February 15, 2007
Alan Arkin—not just another kid From Brooklyn
(Page 2 - Previous Page)AA: Yes.
JJ: Is there a character that you've played that you strongly identify with?
AA: I identify very much with this guy, Mr. Hoover from "Little Miss Sunshine."
JJ: You identify with the patriarch of a dysfunctional family?
AA: That's an easy word that people throw around a lot. Every family's a dysfunctional family. There's a great old Chinese saying that says, "No one can put a plaque over their front door that says, 'There are no problems here."'
JJ: You were somewhat of a nomad as a young man.
AA: I moved around a lot, that's what actors do until we get a career that roots us somewhere. I got a scholarship to a college in Vermont, left to play folk music, got a job in St. Louis at the Compass Theatre for a while and then went to Chicago 'cause I got a job there with Second City.
JJ: Do you think the comedic improvisation you studied at Second City helped you hone your craft?
AA: I was with Second City for two years, but it felt like 30. It was incredibly dense and compacted, like a whole lifetime of study. Improvisation is very much a part of my work. I think people recognize that when they hire me. That's part of the way I work, and nobody seems to be afraid of it. I don't like to improvise on camera, but I like to use it as kind of a rehearsal technique, helping to sometimes get the dialogue a little richer.
JJ: I understand that you don't place a lot of importance on awards?
AA: Only when I lose. [laughs] There's no such thing as the best performance; it's arbitrary. What makes something the best performance? When you get 100 people who say this is the best performance, and they're all kind of titillated by that performance, and there's another performance that changed 15 people's lives, what's the gauge? Because 500 people like something, does that make it better than something that three people like?
JJ: I've read that you have a great affection for films from the 1930s and 1940s. Do you feel they made better films then?
AA: Part of the reason is that there was a greater community then. When they talk about "Little Miss Sunshine," they talk about the great ensemble work. Well, that comes to me as a shock. I feel like every film should be great ensemble work. I have no interest in a film where one or two people are featured and everyone else is kind of a wash, you can put anybody in it and it doesn't make much difference. The films of the '30s and '40s, and particularly people like Frank Capra, were at the forefront of this. There could be 100 characters and you remember every one of them. The minute they come on the film, they have something definitive and memorable to contribute. I was a huge, huge admirer of [Jean] Renoir, who epitomized this sense of community. You want to jump up on the screen and be a part of what's going on. It was so rich and loving, such an extraordinary rich tapestry of life. I think all films should be like that.
Pat Sierchio is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Written By, the magazine of the Writers Guild of America, West.
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