Richard Dreyfuss: Like It Or Not, There's A Bit Of Bernie Madoff In All Of Us "He was a completely despicable human being, but in order to achieve that he had to be lovable," says Dreyfuss, who plays the Ponzi-scheme perpetrator in an upcoming two-part ABC miniseries.
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Richard Dreyfuss: Like It Or Not, There's A Bit Of Bernie Madoff In All Of Us

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Richard Dreyfuss: Like It Or Not, There's A Bit Of Bernie Madoff In All Of Us

Richard Dreyfuss: Like It Or Not, There's A Bit Of Bernie Madoff In All Of Us

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The actor Richard Dreyfuss has played many roles from the bubbling teen in "American Graffiti" to a man lured by aliens in "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind." His latest role is Bernie Madoff.


RICHARD DREYFUSS: (As Bernie Madoff) From a backroom in my father-in-law's office to chairman of NASDAQ, the second-largest exchange in the world. A high-water mark, you better believe it. Position like that, I'd never have to sell myself again. The title would do it for me.

SIEGEL: The fraud that Madoff perpetrated brought financial disaster to the people who trusted his fabricated investments, and Madoff wound up in jail. His family was destroyed, a son committed suicide. And all this has been thoroughly explored in the news. Well, next week on ABC TV, actor Richard Dreyfuss explores it in a two-part story.


DREYFUSS: (As Bernie Madoff) Trading company that you boys run has been a loss for a long time, and I've been covering it with funds from the investment services. And the investment services is a lie.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What are you talking - what do you mean a lie?

DREYFUSS: (As Bernie Madoff) It's a Ponzi scheme.

SIEGEL: Dreyfuss says that he was able to portray the despicable swindler because, he says, there's a little bit of Madoff in all of us.

DREYFUSS: Madoff is universally despised, as well he should be. All you have to do is find that part of you that has been despicable. And you can find it if you look hard enough.

SIEGEL: Can you find any part him that's sympathetic enough that we might be pulling for him at least for a couple of minutes out of the four hours?

DREYFUSS: If you know the story, you can't really pull for him. If you don't know the whole story, you're taken by his charm. He has to be a guy who you really like or else he wouldn't have been successful, you know, taking your money. Everyone liked him until they hated him. And that's one thing that actors sometimes make a mistake where they wink at the audience and say, I'm not going to be fool enough to play him so that you'll always like him. Well, if you didn't always like him, you wouldn't have given him your money. So I play him as likable as possible.

SIEGEL: As a likable - I believe your word - sociopath.

DREYFUSS: Yes. Once you read about him, you can never empathize with him again and you do want to ride back and forth over his inert body. Absolutely, I mean, he was completely despicable human being. But in order to achieve that, he had to be lovable.


DREYFUSS: (As Bernie Madoff) I suppose there are two ways now to look at this place - as a high-tech financial services outfit that helped create NASDAQ, or as I like to see it, a very closely knit family business.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You know how I look at you?

DREYFUSS: (As Bernie Madoff) How?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) As a guy who doubled my money in six years.

SIEGEL: Madoff and a great number of his victims were Jewish, including Jewish organizations. You're Jewish. I'm Jewish. The story is very Jewish. Did you ever feel yourself cringing within this that this was, as one's grandmother might have said, not good for the Jews to tell this story?

DREYFUSS: I had gone through that when I did "The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" when I was 25.


DENHOLM ELLIOTT: (As Friar) Oh, Kravitz, come for your pound of flesh?

DREYFUSS: (As Duddy Kravitz) I am surprised at you, Mr. Friar. Don't you remember we have a bar mitzvah tomorrow?

DREYFUSS: A lot of Jewish people in LA and Montreal said, oh, you're washing our dirty linen in public. And I said, well, let me do it louder then so that we can get a bigger audience. There's nothing wrong with washing your dirty linen in public. And I gave the script to an unnamed star actor-director. And this person came back with I wouldn't do that because he was such a shame on our people. And I said back, well, wouldn't you have liked to have had a hand in how the world looked at him? In my mind, I participated in this thing because I am very, very proud of being Jewish, although there are limits, I suppose. And I did not want my being Jewish to interfere or get in the way. I felt I was strangely equipped to tell this story.

SIEGEL: I'm glad you raised "The Apprenticeship Of Duddy Kravitz" because I'd been thinking about this. That's the first movie when I remember seeing you, actually, back in 1974. It's based on Mordecai Richler's novel. And your character is this young Jewish guy from Montreal, a young man on the make who's dying to make money and not a very scrupulous character - treats people quite poorly. Are you playing the same guy 40 years later?

DREYFUSS: Many people have asked me that, is this the end of the Duddy Kravitz story? And I said, well, it's certainly one of a number of possible endings. I would say when you read the novel of Duddy Kravitz, he doesn't have very many good role models. And he was the Duddy that the world made him. He wanted to make money because that's what he was told was the mark of a made man. But certainly you can say he could've become Bernie Madoff. But then again, he could've become Mother Teresa too.

SIEGEL: After the conversion of Duddy Kravitz, that is.

DREYFUSS: Yes (laughter).

SIEGEL: That would have been a different twist in the plot.

DREYFUSS: Well, you're always looking for surprises in show business.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) OK. Let me ask you about something. It's a serious and not pleasant part of your life, but I wondered about it as I was watching the movie. You had some problems with addiction. Was Bernie Madoff addicted? I mean, did he have to keep on doing this thing even though it'd very likely kill him at some point?

DREYFUSS: Yeah, I think he was addicted in the same way that Iago is addicted. There's a point in "Othello" where Iago turns and says, either to the gods or to the audience, I am really good at this. And I'm going to keep doing it until I'm ended. And he didn't care who he took down with them. And in a way, Bernie never once said to himself, well, I'll take $10 million and put it aside and create an exit strategy. He never did that. He just kept going. And I personally think you can call that an addiction or you can call that sociopathology. He didn't care whether he was caught or not. And he was just so good at what he did that he had a great sense of pride. And he said so. I mean, in all - basically he said no one is going to ever be better than me at doing this.

SIEGEL: Well, Richard Dreyfuss, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

DREYFUSS: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Richard Dreyfuss stars in "Madoff," a television miniseries airing next week on ABC.

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