuss lapped up all the audience had to offer and walked - without his trusty cane - back towards the door he came from, gave a final wave and disappeared.

I took the opportunity to sit and speak with Richard for a few minutes after his appearance on BBC’s The One Show. He was so kind and said he had heard of The Daily Jaws which was a real personal moment for me.

Even though I didn’t get to meet and interview Richard as had been hoped, it was a dream come true to be sat within a few feet from the last remaining crew member of the Orca, the man who I’ve watched a thousand times hooking up Quint’s barrels and inspired me to create The Daily Jaws. You continue to inspire a new generation of actors and shark lovers around the world. If by any chance you are reading this Richard, hopefully we get a chance to sit down and talk (there are two emails from me in your inbox).

Words by Ross Williams

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