Not My Job: We Ask 'Madoff' Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes Since Dreyfuss will be portraying the financier behind a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, we'll see how much he knows about Arthur Fonzarelli on Happy Days.

Not My Job: We Ask 'Madoff' Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes

Not My Job: We Ask 'Madoff' Star Richard Dreyfuss About Fonzie Schemes

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for DIFF
Actor Richard Dreyfuss poses for a portrait on Dec. 12, 2015, in Dubai.
Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for DIFF

In 1975 Richard Dreyfuss starred in what was then the highest-grossing movie of all time: Jaws. Now, he stars as the title character in the ABC miniseries Madoff, and — unlike in Jaws — this time he's in the role of the shark.

Since Dreyfuss will be portraying Bernie Madoff, who ran a $65 billion Ponzi scheme, we'll quiz him on Fonzie's schemes — three questions about the life and times of Arthur Fonzarelli as portrayed by Henry Winkler on Happy Days.


And now the game where we ask accomplished people to accomplish one more thing. It's called Not My Job. Richard Dreyfuss got famous from "The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz" and "American Graffiti." He starred Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind" and what was then the highest-grossing movie of all-time, "Jaws." He won an Oscar nothing for "The Goodbye Girl." And now he stars as the title character in "Madoff," where, unlike "Jaws," this time he plays the shark. Richard Dreyfuss, hello and welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

RICHARD DREYFUSS: Thank you, thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


PESCA: So...


PESCA: ...I read - I read in an old interview that you once said that acting in "Jaws" and "Close Encounters" - that acting in those movies, your job was to make things that weren't there seem believable. So that's kind of good preparation for playing Bernie Madoff, right?

DREYFUSS: Yeah, I never thought of it that way. Yeah, in "Jaws" and in "Close Encounters," Steven Spielberg once said to me, could I ask you a question? And I said sure. He said, you remember when we were doing "Jaws" and I was telling you to say things like oh, look at that, look at that and there was nothing there? And I said yeah. He said, did you ever feel stupid?


DREYFUSS: And I said Steven, you're an authority figure. Don't do this to me.


PESCA: So I watched - I watched "Mr. Holland's Opus" with my kids a couple weeks ago. Now, I have to tell you, my dad's a teacher, my mom's a teacher, my sister's a teacher , my brother-in-law is a teacher. Do other non-teachers always cry at "Mr. Holland's Opus," or is it just my family?

DREYFUSS: (Laughter) Well, actually, I - not only do I cry, there were a thousand extras in that film. And we were - we all were so taken by this plot and by this guy that we would shoot let's say the scene where I do - I'm singing to my son. And I'd look out at the audience and there would be someone who would say, do it again.


PESCA: That's beautiful. Now I want to ask you about "Close Encounters." Did that change your relationship to mashed potatoes?


DREYFUSS: As someone who's on a perpetual diet, I have no relationship.

PESCA: So in playing Bernie Madoff, how does it work as an actor? Do you try to identify with him? So even if you've come to think and study the case that maybe he's as much of a symptom as he is just a bad apple, is there a way to convey that through your performance, or do you let everything else convey that point?

DREYFUSS: No, that's not what my job is. In this film, my job was to play that bad apple. At the beginning before I had done any research, I was thinking well, I'll probably, you know, find good attributes in him. But no, I never did.



PESCA: But I think when actors can go wrong in playing the con artist, they emphasize the con. But you are emphasizing the artistry. You have to show how good he was at conning people, not by twirling the mustache but by turning on the charm.

DREYFUSS: That's exactly the right phrase. What I had to do was to be as friendly and gentle and loving as any uncle Bernie could be because no one else would be able to take people's money from them. They're not going to give it to the mustache twirler.

PESCA: Right.

DREYFUSS: And that's also how I played Dick Cheney.

PESCA: Yeah.

DREYFUSS: (Laughter).

GROSZ: Yeah.

PESCA: I was thinking about that.

DREYFUSS: That was a lie. That was a lie.

PESCA: But you also were...

GROSZ: That was great though, I mean, there were a lot of good performances in that film.

PESCA: That was the movie "W."

GROSZ: Yeah, the movie - film "W," but you were almost as scary as I perceived the actual Dick Cheney to be watching that film. I thought it was great.

PESCA: With less nuclear weapons though is the point...

GROSZ: Yes, exactly.

PESCA: ...Yeah.

DREYFUSS: I've played every Republican villain. I played Hague (ph), I've played Cheney. I've played them all. I remember being cast in the old days. Steven cast me because I had the ability to look at something which didn't exist yet. And I always told him that the name of the book I would never write is "Have They Figured Out Yet What I'm Looking Up In Awe At?


DREYFUSS: So now I play villains. And one day, I'll - I don't know, play rope-jumpers.

PESCA: There's another major category of role that you play as I was going over your career. You play - you are the guy who's ballast (ph), who's probity, who's order. And then you come into contact with disorder, right - "Down And Out In Beverly Hills" with Nick Nolte or "What About Bob?" with Bill Murray. And I was wondering if there's something about you that you tap into it 'cause you seem like a cut up, but are you a more serious guy than we know?

DREYFUSS: I am humanity's face, OK?


GROSZ: That is a very bold statement, sir.

SHELBY FERO: I say that every time I walk into a room.

DREYFUSS: And I want you to know, it was halfway out of my mouth and I thought you're making a mistake, Richard.


PESCA: So Richard, I read this article from 1978 that said that then - back then you never had gotten your Oscar engraved. And I wanted the update, have you since had it engraved?


PESCA: OK, good.

FERO: They don't engrave it for you?

DREYFUSS: No, they do. What you're supposed to do is to give it back before you leave that night.

FERO: Oh, right.

DREYFUSS: And I took it, and I ran into this limo. And I went to this plane to fly to New York, where I was appearing in "Julius Caesar." And I just clutched it until I got to the rehearsal room of the theater. And then I put it down in front of my space. And every actor did the same thing. They came in and said where is it, where is it? Let me - and then I said now listen, when I make my entrance tonight, there's going to be applause. So just hold it.


GROSZ: (Laughter) Just won an Oscar.

DREYFUSS: Guess what happened? Nothing.


DREYFUSS: There was no applause. Every actor made it his business to walk by me during the show and say so, they were going to give you applause.


PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, we have asked you here to better play a game that we are calling...


PESCA: So as we said, in the ABC miniseries "Madoff," you play the titular financier who was actually running a $65 billion Ponzi scheme. So with that in mind, we're going to ask you three questions not about Ponzi schemes but about Fonzie schemes, the life and times of Arthur Fonzarelli, as portrayed by Henry Winkler from "Happy Days." If you answer two of these questions correctly, you will win our prize - Carl Kasell's voice on the voicemail of one of our listeners. Bill, who is Richard Dreyfuss playing for?

KURTIS: Gary Bentley of Temple, Texas.

PESCA: All right...

DREYFUSS: I'm so sorry, Gary.


PESCA: All right, Richard Dreyfuss, here is your first question. I know that you are heavily involved in civics through the Dreyfuss Foundation. But presidential politics was one of Fonzie's passions as well. In an episode of "Happy Days," which political action did Fonzie actually take? A, he endorsed Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower's 1956 presidential campaign, saying I like Ike, my bike likes Ike, B, he decried Sen. Joe McCarthy's tactics by telling a young Republican who supported tail-gunner Joe that he was a nerd of the highest order or C, he supported the Little Rock Nine by saying in one episode that Arkansas Gov. Orvaul Faubus was uncool to keep those kids out of school.

DREYFUSS: I'd say A.

PESCA: You are correct.

GROSZ: Yeah.


PESCA: He did indeed endorse Dwight D. Eisenhower.


PESCA: Richie endorsed Adlai Stevenson, and we know how that went. All right, here is your next question. "The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang" was, of course, an animated TV series that lasted three seasons. Fonzie, Ralph Malph and a dog named Mr. Cool used a time machine to intervene in historical events. I don't have to tell you this. You're a student of the theater.


PESCA: OK, so which isn't an actual plot to an actual episode of "The Fonz And The Happy Days Gang?" A, they went to ancient Iraq where they assisted King Nebuchadnezzar in protecting his famous Hanging Gardens from an evil prince, B, they went to England in 1066, where tried to distract William of Normandy with Chuck Berry music during the Battle of Hastings or C, they visited a Peruvian jungle in 1532, where Fonzie and the gang befriended kind Incas in order to save them from Francisco Pizarro.

DREYFUSS: You've got to be kidding me.

PESCA: Yeah, I know.


PESCA: Two of these were green-lit. Which wasn't?

DREYFUSS: The last one.

PESCA: No, I'm sorry, it was William of Normandy. But you've got one more chance. Get this right to win. Here's your last question. Fonzie is honored throughout our culture, as in which of these actual examples? A, is it true that a researcher dubbed an anonymous patient who would only wear blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket, the patient was dubbed Fonzie in the medical literature, B, neurologists look for a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign, in which patients give a permanent thumbs up or C, a British air-conditioner company has three settings - hot, medium and Fonzie because Fonzie's cool.


DREYFUSS: There was a Fonzie neurology thing.

PESCA: Yes, the - in neurology...


PESCA: ...There's a symptom called the Fonzarelli Sign.


PESCA: Bill, how did Richard Dreyfuss do on our quiz?

KURTIS: You won.

DREYFUSS: Gary, I hope you're happy.


PESCA: Gary, Richard Dreyfuss did it for you. And Richard Dreyfuss is starring in the new ABC show "Madoff." Richard Dreyfuss, thanks so much for being on WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.

DREYFUSS: Thank you very much.


PRATT AND MCCLAIN: (Singing) These days are ours, share them with me. Oh, happy days. These days are ours...

PESCA: In just a minute, when Chinese food is too good, it's our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on-air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.