Richard Dreyfuss at the Whistler Film Festival (photo by Tav Rayne)
Richard Dreyfuss at the 2013 Whistler Film Festival (photo by Tav Rayne)

Richard Dreyfuss thinks Americans need more “civics” lessons.

Just before the 2013 Whistler Film Festival I interviewed the iconic actor about his new movie Cas & Dylan (which opens across Canada this week). I also talked to the movie’s director, BC’s Jason Priestley – a small screen fixture since his days as a ‘90s icon in Beverly Hills 90210. These days you can catch him on Call Me Fitz. At the end of my conversation with Priestley I asked if there was anything he thought I should ask Dreyfuss about to get the ball rolling. Priestley replied instantly. “Politics.”

I  reached Dreyfuss at his New York hotel room and the two-time Oscar winner for Best Actor (for 1977’s The Goodbye Girl and 1995’s Mr. Holland’s Opus) was happy to talk about about his new coming of age/end-of-life buddy comedy where he shares billing with Canada’s Orphan Black phenom Tatiana Maslany. He raved about Maslany, who plays Dylan Morgan, a young woman who’s just getting her life together.  Dreyfuss plays Cas Pepper, a doctor whose life is pretty much done, which means he gets to revisit some of the themes he played out on screen as the star of the 1981 phenom Whose Life is it Anyway?

But as keen as Dreyfuss was about the movie (which I covered here for the Vancouver Sun) Priestley was right. The actor’s enthusiasm really spiked when I asked about his new great white shark… Civics.

An Oscar winner for playing a teacher who made a difference in Mr. Holland’s Opus, Dreyfuss is determined to make a difference with education in real life. “I believe that unless we know who we are and where we came from and what we mean — and America is one of the few countries in the world that has meaning — we’re just afloat and not anchored in anything and we don’t know who the hell we are.”

To help with his mission Dreyfuss founded a non-profit organization — The Dreyfuss Initiative. The mandate: “To teach our kids how to run our country before they’re called upon to run our country.”

Dreyfuss said his passion for civics and American history comes, “from the lives of my grandchildren who don’t exist yet…  I think that if we give our children anything less than the American Dream, which we can’t and which we will be the first generation that can’t, I think that our children will turn to us and say, “How could you have abandoned us like this?” Because our schools teach nothing. They teach only time wasting and they do not teach excellence in the thought process, excellence in thinking, in how to reason or use logic, or how to use critical analysis and if you don’t know how to do that then you are going to be the victim of others. And it seems to me that that’s pretty evident in today’s world.”

A lifelong American history buff Dreyfuss described his personal politics as “pre-partisan” which he explained as, “what George Washington said — that the constitution should be central and the political party peripheral. Not the way it is now.”

As he prepped for his flight to BC the former Duddy Kravitz confessed his fondness for Canada. “I’ve worked in Canada many times – mostly in Toronto, Vancouver, the Laurentian Mountains. I think that Canadians don’t realize that as much as they want to be like the United States, the United States wants to be like Canada because it’s a pretty civilized society.”

As nice as it was to hear Dreyfuss praise Canada I couldn’t help thinking about how confused our pretty civilized society is by concepts like coalitions, proroguing parliament and “Fair Voting” legislation that looks like something Orwell dreamed up while sampling Aldous Huxley’s drug stash. Canadians could also use a few lessons in civics.

So if anyone wants to start a Canadian branch of The Dreyfuss Initiative…

Jason Priestley & Richard Dreyfuss at 2013 Whistler Film Festival (photo by Tav Rayne)
Jason Priestley & Richard Dreyfuss at 2013 Whistler Film Festival (photo by Tav Rayne)

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