Last Thursday, NoDef's Laura Cayouette chatted with an old friend, Richard Dreyfuss. His new film, "The Lightkeepers," opened in limited theatres on Friday.
Laura Cayouette: You just finished a movie called, "Red?"
Richard Dreyfuss: Uh, yes, RED as in Retired Extremely Dangerous, and it's with Bruce Willis, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Brian Cox and I am the usual Republican villain who gets killed. Apparently, I've been playing a lot of Republican villains lately. I was only in it, though, for a couple days…
LC: Much of it was shot in Louisana, although you worked
“And on the front page is a quote from Bill O'Reilly. It says, ‘Richard Dreyfuss is a pin head.’“
in Canada. You did, though, shoot "W." in Shreveport – how was that experience of shooting in Louisiana?
RD: Uh, hot, hot hot, very hot. Hotter than hell. And like the last time when I shot in Mobile, Alabama
(Close Encounters of the Third Kind) and I remember that it was hot and bugs that have never been discovered before were on my porch. Then I heard about the spill…
LC: Yeah, it's kind of heartbreaking… and the information from BP—well, they said, it was going to be 1000 gallons a day.
RD: Yeah, well I love the way BP said, "We absolutely take responsibility for this. It wasn't our fault in the first place, but we take responsibility." And Schwarzenegger has done an about face on offshore drilling.
LC: And how do you feel about offshore drilling?
RD: I believe that we have to get used to going slower and learning the virtues of it because what the oil men are doing is blithely pushing us toward a $40,000
“And we are not only rapidly, psychotically using up our resources, but we're now drilling and mixing, making toxic the drinking water of Philadelphia, New York, Trenton and Boston.‘”
ticket to Europe on an airplane. And we are not only rapidly, psychotically using up our resources, but we're now drilling and mixing, making toxic the drinking water of Philadelphia, New York, Trenton and Boston. So, I'm against offshore drilling. I'm against it.
LC: So, I'm assuming this spill has not changed your opinion?
RD: No, I’m glad that Arnold has changed his mind and the house that I'm building is 100% off the grid.
LC: Really? And what are you using to fuel your home?
RD: Solar panels.
LC: And then will you be part of the California program where you can sell your excess power back?
RD: Yep. I had a long talk with the power board and I said to them that they were, in the eyes of the culture, villains, and they said why and I said because you're perceived as obstacles, you're perceived as, you know, the mouthpiece of the energy companies and with one intake of breath, you could be heroes and they said how and I said, "Just become facilitators and you become known as the agency to call if they want to get off the grid and they want to save themselves money and if they want to use innovative power sources. And they accepted that argument, put down testing innovative power source program and they're doing what BP kind of did when they named themselves Beyond Petroleum. But their idea of “beyond petroleum” is really – not leaving the coastline, you know, you could still swim out to their energy.
LC: Although one has to admit they've done more for alternative energy than other oil companies.
RD: Yeah, well I don't think that makes sense… to turn to the energy companies, industries, and ask them to continue to be stewards of energy, I
“In other words, if you got on an airplane and you heard the announcement, "We're going to pick the pilot from business class today," you'd get off that plane. And that's what we're doing when we don't teach the citizens of our republican democracy.”
think that I would rather risk Capitalism and let them go under as companies, then let entrepreneurs think differently and want to make money by saving people's energy or using innovative techniques…
LC: So, getting back to New Orleans and what it was like for you here, what was it that was most surprising to you about this area?
RD: Well, I was there 3 or 4 years after, after the storm and after the flooding and it looked as if it had happened the day before and I was amazed and appalled at the lack of the work and I'm finding out, you know, as I talk to people in politics, that that really was the turning point for people about Bush. They just were ashamed of their own government.
LC: Well, as were you. You got actively involved in Katrina.
RD: I didn't volunteer to go down, but I know that it's the first disaster in American history that the government turned its back on and I am the government and I'm paying taxes that go for FEMA, which should operate as it says it should, so I'm allowed as an American citizen, to demand that my government do what it has always done in the past and only in that administration did it think otherwise. And mainly because, they're "only" black people, who cares?
LC: Well, I think the "who cares" attitude was the really scary part.
RD: I agree with you, although I must say, wherever I was when I was there some years after the event itself, to see those, the dilapidated, rusting FEMA trailers and see only the central portions of the city in any way attended to – the rest of it looked like death, I just, I couldn't believe it. Neither could anyone in Europe. It was important to save Trent Lott's porch, it wasn't important enough to send bottles of water down to those people of the roofs. How is it now?
LC: Better, I mean, you know, the spill is going to knock us back.
RD: Well, on my website, I'm going to start something called, "Send me your class action suit" and one of them is going to be the right to sue the government and sue the Corps of Engineers. We hope to pass legislation and make it illegal for officers of that agency to work for their opposite number in the private sector.
LC: And this is on your website for civics?
It's called The Dreyfuss Initiative http://thedreyfussinitiative.org/
I just left a whole bunch of middle school and high school superintendents and teachers and I told them that Sandra Day O'Connor was signing this statement of mine and that when she signs it, 60 civic missions were gonna sign it and they said that legally, as an organization, we can't and I said, "I'm not asking you as an organization, I'm asking you as an American citizen and if I can get 100,000 or 200,000 signatures, it's going to make a difference.
LC: And the signatures are for what end?
RD: To say that the absence of teaching civics to our young is not only a critical, an urgently critical issue and it trumps any other issue, and you can solve all the
“There's a certain flavor that everyone in the world knows when you say the words, "New Orleans"”
current problems we have and it won't mean a damn thing because if we don't have an ethical foundation to stand on, villains will come back and just steal with subtler thievery. And so, that's why a very conservative Sandra Day O'Connor would sign my statement for those kids, for everybody.
LC: And what is it you would like people to know about the website?
RD: That education, public education has a mandate which is to make our children more intelligent in every way and they fail in every way and that they have no sensible connection between teaching the maintenance of the nation when it requires specific tools and knowledge. In other words, if you got on an airplane and you heard the announcement, "We're going to pick the pilot from business class today," you'd get off that plane. And that's what we're doing when we don't teach the citizens of our republican democracy, who are the final authority, anything about what power they have and how to exercise it.
On the front page of the website, we put the statement, "This website is a living thing, like the country itself. There are certain things that are working and done, there are certain things that need work, and it will change these many things and grow, as the nation does." And we put it up before it was finished because it will never be finished, and there's room for comments, criticism, praise and (unintelligible)…
LC: And what?
RD: I just gave you a raspberry. And on the front page is a quote from Bill O'Reilly. It says, "Richard Dreyfuss is a pin head." And I put it up there because I asked him for three minutes of uninterrupted time and he called me a pin head.
LC: I know that you were here once before Katrina. What was it about this place that you were surprised by the first time you came here?
RD: Well, first of all, it's one of the few cities in the country, not the only one, that has its own signature, its own stamp, its own atmosphere, its own aroma and that's as real as real can be and the whole idea that you know, there's a, there's a certain flavor that everyone in the world knows when you say the words, "New Orleans"… That's a very rare thing and I noticed it, of course! And I was afraid that it would actually go away and be destroyed, but when I went down there after [the storm], I realized that people who live down there weren't going to let that happen and that was that.
LC: What was the best food or beverage you had while you were here?
RD: I remember standing listening to a jazz band in a dark club and, in the middle of the French Quarter, and THAT I loved, that was fantastic.
LC: You've had a snowball here?
RD: Yeah, and I wasn't in love with it and I think there was too much fried sugar shit going on, but I also knew the history of the city and so walking around was like walking around in "Gone with the Wind."
LC: Well, you're a history buff, and specifically, a Civil War buff.
RD: Yeah, I know all about Ben Butler.
LC: Ben Butler?
RD: Yeah, Ben Butler, was the man who, the Union General who called the women of New Orleans, "prostitutes" because of the way they were treating the Union soldiers. He said – if you don't stop doing that, they will be told to treat you as women of, as women of the profession or something like that. And the insult was enormous because they had been spitting on Union soldiers and he was the first Union General that occupied a city.
LC: Well, I guess he misunderstood our Southern hospitality.
RD: (Laughing) Yeah. There's an attempt being made right now to organize a national American history play competition. The winner would get a MacArthur sized grant and there are stories about New Orleans and Judah Benjamin and Butler and like that are so, that would make such incredible plays and the writing departments of all the colleges [in New Orleans] should be told to get in on it.
LC: Do you have any favorite musicians that are from here?
RD: I love Randy Newman and I love "Good Old Boys" and the southern songs he wrote and I loved, "They're trying to wash us away…" [Louisiana 1927]. Like staring right into the future. I'll probably be able to wax more eloquent when my throat is better.
LC: One more question before you go… If you could go back and tell yourself one thing when you were starting out [acting,] what would it be?
RD: You know, I don't know. I'm removed from that love affair.
LC: Yeah. Well, then as a man, not as an actor.
RD: You have to find something that ennobles your ambition. And if you don't, if you don't try to find that, or if you don't already have it, you'll regret it. That you want to submit to something that is large and meaningful. And that's how I felt for most of the years.