Roy Scheider, 1932-2008

>> Monday, February 11, 2008

I was a drama geek in the way-back-when. I got there in a roundabout way: there was a phase where I thought I wanted to direct movies, and attempting to act was a way to learn about the profession in general. I think I started in junior high, probably seventh grade, and I was still attempting to act after high school, appearing semi-professionally (sort of) in a play that a struggling local writer/director was funding out of his own pocket. I was apparently even Vice-President of the high school drama club my senior year, a dubious accomplishment that I only discovered recently when I stumbled across an old high school yearbook (I guess I broke ties in the drama Senate and protected the dramatic space-time continuum, I don't know).

But one thing I can distinctly recall somewhere in those muddled years is that Roy Scheider was one of my favorite actors. I'm not sure I could put my finger on why that was, now, although I still like his work when I come across it. He was, I suppose, something of a strange hybrid of character actor and leading man without the scenery-chewing tendencies of a Hoffman. Or maybe it was something else.

NPR woke me up this morning with the news of Scheider's death this weekend. To be honest, I hadn't thought of him in a long, long time. Sometime during or after Scheider's lead role in the early-'90s SeaQuest revamping, his career wound down into a steady stream of B-movies and TV gigs. He didn't seem to turn any work down, but maybe he should have. It turns out it's possible to fade away into a very public obscurity where you're constantly doing things nobody watches. One of the rare highlights in the murk was a 1999 appearance in HBO's RKO 281 opposite Liev Schrieber; I'm sure Scheider was just as good in all the other movies he was doing around the same time, but not so sure any of them were worth watching.

The movie Scheider is most strongly associated with is Jaws, obviously. And it's inevitable that everyone right now is recalling Scheider's most famous line, the now-clichéd "You're going to need a bigger boat," or perhaps his other famous line, "Smile, you son-of-a-bitch." What might not come to mind as easily, regrettably, is Scheider's personal best moment in the movie (and one of Steven Spielberg's finer moments as a director). Thirty-eight minutes into the movie, we find Chief Brody (Scheider) sitting at the dinner table with his son, Sean (Jay Mello). Brody's been having a bad day, despite the fact that the shark terrorizing Amity has (supposedly) been caught and killed: the mother of one of the shark's victims confronted Brody on the docks and accused him of murdering her son by not closing the beaches, a charge that strikes close to home because Brody attempted to close the beaches but allowed himself to be talked out of it by the mayor and other town leaders. As Brody sits at the table, Sean begins mirroring his father's posture; Brody becomes aware of what his son is doing and makes a face, which his son mimics. There's a minute-or-so of silent interplay between the two characters--it's a little thing, but worth watching if you have the DVD handy. I wish there was a YouTube clip I could include.

(Y'know, as I watch the whole scene--the brilliant Richard Dreyfuss comes in with two bottles of wine just after Brody asks his son for a kiss--the whole thing is just a damn good bit of work in a damn good movie. There are some fools who actually think Jaws is about a shark, which goes a long way towards explaining why the sequels were so godawful.)

He was a fine, understated, classy actor who stopped getting the roles and recognition he deserved.

The Times Online obituary can be found here.


Janiece Murphy Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 9:48:00 AM EST  

I liked him, too. My personal favorite was All That Jazz.

Eric Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 10:07:00 AM EST  

I still need to see that one. I ended up watching all of Jaws last night in his honor. He really gives a helluva performance in that one--it's a helluva triumverate in that one, Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw.

I guess Dreyfuss is the only one left, which is depressing.

Eric Tuesday, February 12, 2008 at 10:12:00 AM EST  

I just went and added All That Jazz to my CafeDVD queue.

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