January 9th, 2006
I'm not quite sure how I missed seeing Animal House when it came out in 1978 (perhaps I was too busy trying to flunk out of college myself), but somehow I did. So it wasn't until recently, as I prepared to interview the marvelous actor Peter Riegert (my guest on the show that airs tonight at 7:30 and will be repeated on Friday night at 10:30), that I finally caught him in the role that launched his film career -- as Donald "Boon" Shoenstein, a laconic frat boy who's so indecisive that he even has trouble committing to a relationship with Karen Allen.
My own fascination with Riegert's work began with his starring role in another noted comedy: 1983's Local Hero, by the great Scottish filmmaker Bill Forsyth (Gregory's Girl, Comfort and Joy). Playing "Mac," an American businessman sent to Scotland on a mission to turn a peaceful coastal village into the site of an oil refinery, Riegert manages to take his character through a startling transformation, from crass superficiality to wry self-knowledge. The shift happens in such subtle increments that I kept seeing the film over and over, just to try to figure out exactly how he pulled it off (I couldn't).
Nor did I succeed in deconstructing his next signature role, as Sam ("The Pickle Man") Posner, who woos Amy Irving in Joan Micklin Silver's Crossing Delancey (1988). Again, Riegert's work here is so subtle that Silver actually worried during shooting that he wasn't acting at all! (She changed her mind when she saw the rushes.)
There are actors I admire, and then there are those -- like Riegert -- who fill me with wonder. So I was thrilled when I learned that he was in the Bay Area to direct David Mamet's Sexual Perversity in Chicago at A.C.T. Graciously, he agreed to take a break from rehearsals to chat with me about his prolific career in theater and movies -- including his recent turn as a filmmaker with last year's King of the Corner. It wasn't a total surprise to learn from our conversation that this whimsical performer is just as fascinating while playing the role of himself.
Entry Filed under: tv episodes