NEW YORK, June 24 (UPI) — Jaws, close encounters of the third kind and The goodbye girl icon Richard Dreyfuss says the chance to play a Shakespeare-spitting bartender in the mystery-western, Murder in Yellowstone Citywas just too irresistible to pass up.
“There is always this character in the background. In the film, To be or not to be like Jack Benny did, there’s a character who always says, “I always play the third spear-wielder.” So I got to play the third spearman,” the 74-year-old Oscar-winning actor told UPI with a laugh in a recent Zoom interview.
“I had a great time. I had a great time and worked with people I had always wanted to work with, so it was wonderful,” he said. “Actors know things and some of those things they know are going to change your perception of the people they play.”
Directed by Richard Gray and written by Eric Belgau, the film debuts in theaters and pay-per-view platforms on Friday.
It’s set in 19th century Montana and follows what happens when local prospector Dunnigan (Zach McGowan) finds gold, promises to help everyone in the struggling town, and is promptly shot.
Bodies pile up as the investigation unfolds, with suspects and motives revealed that are neither who nor what they appear to be.
At the center of the story is Cicero (Isaiah Mustafa), a free black man who arrives in town and is quickly framed for Dunnigan’s murder by Sheriff Jim Ambrose (Gabriel Byrne) and his son and deputy, also named Jim (Nat Wolff). The preacher Thaddeus (Thomas Jane) and his wife Alice (Anna Camp) defend Cicero. Aimee Garcia and Emma Kenney co-star.
Presiding over the tavern, Dreyfuss’ character Edgar witnesses all the action and it changes him as a man, inspiring him to ultimately stand up for what’s right even when it’s difficult or dangerous.
“He’s here in this town and he wants to be one of the founders of this town. He wants to be the guy who built the theater and he should and that’s what America was – a second chance,” did he declare. “He tried to be braver and he isn’t and then he is.”
The story of how a community’s hopes can be dashed by selfish or destructive individuals may resonate with contemporary audiences, Dreyfuss said.
“It’s not just realistic. It’s eerily current. It’s exactly what we’re going through as a country right now,” he said.
“We’ve always been so proud of ourselves for being different or quirky, but when the going gets tough, we’ve spent the last 50 years disappointing ourselves and that’s never much fun, so hopefully this movie and other things will go in the way of creating outrage. If we can do it, it will be worth it.
When asked why he thought westerns were having a resurgence and what people wanted them to satisfy, Dreyfuss said simply “honesty.”
“I think we all feel refreshed and grown up if we let ourselves be told a truthful story and don’t go overboard and say we’re the worst people who ever lived, but just tell the truth.”
The actor said he uses his Dreyfuss Civics Initiative to encourage schools to teach children about civics, reason and logic so they can understand how their government works and become good leaders.
“It gives meaning to my life,” Dreyfuss said.
“The America we thought we were growing up in, we haven’t had that for over 50 years and when you have such a long absence of the thing that defines you and tells the world who you are, you are in danger of not never get it back and it would be a defeat for the human race.”
Dreyfuss is also content knowing that so many of his old films have stood the test of time.
“I once told the British press that I was proud of my work – and they’ve been in a bad mood since 1935, since they discovered the king – so they immediately dismissed me as an asshole and it It’s a shame because I’m not a fool,” he laughed.
Dreyfuss said he knew when he made his most famous pictures, especially Close Encountersthat he was part of something special.
“When I first heard the story of Close Encounters, I promised myself that I was going to play this role no matter what,” he said. “I rejected all the Hollywood actors. I laughed at them. I made them smaller and made it impossible for Steven [Spielberg] hire someone other than me. This film will outlive us all.”