Here is the great Alan Arkin (represented both in the flesh and in portraiture prominently displayed behind him) in the role of acting teacher Michael Malakov, whose class Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia) attends. In talking with Alan before filming his scenes, I suggested that Malakov might not be a complete failure as an actor who sought refuge in teaching–perhaps he had a sort of/maybe/almost career that fizzled out. Alan agreed and said: “Yeah, he might have been nominated for an Obie…but he didn’t win”. The marvelous set of distinctions packed in that sentence (an Obie, not a Tony…nominated but not winning) perfectly describes the ruthlessly random nature of show-biz. There’s an actor I’ve always admired (and hardly ever seen) named Robert Fields who sort of fits the Malakov bill–for awhile he appeared to be on the verge of being one of the big ones…and then not much until he resurfaced in supporting parts years later. Mention him to most actors of a certain generation and they’ll smile admiringly and say “Oh, yeah, Bob Fields!” But where does it all go?
In closing I’ll share a story Alan shared with me on the set. It’s the morning after the Oscars (last year) and he won for “Little Miss Sunshine”. He drives onto the 20th Century Fox lot, prepared to do a day of press to support and celebrate the film. The guards smile at him. “Good Morning Mr. Arkin. Congratulations on winning the Oscar last night”. “Oh thank you, thank you,” says Alan. “Everyone at the studio is thrilled. You must be so proud”. “Ah yes, thrilled…proud, yes..” says Alan. “My wife wanted me to tell you how much she loved you in the movie.” “Oh,” says Alan, “please tell her thank you.” “I will” says the guard. “Now could you pop open your trunk for me?”
Pause. “What for?”
“Security. We need to inspect the back of your trunk.”
Alan thinks about this. He just won an Oscar for 20th Century Fox..but he might also be a terrorist? What the hell is going on here? Are we truly this unthinking a nation, this paranoid, this doctranaire? Is nothing sacred?
“No,” responds Alan. “I will not allow you inspect my trunk.”
And after some uncomfortable hemming and hawing and phone calls and embarrassed, whispered conversations, the bold decision is made to say the hell with Homeland Security; sanity prevails and Alan Arkin is waved through the gate, trunk unchecked.