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Richard Dreyfuss Looks to Big Picture in Law and Culture Forum

Actor Richard Dreyfuss says he has no particular affinity for playing lawyers. Photo by Chris Taggart

Actor Richard Dreyfuss says he has no particular affinity for playing lawyers.
Photo by Chris Taggart

Academy Award-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss made a passionate plea during a conversation on March 26 at Fordham for Americans to become more involved in their country.

Sitting with Thane Rosenbaum, the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law at Fordham Law School and director of the Fordham Law Forum on Law, Culture and Society, Dreyfuss said the United States is in its most difficult period.

“The betting is that in the lifetime of my grandchildren, America will not be believed as anything but a fairy tale, when it is, in fact, the greatest answer to a question that has been asked for 12,000 years: ‘How can people live together in some sense of decency and freedom and mobility and opportunity?’” he said.

“So far, the best answer to that question is the United States of America. And it doesn’t happen by itself. It will be gone before the lifetime of our grandchildren unless you take it in hand.”

The evening’s conversation, which was held in the 200-seat Time Warner Center and beamed via closed-circuit television to two overflow rooms, centered on films in which Dreyfuss played a lawyer, such as Night Falls on Manhattan and Prisoner of Honor.

Dreyfuss said he had no particular affinity for playing lawyers, even though his father, uncle, sister and all of his cousins are attorneys.

“I like playing people who have gone to college because I didn’t, and acting is a fantasy fulfillment. So I like to act as if I’ve gone to college,” he said.

Likewise, Dreyfuss demurred on the question of whether playing defense attorneys or public defenders, as he did in the 1987 film Nuts, have important lessons to teach.

“I would not say that actors or lawyers are obligated to be moral leaders of their society,” he said. “However, if you get the chance, it’s hot, which is why I have such incredible admiration for George Clooney’s film Good Night and Good Luck, which is probably the best historical film ever made in America.”

The subject of civics, to which Dreyfuss has devoted a great deal of his time lately, kept coming back into the conversation.

“We’re a country that is particularly eccentric and particularly singular in that we are bound only by ideas. We have no common ancestry, no common religion, no common crime, no common military victory that binds us,” he said.

“We are bound together only by the ideas that were born in the Enlightenment and actualized in the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address. If those ideas are not taught, and taught, and re-taught, we are not bound.”


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