Actor Goldwyn Tries Out Directing
Mar. 31, 1999
NEW YORK (AP) _ For Tony Goldwyn, falling in love with the screenplay for ``A Walk on the Moon'' was the easy part. Much harder was figuring out what to do next.
He's an actor, so was there a meaty part for him? ``I tried hard to fit myself in, but I just didn't feel like I could act in it,'' says Goldwyn, wistfully.
What about producing? After all, his pedigree is impressive: Tony's grandfather was the mighty Samuel Goldwyn, whose name still hangs above the roaring lion at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios.
Sounded good, except he'd never produced before. And it was soon clear he wouldn't do it alone: Dustin Hoffman, also smitten by the script, had signaled interest in producing. And who refuses Dustin Hoffman?
That left only ... what? Directing? Trouble was, Goldwyn was a novice here, too. Plus, he would be making his feature-film debut with a tricky story about a rocky marriage set in the summer of 1969.
``I didn't want to direct,'' says Goldwyn. ``I had no intention of directing a film. What I wanted to do was expand my horizons as an actor and start to produce material that I was involved with.''
But, alas, he was in love.
``I found I couldn't give it away to somebody else because I had such strong feelings about what needed to happen with the material,'' he says. ``So then the natural next step was, I said, 'Do it yourself.'''
But how exactly would he go about it? Goldwyn, ever the actor, soon hit upon an ingenious tactic: He devised a character in his mind of the kind of director for whom he had always wanted to work.
Then he simply played him.
``To approach the same process and environment from a completely different way was so much fun,'' he says. ``It's like wearing someone else's clothes. I felt like a total impostor. I would even forget to say, 'Action!' and 'Cut!'''
Impostor or not, the gamble seems to have paid off, at least judging from the warm response to ``A Walk on the Moon'' at the Sundance Film Festival in January.
Goldwyn was looking for his next acting project when he stumbled on Pamela Gray's script, which happened to have won the Samuel Goldwyn Screenwriting Award at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles.
The movie tells of a married woman who has a very public affair with a blouse salesman in the Catskills, the upstate New York countryside where large numbers of Jews from the city used to spend their summer holidays.
Gray had spent all her summers in the late 1960s in the Catskills, and recalled passing the time with wives whose husbands were away at work during the week.
Although Goldwyn had grown up in Los Angeles, he would often visit his family in New York and was aware of the Catskills culture. He was 9 at the time of the rock concert in Woodstock, which is in the Catskills area and is the scene of much of the action in the movie, which also touches upon the U.S. space program, the war in Vietnam and early seeds of the women's movement. The title is drawn from Neil Armstrong's moon walk, an important event in the film.
What interested Goldwyn, he says, was the story of someone ``waking up in the morning, and saying, 'Is my life what I dreamed it would be?' and, 'Do I have the right to have that expectation at all?'''
He says he identified with the idea as a man but wanted to explore it from a woman's point of view.
Now 39, Goldwyn's career suddenly has a crisp new focus after years of quiet success on stage and brief movie appearances in, among others, ``Ghost,'' ``The Pelican Brief'' and ``Kiss the Girls.'' he played Richard Nixon's brother in Oliver Stone's presidential biopic, and astronaut Neil Armstrong in HBO's ``From the Earth to the Moon.''
``I felt that I wasn't achieving my potential in the film roles I was getting,'' he says. ``So I said, 'Hmmm, I've got to figure out a way to make this more fulfilling.' Directing became that role. Then it all made sense.''
Being an actor himself paid off with his actors, he says. ``We had a shorthand. They knew that I'd been through what they were going through.''
Too much so, perhaps, jokes Diane Lane, who stars as a straight-laced housewife tempted by freedom in the Age of Aquarius.
``Sometimes he would get so in my face, he would be experiencing the emotions himself. I would have to say, 'O.K., this is MY line and you stay over THERE!''' Lane says, laughing.
``He would be trembling with tears in his eyes, he would get all caught up in it. I would say, 'Got it! Now put me in front of the camera already!'''
Born into the Goldwyn dynasty, Tony grew up in the posh suburbs of Los Angeles, the son of producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and actress Jennifer Howard. Grandpa Goldwyn, one of Hollywood's founding fathers, was the producer behind such classics as ``Guys and Dolls,'' ``The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'' and ``Wuthering Heights.''
Tony recalls Saturday afternoons in his boyhood gabbing with his grandfather after he had his second stroke.
``This was a guy who had, at 16 years old, made his way from Poland to America. He landed on a boat in Canada and literally walked to New York City! This was one tough, determined dude,'' says Goldwyn.
``He was sitting in his wheelchair and we were talking. All of a sudden, he begins shaking. He's trying to lift himself up and tears are streaming out of his eyes. And I go, 'Grandpa, what are you doing?' And I start hugging him, to try and calm him down. He was so frustrated that he couldn't get out of the chair.
``I remember, as a 10-year-old kid, trying to give this guy advice: 'Look at what you've done in your life!' I said to him. 'It's time to relax! It's time to sit back and smell the flowers!'''
``It had a huge impact on him. He told everybody about it, that this little kid made him feel better!''
By the time he decided to be an actor, Tony discovered that extending the Goldwyn name into a third generation of Hollywood fame wasn't going to be easy.
``Starting out as an actor, it was horrible _ having a famous last name and having a family in the business,'' he says. ``When I started applying for work in film and television, it was very, very tough, because people tend to write you off.''
But he has kept detractors off-base with his eclectic mix of projects, including his latest _ voicing the title role of the upcoming animated feature ``Tarzan.''
Now, with ``A Walk on the Moon,'' he's survived a different type of adventure.
``I loved it,'' he says. ``I felt like I was on a great water slide.''