An Interview with Alan Arkin from "Four Days in September"
by Brandon Judell
Bruno Barreto’s “Four Days in September” isn’t one of the best political
thrillers to hit our shores since “Z” — although exhilarated audience
members stood up and yelled political slogans at the Montreal Film Festival
— it is still worth viewing for Alan Arkin’s superb, intensely quiet
portrayal of the American Ambassador to Brazil, Charles Burke Elbrick.
Elbrick was kidnapped by a group of naive activists in 1969 trying to
expose the corrupt nature of their government. He was their pawn to get
world attention. They succeeded in that respect, but what about their other
demands? Would they have to go ahead with their threats to kill the
“Four Days in September” can only help Arkin, 63, this being his best
chance to excel in years. And there were some tough years. In the beginning
he was a folk singer, then a member of the Second City troupe, and then a
Broadway sensation. Films eventually came calling, the more notable being:
“The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming” (1966); “Wait Until Dark
(1967); “The Heart is A Lonely Hunter” (1968); “Catch 22” (1970); “The
In-Laws” (1979); “Edward Scissorhands” (1990); “Glengarry Glen Ross“
(1992); “Gattaca” (1997). Add to his resume, two Oscar nominations, film
and theater direction (e.g. “Little Murders“), TV appearances, and numerous
books, and you have one busy man.
indieWIRE: Do you think something’s gone wrong in Hollywood when $200
million could probably pretty much wipe out hunger in Africa instead of
being spent on an overwrought epic? Should filmgoers even think of that
amount when they see it? Or are we all too aware of the business angles
behind so many features coming out today?
Alan Arkin: The answer to that is don’t go. If you don’t go, they won’t
make it anymore. But people go, so they make it. People think that the
people in Hollywood have some master plan. They just make the movies that
people go to see. I think it’s that simple. I promise you if people were
lining up around the block to see a Bible movie, they’d make Bible movies
from now to the end of time. It’s not that there is a terrible morality in
Hollywood. I think there isn’t any. There isn’t any, by and large.
iW: When you started your career in the sixties, early seventies, there
were so many adult-oriented features being released. What do you think
about the current state of celluloid affairs?
Arkin: I think there’s been a lot of wonderful movies in the last two or
three years. A really big resurgence of responsible, interesting,
beautiful, little films. So much so that the studios are trying to
commandeer all the independent films. Now what they’re doing in their
genius is that they’re making little movies and calling them independent
movies which means nobody gets paid. They say, “We can’t give you money.
It’s an independent movie. It’s not in the budget.” Independent movies from
major studios!!! So that’s what’s happening with independent movies now.
iW: What does it take to get you to do a film now?
Arkin: While I’m making a film, if somebody hands me a script to read, I
want it to be a work of genius, written and directed by Jean Renoir or
Fellini. When the film I was making is over and someone then hands me a
script, if it’s a John Ford movie, it’s fine. But then about three weeks
later, I just want to know that I have a job coming sometime in the next
six months. It really depends on what kind of cushion I have to live on. I
got to eat like everybody else in the world.
iW: What if an unknown gives you a brilliant script with no names attached
to the project?
Arkin: I don’t care about names attached to the script. That doesn’t matter
to me. All things being equal, I would like to work with a good script with
a good director, and the part I play is of less important than those two
iW: Do you want to direct more?
Arkin: I don’t have a lot of agenda. For about a decade now, I don’t have a
real “this-is-what-I-must-do-now!” I just don’t have any of that. My
favorite thing is to be working with people I enjoy working with. I’ve
reached the point where emotionally I don’t need to act any more.
Financially, I do. But emotionally it wouldn’t matter to me if I never
acted again. I feel like I’ve cleaned up my neurotic reasons for being an
actor. But in having done so, acting has become fun. So that if it’s a
project where people are capable of having fun, I’m happy to be working. On
the past few projects I’ve been involved on, I’m working with people who
are capable of having a good time. It’s a whole other life. Robin Williams
is just a joy. He’s a great joy. And on the same project [“Jakob the Liar“]
was Bob Balaban, a very old friend of mine. We worked together several
times. And Armin Mueller-Stahl who’ve I never worked with before and never
met, but he and I ended up being friends. It’s been like that with the past
two projects. I feel like with my life not being at stake any more each
time I open my mouth, I seem to be attracting the kind of projects with the
[Brandon Judell is a contributor to “Detour” and lead critic for Critics,
Inc. on AOL. He’s also written about film for the “Village Voice” and “The