"I think that everyone should have the right to exit as they please." It's Richard Dreyfuss, in that unmistakable voice, on the line from New York. An interview about his new film, Cas & Dylan, has led to a discussion about euthanasia – which figures heavily in the movie.
With his starring role in the 1981 release Whose Life Is It Anyway? – about a sculptor who wants to end his life after becoming paralyzed in a car accident – the issue has also figured in Dreyfuss's career.
And his life.
After a discussion about right-to-die cases that have made headlines, Dreyfuss reveals his own plans. "I just filled out all [those forms] and I'm going to underline – all the ways I want to go and do not keep me and all that stuff."
In Cas & Dylan, which opens British Columbia's Whistler Film Festival on Wednesday, an older physician (Dreyfuss) who has just received some terrible health news decides to drive from Manitoba to his oceanfront cabin in B.C., where he will face the inevitable. A young woman (Tatiana Maslany) who has been hanging around the hospital – and is having trouble at home with her boyfriend – invites herself along, planting herself in his car.
"We got along like a house afire," says Dreyfuss of Maslany, 28, who since shooting the film has gone on to critical acclaim for playing a number of clones in the sci-fi series Orphan Black.
Their chemistry was apparent immediately, according to director Jason Priestley. Cas & Dylan marks Priestley's first narrative feature, and after locking down Maslany for the part of Dylan, he reached out to his management in Los Angeles to help him with the difficult task of finding the right actor to play Cas for his modestly budgeted film. When his agent asked him what he thought about Dreyfuss – who is represented by the same agency – Priestley was taken aback.
"Richard is one of the most iconic actors of my generation; I mean, come on. 'What do you mean what do I think about Richard Dreyfuss? Do you really think I could get Richard Dreyfuss to be in my movie?,'" Priestley said during an interview from his home in Los Angeles. Dreyfuss, with nothing to prove, is at this point in his career looking for interesting projects and roles. Less than a week later, they were on the phone, speaking for 21/2 hours, discussing the script, character development, some small changes Dreyfuss proposed, and the right-to-die issue – about which Priestley also has strong feelings.
"At the end of that conversation," Priestley says. "He had acquiesced to coming to Northern Ontario and playing Cas Pepper."
The film was shot in September of last year, primarily in Sudbury, with some shooting in Alberta.
"It was a wonderful experience," says Priestley, 44, who got his foot in the directing door back when he was starring in Beverly Hills, 90210. "Richard is a wonderful collaborator. He has lots of great ideas every day. What we do when we make movies is an entirely collaborative experience, and having a guy like Richard on the set every day with his level of experience and expertise, he was a great resource for me and he was an absolute pleasure to work with. I never felt intimidated."
Indeed, Dreyfuss, 66, reports that Priestley was a confident first-time feature director. "He did exactly what I asked for: I always ask for a creative and relaxed atmosphere and that's exactly what he delivered."
Maslany and Priestley are both Canadian, and Canada has loomed large in Dreyfuss's career, with his breakout lead role – his unforgettable portrayal of the scrappy, ladder-climbing, working-class schemer hero in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, directed by Ted Kotcheff and based on the novel by Mordecai Richler.
Dreyfuss for years has urged Kotcheff to make a sequel, but says Kotcheff has resisted because he believes the Richler family wouldn't approve. "Mordecai's gone, but if ever there was a character that I played where the audience would love to see what happened to him, it was that one."
Dreyfuss calls the Richlers a "magical family," having met them when he came up to Canada to shoot the film. He says he well remembers that trip – a train ride he spent going over the book and the script, all the way from Los Angeles to Montreal.
"And then I was met at the train by this real sloppy guy with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth and he took my bags and he got into the car and he said, 'Hi, I'm Mordecai Richler.' I said, 'Oh, hi.'" Dreyfuss laughs at the memory. Did he think Richler was the hired help? "I thought he was a bum."
Cas & Dylan opens the Whistler Film Festival on Dec. 4 with two screenings (6:30 and 9:30 p.m.). Also at WFF: A Tribute to Richard Dreyfuss, Dec. 6 at 8 p.m., and In Conversation with Jason Priestley, Dec. 7 at 8 p.m. (whistlerfilmfestival.com).