How We Met: Richard Dreyfuss; & Marsha Mason

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The Independent Culture
Richard Dreyfuss, 51, was born in Brooklyn, New York. His acting career has spanned 30 years and his film credits include American Graffiti, Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He won an Academy Award for his role in the 1977 film The Goodbye Girl which co-starred Marsha Mason. Dreyfuss lives in New York and LA with his fiancee, Janelle

Born in St Louis, Marsha Mason began her acting in New York, performing both on and off Broadway, and with the ACT Company in San Francisco. She has been nominated for four Academy Awards, and her films includes Chapter Two and Only When I Laugh. She won the first of two Golden Globe awards for her part in The Goodbye Girl. She lives in New Mexico

RICHARD DREYFUSS: In 1976 I was having a lunch meeting with Ray Stark about a part in a film written by Neil Simon. I didn't think it sounded like something I could do, but Ray said: "Why don't we talk to Neil about it?" I turned round and there he was with his wife, an actress for whom I had tremendous admiration even before I met her - Marsha. While we talked a little voice in my head was saying, "Schmuck, do the movie", so Marsha and I did a reading. The script didn't work, but we did. Neil said he'd rewrite it and six weeks later we read the first draft of The Goodbye Girl.

Any definition of the immediate chemistry between Marsha and I would be inadequate. I was totally comfortable with her rhythms and sensibilities and we just fell into a great synchronisation. Making the film really spoiled me. Every day I went to work blissfully happy: I loved the material, I loved the crew, I loved her, and we made a wonderful movie.

We've often talked about trying to find another project to work on together, but it wasn't until last summer that we finally did - a play in Sag Harbor. It was amazing, whatever that chemistry was, it was still there. Four lines into reading on the first day I thought to myself: "Why haven't we been doing this more often?"

Connecting with Marsha is very easy because she's so open. She's willing to speak to you from the heart, no matter who you are, and tell you her truth. She's very brave as an actress, but probably even braver as a person, because she's gone down such distinct roads in her life and has such a strong sense of self. Not that she has all the certainty in the world, because she accepts she has a lot of doubt, but within that she's perfectly comfortable.

In many ways we're similar, although I am very analytical and she is more spiritual. She speaks from her gut, but we arrive at the same place, and in that I don't just mean she agrees with me! She is one of the few people I know who really does incorporate spiritual philosophy into her life. It's a large part of who she is and why she acts the way she does. Most people either deny that there's a spiritual aspect to their lives or at least don't analyse whatever effect it has had. Marsha lives it and really does try to be a better human within the philosophy that she has.

I've always been curious about her spiritual interests. I wouldn't say she has influenced me, but we've had our moments. Years ago we were at a press conference and she was asked her what her philosophy was. She responded with something so simple, succinct and right that I found myself thinking: "Wow. Really?"

Simple magic holds our friendship together. We both believe that in everyone's heart there's a scroll of names and the people whose names are on your scroll are the people you're meant to be bound with. Some of them you'll never meet, but Marsha and I did. We're on each other's scrolls so we've never been acquaintances, we were friends from the start, and it's not something we've ever worked at, it's just there.

MARSHA MASON: We met at Columbia to read a script of Neil's. There was immediate chemistry and I didn't so much have a first impression of Richard, as a strange response. I remember he was very energetic and sort of bouncy. He bounced a lot in those days; still does actually, only privately. During the reading Neil tuned out and I wondered why. When we finished he said: "I know what's wrong with the script", went away and rewrote it as The Goodbye Girl.

Our friendship was forged on the picture, but as life has it you don't run into the same people all the time and afterwards we didn't generally socialise. Sometimes I wouldn't see him for four or five years; when we did meet more often than not it was by accident. The same energy and connection was always there, though.

Last summer we did a play in Sag Harbor, which was the first time we'd worked together in 20 years. Then we got an unexpected call from the Roundabout Theatre in New York asking us to do a reading of The Prisoner of Second Avenue. Within days of the reading we were performing for a full audience, and within weeks we were doing the play over here.

Spending concentrated time together, our relationship has grown even more. Richard once remarked that he thought we came from the same egg. It's true that we have very similar sensibilities; our sense of timing for one, in life as well as acting.

The basic difference between us, though, is that he's extremely rational about life and I'm extremely woo-woo. He's not really a spiritual person and laughs at all that stuff. It's not that he doesn't respect another person's philosophical beliefs, but he just says: "Yeah. Sure." Recently we were discussing an article about a man who was seeing visions and I said: "Wow, maybe he really did see them." Richard looked at me and said dryly: "Well, obviously he felt he did." His big thing is history. He reads voraciously and is very well educated in that sense, but the kind of interest he has in history I have in spiritual philosophy. I'm a great straight man, the Dean Martin to his Jerry Lewis. Richard's incredibly quirky - everything about Richard is a quirk!

I'm very different from the person I was when we first met. We've both gone through shifts in the way we feel about ourselves, success, the future, death, and so on. We tend to parallel but I don't think we ever cross, although we can look at each other and know what the other person is thinking. That's probably what he meant when he said we came from the same egg.

Having both set our minds to things in our lives, we often discuss that drive, and how, getting older, you're not so sure; your goals have been met, challenges overcome and you're looking for new ones, but you're not sure what they should be. I think we'll always put ourselves up for challenges. We'll probably end up in rocking chairs laughing and trading war stories.

`The Prisoner of Second Avenue' opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (0171 930 8800) on Tuesday