Politically, Richard Dreyfuss describes himself as "intensely pre-partisan, and even more intensely anti-shmuck."
The 66-year-old Oscar winner almost immediately injected politics into an hourlong conversation with actress Ileana Douglas about his life and career Friday as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival. Dreyfuss was even more outspoken in a later interview with The Associated Press, calling for a "civil strike" in support of the U.S. Constitution to encourage civic participation.
"I'm going to send you a copy of the preamble to the Constitution," he said. "If there's anything in it that you don't agree with, don't sign it; just send me back an explanation. You will agree with everything, because it's beautifully crafted and it's meant for all. And if I get 500,000 signatures, I'm going to call for a civil strike.
"What I would do is pick a weekday, and according to the time zone, 12:30 in the East, 9:30 in the West, you don't go, you don't do, you don't call, you don't buy. You don't do NOTHING for 30 minutes. That's not enough to hurt the economy, but it's enough to get their attention."
As you've probably guessed, Dreyfuss is even more passionate about politics than he is about acting these days. He still takes roles — including one in a current TV pilot he won't discuss — but he doesn't feel the same fire as before.
"I had this urgency to act," he said of his early career. "And then after 50 years, I realized that it had mellowed into a friendship and I didn't have to do it. ... I love acting. I love it. I just don't have to do it."
There's no part he's yearning to play, though he likes the idea of performing Shakespeare on radio.
What Dreyfuss does have to do, as a descendent of generations of activists, is express his frustration with the elected and the electorate and try to do something about it. ("From the outside," he said, "it looks like America is taking acid.") The actor took a hiatus from Hollywood to study at Oxford and establish his nonprofit Dreyfuss Initiative in 2003 to promote civics education in American schools.
"We're absolutely hypnotized into a state of denial or into the state of, 'I have no power to do anything. I'm powerless.' And that, in fact, is incorrect," he said. "The power lies in the people. No kidding, it really does ...
"When people aren't taught they have sovereign power ... if they're not taught it, they don't got it. And they're not taught it."
During his earlier film festival appearance at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Dreyfuss cited the first U.S. president: "Washington said that the Constitution should always be central and the parties should always be peripheral," Dreyfuss said, "and we have it turned around now."
He also shared memories of working with Steven Spielberg on "Jaws" and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." He talked about working with Audrey Hepburn, doing the voiceover for "Stand By Me" and Neil Simon's "perfect script" for 1977's "The Goodbye Girl," for which Dreyfuss won the lead actor Oscar.
He also talked about the magic of movies.
"No art form has ever swept the world like this one," he said. "Movies have captured your dream state... They are reaching into your dream state and pulling you out and showing you that you're alive."
Though he joked in an interview that he continues acting because "it's the only way I know how to make a living," Dreyfuss admitted he's deeply grateful for the opportunity to touch others with his performances.
"Acting is giving a blessing and getting a blessing. You can feel it all over, and when you make people laugh, you do what Shakespeare says: You give surcease from sorrow," he said. "And when you do a drama and you're in the zone, you are telling them: This is life as you know it..."
"It's an extraordinary thing I got to do my entire life," he continued, "which means I was blessed."