After getting kicked out of high school, Griffin Dunne headed east to make something of himself in the New York acting scene. Just six years after his first movie appearance, Dunne starred in the cult classic An American Werewolf in London in 1981. Just four years later, he starred in (and this time co-produced) another cult classic called After Hours, directed by Martin Scorsese. Since then, Dunne has directed, produced or acted in over 50 films and television shows, including Saturday Night Live, Girls and Dallas Buyers Club. We caught up with him a few days before the premiere of The Discoverers, in which he stars as the father of a dysfunctional family, to talk about confidence, life advice and that time he wept on an airplane.
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Q. What’s one thing every man should know?
A. How to make one pasta dish very, very well.
Q. What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
A. When I was a young actor, I gave an audition for a very famous director and he cut me off after 15 seconds. I left, but then I reentered the room and finished the rest of my monologue, whether he wanted to hear it or not.
Q. What are you working on right now?
A. I’m developing a TV series called The Ethicist, which is based on Randy Cohen’s New York Times advice column of the same name.
I knew too little to know I shouldn’t have been so confident.
Q. Name one thing you can’t live without.
Q: Who or what influences you?
A: People who have reinvented themselves, who have created their own second acts in life.
Q. What are you reading right now?
A. All The Shah’s Men by Stephen Kinzer. It’s about the American involvement in Iran.
Q. Name one thing no one knows about you.
A. Well gosh, I’m so forthcoming. Once, I wept uncontrollably while watching It’s a Wonderful Life. I’m sure other people have done that, but I’d seen the movie so many times and was on an airline and the stewardess even asked if I was alright.
Q. It’s your last drink and meal on earth. What’ll it be?
A. Ribeye steak for sure. And the drink…wait, am I coming to a violent end or is this just oblivion?
A. Then I’ll have some wine that a sommelier recommends for me that is far too expensive and that I have no intention of paying for.
Q. If you could go back and tell your 16 year old self something, what would you say?
A. Learn to be on time.
Q. How do you want to be remembered?
A. As someone who made a difference in other people’s lives.
Q. How did you have the confidence to forego college in order to pursue an acting career?
A. I knew too little to know I shouldn’t have been so confident.
Q. You’ve worked on a wide array of projects in both TV and film, as an actor, director and producer. Which has been your favorite project and why?
A. After Hours, which I acted in and helped produce, was a project I was really really proud of. It influenced me as a director and actor.
Q. You’ve been on the screen since 1975. Do you have any plans of slowing down?
A. None at all.
Q. How does working on a TV show differ from a feature film?
A. The answer used to be that film allowed for more takes for the actors and more angles for the director to shoot from. There was just more money and many more days in the schedule. Now the difference is almost imperceptible. Material is particularly good in television now; you can no longer call it film’s poor step cousin. Dallas Buyers Club [shot in 28 days] was completed in only two or three more days than it took to shoot The Discoverers. And The Good Wife is shot in just eight days per each hour-long episode. Unless your movie is part of a franchise — or a tent pole kind of thing — everyone is under the gun and needs to be creative and resourceful.
Q. What are you most looking forward to with the premiere of The Discoverers this Friday?
A. I’m looking forward to people seeing me in a lead role, since they haven’t in a long time. I want to remind people that I’m back in acting and hopefully it’ll lead to good things down the road for movies that others are making.
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