Richard Dreyfuss can now be seen in the mystery-western, "Murder at Yellowstone City." File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo
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-spewing barkeep in the mystery-western, Murder at Yellowstone City, was simply too irresistible to pass up.
"There's always that character in the background. In the film, To Be or Not to Be that Jack Benny made, there's a character who is always saying, 'I always play the third spear carrier.' So, I got to play the third spear carrier," the 74-year-old Oscar winner told UPI with a laugh in a recent Zoom interview.
"I had a ball. I had a great time and I worked with people who I'd always wanted to work with, so it was wonderful," he said. "Actors know things and some of those things that they know will change your perception of the people that they play."
Directed by Richard Gray and written by Eric Belgau, the film debuts in theaters and pay-per-view video platforms Friday.
It is set in 19th century Montana and follows what happens when local prospector Dunnigan (Zach McGowan) strikes gold, promises to help everyone in the struggling town and is promptly shot dead.
The bodies pile up as the investigation unfolds, with suspects and motives revealed as not who and 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 accused of Dunnigan's murder by Sheriff Jim Ambrose (Gabriel Byrne) and his son and deputy, also named Jim (Nat Wolff). Defending Cicero is preacher Thaddeus (Thomas Jane) and his wife Alice (Anna Camp). Aimee Garcia and Emma Kenney co-star.
Presiding over the tavern, Dreyfuss' character Edgar is a witness to all the action and it changes him as a man, inspiring him to ultimately stand up for what is right even when it is difficult or dangerous.
"He is here in this town and he wants to be a founder of this town. He wants to be the guy who built the theater and he should and that's what America was all about - second chances," he said. "He tried to be more courageous and he's not and then he is."
The story about how a community's hopes can be dashed by selfish or destructive individuals may resonate with contemporary audiences, Dreyfuss said.
"It's not only realistic. It's eerily current. It's exactly what we are going through as a country right now," he emphasized.
"We were always so proud of ourselves for being different or eccentric, but when push comes to shove, we spent the last 50 years disappointing ourselves and it's never much fun, so, hopefully, this film and other things will go down the road of creating outrage. If we can do that, it will be worth it."
Asked why he thinks westerns are enjoying a resurgence and what people are craving that they satisfy, Dreyfuss answered simply, "Honesty."
"I think we all feel refreshed and adult if we let ourselves tell a truthful story and didn't go overboard and didn't say we are 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 civics, reason and logic so they can understand how their government works and grow up to be good leaders.
"It gives my life meaning," Dreyfuss said.
"The America that we thought we were growing up in, we haven't had that for more than 50 years and when you have that long an absence from the thing that defines you and tells the world who you are, you run the danger of never getting it back and that would be a defeat for the human race."
Dreyfuss also feels satisfaction knowing that so many of his old movies have stood the test of time.
"I said to the British press once that I was proud of my body of work - and they've been in a bad mood since 1935, since they found out about the king - so they immediately dismissed me as a jerk and it's too bad because I am not a jerk," he chuckled.
Dreyfuss said he knew at the time he made his most famous pictures, particularly Close Encounters, that he was a part of something special.
"When I first heard the story of Close Encounters, I promised myself I was going to play that part no matter what," he said. "I put down every actor in Hollywood. I made fun of them. I made them smaller and I made it impossible for Steven [Spielberg] to hire anyone else but me. That film will outlive us all."