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Jameson Cult Film Club: Jaws & A Talk With Richard Dreyfuss (JDIFF 2013)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2014.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time that the Jameson Cult Film Club have staged a screening of Jaws. The club did a screening of it last year as well, to considerable (and deserved) acclaim. So the visit of star Richard Dreyfuss to Dublin was the perfect excuse to break out the tried-and-tested showing, watch a classic piece of Americana and enjoy a nice conversation between Dreyfuss and presenter Rick O’Shea.


The production was – as ever – a well-oiled machine. With the benefit of having staged this event before, there was a practiced ease to the production. Taking place in the Mansion House, the venue was decorated with little pieces of mood and atmosphere – the DJ booth decorated with oars, lifesavers available at intervals around the edge, and a life guard carefully supervising proceedings, perched on of those giant white chairs.

The movie was introduced with a wonderfully brisk “in character” introduction from an actor playing Robert Shaw’s character. “This ain’t no weekend trip down the local picture house with your girlie,” he offered in an affectionate riff on one of the movie’s most iconic scenes. (The introduction was announced, of course, by the sounds of nails down a chalkboard.) And the warning was apt – as ever, the night was a delightfully entertaining celebration of classic cinema.

The trademark interactive sequences were well-balanced and unobtrusive, adding atmosphere rather than distracting from the film itself. Barring the obligatory explosive climax, these sequences instead existed to add to atmosphere or mood. One particularly nice touch was the light shining from inside the cabin of Quint’s boat during that wonderful “war wounds” sequence. It was understated, but effective.


Of course, the highlight of the evening was a questions-and-answers session with star Richard Dreyfuss and Rick O’Shea directly following the film – using questions selected by O’Shea and also those cultivated from the audience at the event. Dreyfuss was, as befitting his reputation, exceptionally candid and more than a little controversial. Not a man to sugar-coat his answers, Dreyfuss was keen to let the audience know exactly what he was thinking about any subject.

(He set the tone quite well at the start of the interview, with O’Shea innocently asking whether the Oscar-winning actor had ever been interviewed on a boat before. “Actually, yes,” he answered, explaining that the last time he was interviewed on a boat he was laying pretty heavily into the then-United States government, particularly Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss had, of course, played Cheney in Oliver Stone’s W.)

Discussing Jaws, Dreyfuss remembered how he had repeatedly refused to work on the film, despite being Spielberg’s first choice. “I said I’d rather watch the film than do it,” he explained of his decision-making process. Jaws had a notoriously troubled production process, something Dreyfuss conceded. Flashing back to his memories around the film’s production, he admitted he had no idea that the film would become such a beloved classic. “In fact,” he offered, chuckling a little, “I went on television and said it was going to bomb!”


As legendary as the difficulties surrounding the shoot might be, they did force Spielberg to adopt the style and approach that ultimately made the movie so iconic. “Steven had to change the whole concept of the film to imply what was happening,” Dreyfuss recalled, when the subject of the mechanical difficulties with “Bruce”, the movie’s model shark, came up. In a way, Jaws is a really a triumph of mood and atmosphere over what is actually seen.

Dreyfuss readily acknowledged this, revealing that he had at one point watched a cut of the movie without John Williams’ iconic score. “It was a big snore. That music made the film.” Of course, collaborating with Spielberg on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Dreyfuss affectionately joked that his great dramatic talent is reacting to things that are not there. “The name of the book I am never going to write is ‘Steven, Have They Figured Out Yet What I’m Looking Up In Awe At?'”

So why did Dreyfuss eventually agree to appear? After turning down the role twice, what happened that made him decide to join the production? “I saw The Second Coming of Suzanne,” he quipped, recalling the critical and commercial bomb listed on the actor’s filmography directly before Jaws. “I realised that if anybody actually saw that film, my career was over!”


On joining the film, Spielberg only gave him a single piece of advice. “Don’t read the book!” Dreyfuss offered. “He wanted to do away with all the subplots.” Indeed, a great deal of material from Benchley’s novel were stripped out of the film, including quite a lot (if not the majority) of the material involving Dreyfuss’ character Hooper. Still, the approach worked. “He made a film like a bullet.”

Shooting the film was a remarkable experience for Dreyfuss, who had fond memories of his work with Robert Shaw. Asked to sum up his experience shooting the film, he instantly responded, “My overriding memory was Robert Shaw’s personality.” Shaw was a larger-than-life individual, a successful and esteemed actor, writer and director. Rejecting the assertion that Quint was simply Shaw’s personality shining through on screen, Dreyfuss clarified, “Robert was a great actor and Steven gave him a great written part.”

His memories of Shaw were somewhat complex, reflecting the man himself. “I remember how sweet he was,” Dreyfuss reflected, discussing the actor’s kindness and generosity off the set. However, working on the film with Shaw was a different experience. “As we approached the set, he would turn into Mr. Hyde.” Shaw would pick on Dreyfuss and bully him, perhaps reflecting Quint’s antagonistic relationship with Hooper.


Dreyfuss recalled one incident where – after knocking a bottle of Shaw’s whiskey into the ocean, Shaw retaliated by spraying him in the face with a water hose. “That was the only time I ever lost my sense of humour on set,” Dreyfuss wryly conceded. Still, Dreyfuss retains an abiding affection for Shaw. He recalled how Shaw had suggested the duo do theatre together. “I’ll be the Claudius to your Hamlet if you’ll be the fool to my Lear,” Shaw had offered, a promise Dreyfuss recollected fondly. Sadly, it was not meant to be; Shaw passed away shortly after the film’s release.

Discussing the legacy of the film, Dreyfuss told a story he’d heard from Peter Benchley, the author of the original novel. Apparently, the day after the film was released, Benchley’s maid had not come into work. When he inquired about it, she told him, “My son was on the Indianapolis, and I never knew how he died until I saw the film.” The information about the sinking of the Indianapolis had been deemed classified when Benchley originally wrote the novel. However, it was declassified when the film went into production – so Benchley made a point to include it. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola worked on the dialogue.

On a personal level, Dreyfuss was a bit more conflicted. Discussing the fact that he had only starred in a single sequel in his expansive career, he recalled being offered the sequel to Jaws. Roy Scheider opted to appear in the movie’s first sequel, but Dreyfuss was unwilling to come back. “We were never b0nused on the film,” he explained, despite the film’s massive financial success. “We were paid almost nothing.” Dreyfuss shared his speculation that his refusal to participate in the franchising of Jaws made him “persona non gratis” around the Universal Studios lot.


Moving past the iconic role and the influence of the film, Dreyfuss proved himself opinionated on a wealth of subject matter, including the box office blockbusters that Jaws helped spawn, an industry he saw in a transitional phase. He also excitedly talked about Cas and Dylan, the other film showing at the festival that he was here to promote, heaping praise upon co-star Tatiana Maslany, who is currently generating considerable attention for her work on genre show Orphan Black.

Discussing that level of talent, Dreyfuss’ mind was drawn to the recent passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman. “The reason we are so sorry about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death is that his future was taken from us,” Dreyfuss admitted, musing on the unfulfilled potential of such talent. “Like JFK,” he added after a moment.

He shared a lovely anecdote about an old Austrian actor he had encountered during his career, a wonderful performer who never achieved the potential that his talent teased. Time had conspired against the performer, who had made his debut on the Austrian stage shortly before the Anschluss. Reading the obituary of this veteran performer, Dreyfuss recalled that the stage play they had done together was the only time this actor had appeared on the American stage.


Dreyfuss recalled a conversation with the older performer, who had pointedly asked his colleague, “You think you’re inevitable, don’t you?” After the younger Dreyfuss had admitted as much, his co-star observed, “So did I.” A stark reminder of the things not to take for granted in life. Dreyfuss had really taken that on board.

A veteran performer entering his fifth decade in the industry, with a career spanning more than its fair share of popular gems, cult classics and critical masterpieces, Dreyfuss remains a wonderful performer and a talented storyteller. The cap on a wonderful evening, it was an absolute pleasure to hear him speak with interviewer Rick O’Shea. A fantastic night all around.

2 Responses

  1. All your posts about the Jameson Film Festival really make me wish I was there! (I’ve probably said that before.) Going to have to add it to my bucket list to do one year. The experience itself seems fantastic. As for Jaws, the first time I got to watch it was my second year of Uni. Never watched it before because I got a little scarred when I was five, going on the ride at Universal. My parents put me on the side of the boat where the shark jumps out. But yeah, watched it at Uni. Wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it would be, but like you said, very atmospheric.

    • Wonderfully moody piece of work, and it’s astounding when you hear about all the behind-the-scenes trouble on set. Most untroubled productions don’t turn out that well.

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