Actor Richard Dreyfuss says he’s gotten 'less Jewish'

In "Astronaut," he plays a retiree who wins the chance to travel to space, a role that has echoes of his part in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

Actor Richard Dreyfuss (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Actor Richard Dreyfuss
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Actor Richard Dreyfuss has gotten “less Jewish” in recent years, he told The Hollywood Reporter in a just-published interview to promote his upcoming movie, Astronaut.
In Astronaut, he plays a retiree who wins the chance to travel to space, a role that has echoes of his part in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, one of his early starring roles, where he played a man obsessed with making contact with aliens. But in the interview, he mostly stuck close to Earth, implicitly criticizing Israel and discussing a complex sequence of events that followed when his son accused Kevin Spacey of groping him.
Asked whether he has gotten more spiritual as he has grown older, the 71-year-old actor said, “I am more spiritual and less Jewish than I have been. Because I’m not a temple Jew. I don’t have to practice. I once asked my dad, ‘Why don’t we practice Judaism?’ And he said, ‘I don’t have to practice, I’m very good at it.’ And I think the Jews are a great moral template. So I’m very proud of being Jewish and I’m very proud of being a cultural Jew. But most Jews are willing to celebrate their own history of being oppressed, and then they’ll get up and oppress other people. So, I don’t want Jews to do that.”
Recalling that he recited Kaddish at a 1994 Vatican concert where Pope John Paul II honored the memory of Holocaust victims, Dreyfuss spoke about antisemitism today and implicitly criticized Israel and its supporters: “Antisemitism is on the rise, yes, but we should be more afraid of Jews not behaving like Jews. Jews are given quite an extremely detailed lesson in how to be Jewish, and that’s a good thing. It’s not to be taken lightly. We’ll sound very much like our own worst enemies in trying to protect Zionism and protect our own reputations.”
Dreyfuss, who won an Oscar in 1978 for his portrayal of an aspiring actor in The Goodbye Girl and has had many career ups and downs since then, has been open about his battles with bipolar disorder and substance abuse.

In 2017, his son Harry accused Spacey of groping him in a hotel room 11 years before, and a woman then came forward and made an accusation against Dreyfuss. Jessica Teich told Vulture that, while working as his assistant, Dreyfuss approached her in a trailer and exposed himself to her. At the time, Dreyfuss responded to Teich with a statement, saying, “At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole... I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die.’ And flirt I did. I emphatically deny ever ‘exposing’ myself to Jessica Teich, whom I have considered a friend for 30 years.”
In interview with The Hollywood Reporter, he revisited the controversy, saying, “It impacted me because I was accused of being a hypocrite, and if I had let that stand it would’ve been unacceptable. And it was important for my family to understand that there were consequences to one’s actions... Men are not at war with women and women are not at war with men... I was accused of being a hypocrite by someone who I had known and worked with and had respect for. And I don’t buy what she said as valid at all.”
Asked to speculate about life on other planets, he mused that now that so many people are interested in space travel, “Maybe it’s us who are the aliens.”