With eight people in the press rotation for Poseidon, time with everybody was brief. None were briefer than Richard Dreyfuss, who entered the press room on his cell phone, took a second call midway through the interview, and got pulled after less than 10 minutes. But perhaps that was best for his own comfort zone, as Dreyfuss is rumored to be surly with the press.
“I’m anticipating a full day of this,” he complained to Cinemablend. “And then another one and another one and then God will say, ‘Are you in heaven or are you in hell?’, and we’ll decide then.”
The film legend joins the cast of refugees on the capsized boat of the title in the remake of The Poseidon Adventure. Dreyfuss plays Richard Nelson, a gay architect so distraught over his failed relationships that he considers jumping overboard. That is, until he sees a giant wave headed for the boat and decides to try his luck onboard. There were no gay architects in the original, as the new film created all new characters.
“I played the Shelley Winters role,” Dreyfuss joked. “Old joke and a joke you’ll hear repeated a great deal today. You know, there are certain films you only realize later, ‘Geez I only saw that once? How come I remember it so well?’ But I sure remember it and I had a lot of fun watching it.”
Wolfgang Petersen’s Poseidon leaves no room for breathing time. It is catastrophe after catastrophe, which meant the actors spent the duration of their work dealing with overflowing water, tight spaces and crumbling scenery.
“You’re going to hear of this from everybody. This was easily the most uncomfortable and difficult show. This show was less about dialogue and more about falling, running, drowning, screaming, hitting, yelling and pulling and dying. And it was really in that way, by far, the most physically dangerous, most physically oriented show. I think there were six or seven lines of dialogue and all of them were things like, ‘I’m sorry I killed you.’ And we spent the day crawling upwards.”
At that point in the interview, Dreyfuss’s cell phone rang again. Could it have been another legendary Hollywood icon on the line? “We’ll play this game today. I’ll take open bids on any phone calls that come in. You may wind up with my realtor but you might wind up with Warren Beatty.”
After politely hanging up, he resumed detailing the film’s difficulties. “Everyone got hurt, and I was the first but then I didn’t get hurt again so it felt like I didn’t get hurt. I had some kind of a back thing that went out in the second week but I took care of it. And then this one fell and this one got lacerated and this one broke that. It was a daily occurrence. There were crew guys and cast members who got hurt a lot.”
Despite escaping with only a minor back pain early on in filming, spending a week inside an air vent, for a scene in which the survivors make their escape from a flooding section of the boat, was still no picnic.
“The vent was shot [sideways] instead of [vertically] for technical camera reasons, so that it was not as steep as it looked. And they would say, ‘Well, one side will be open for the cameras’ but the cameras closed it off so you were inside. It was a bitch. That stuff was a bitch, because I have a good dose of claustrophobia. And when you’re in there and you’re shooting more than one real set-up at a time, they’ve got all the reason in the world to keep you in, to get the measurements right.”
Even so, Poseidon turned out to come in second place to Dreyfuss’s other ocean adventure, Jaws, in terms of difficulty. “Jaws was shot on the real ocean, inadvertently. And it was a full length unendurable experience of indescribable proportions, every day, because of that. This was really an old Hollywood kind of [film]. Making it up and creating sets and it was really more reminiscent for me of The Goodbye Girl or Close Encounters. It was a constant, six studio buildings of movie magic. ‘Let’s turn this ship over here, seven stories…all right,’ so we walked in like that. It was in essence a very, very different thing. And when we went into the water it was a tank, when we went into the water in Jaws it was the Atlantic Ocean.”
With such experiences in his past, it’s easy to understand why Dreyfuss announced his retirement from Hollywood in 2004 to concentrate on theater. Petersen must have made him quite an offer to reconsider less than a year later to begin filming Poseidon.
“Money, simple. I announced my retirement just one number short of winning the Spanish national lottery. I waited until the tenth and then, ‘I’m retired! Oh sh*t! Ahhh!’ So that’s why [I came back].”
So it wasn’t Petersen’s winning personality. “He’s kind of like an animated Donald Duck uncle, ya know? ‘We’re going to have a great day and we’re going to shoot and we’re going to be good’ and it’s like he’s wearing lederhosen.”
With his Poseidon paycheck in the bank and earning interest, Dreyfuss hopes he can retire for good this time. “I’m retired until I can’t be retired anymore.”
Get your last look at Richard Dreyfuss when Poseidon opens Friday.