Interview: At this point, Alan Arkin doesn’t want to do anything

Alan Arkin stars with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the boxing comedy "Grudge Match." Credit: Getty Images
Alan Arkin stars with Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro in the boxing comedy “Grudge Match.”
Credit: Getty Images

“Grudge Match” pits two movie boxing kings — Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone — against eachother, as aging pugilists nursing an unresolved, decades-old grievance. On the sidelines is another legend: Alan Arkin, who plays longtime friend to and trainer of Stallone’s character. For Arkin, who finally won his Oscar for a heroin-injecting, charmingly nihilistic gramps in 2006′s “Little Miss Sunshine,” playing old wasn’t the attraction.

“Every friggin’ thing I do now is about aging. So now it’s not of great interest to me,” he explains. One of the rare exception is “Argo,” in which he played a commanding film producer. “It was one of the few where I wasn’t in an old folk’s home, coming in or going out.”

His character here is different from other recent, similar roles, including his stint in the aging gangster comedy “The Stand Up Guys,” with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken. “This guy’s got a sense of humor,” he explains. “Also the closeness between [he and Stallone]. There was obviously a close, old relationship, which I don’t often get a chance to play.”

In fact, it wasn’t anything obvious that drew him to the project. “What interested me, basically, if I had to pick out one thing, was the longevity of this stupid rivalry,” he says. “It was like, ‘Get over it, Jesus.’”

Arkin has been acting in — and sometimes even directing — movies since the mid-1960s. But he never even met any of his other major co-stars, also including Kim Basinger. Acting like he’s lifelong friends with a total stranger isn’t getting easier.

“Films get made faster and faster now. There used to be days of rehearsal. Now you find out in the first scene or two what it’s going to be like to work with somebody. If someone starts rolling their eyes you, for me it’s going to be a problem,” he explains. “I consider myself a team player and I know that the event is going to be shared with comrades and not just people grandstanding or acting like they’re curing significant diseases.”

Stallone is definitely not one of those, he says. “I’ve never worked with anybody who worked harder. I never worked with anyone more flexible. He’s game to try anything,” Arkin says. “He’s a guy who has very successfully acted, written, directed and produced, and there was never a sense of being in competition with the director or pushing his position on anybody. He was a team player and flexible and terrific.”

Throughout his career, Arkin has switched between comedy and drama. Right after his debut, “The Russians are Coming! The Russians are Coming!” netted him his first Oscar nomination, he popped up as a hipster villain terrorizing a blind Audrey Hepburn in “Wait Until Dark.” But even his “Russians” role he treated with seriousness. “I wanted the audience to really love that guy. I wanted them to see a Russian that was a nice, decent, good human being. The comedy aspect of it was built in, and it’s what I had been doing for a few years before, so it was relatively easy. But my main concern was that he be cared about.”

Even now, he’s not looking to be Mr. Theater. “I don’t have a secret desire to do ‘King Lear’ or ‘Hamlet.’ It doesn’t matter to me,” he says. He used to direct both theater and film, including the delightfully absurdist and dark 1971 film of Jules Feiffer’s play “Little Murders,” starring Elliott Gould and featuring Donald Sutherland and himself in one-scene roles. “I love directing. I did love directing. These days, I don’t want to do anything,” he says, laughing. “I just want to take it easy and have fun. I don’t want to knock my brains out doing anything. The idea of directing a play is anathema to me, because I don’t want to sit in a room without windows for four weeks. And I don’t want to tell people what to do.”

Instead he writes books, including 2011′s “An Improvised Life,” which is less a memoir than a reflection on doing improvised theater and how it affects one’s life. “I can sit down and look out a window while I’m writing a book, or write outside,” he says. “And if a good script comes along, I’m thrilled.”

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Easter 2014: The year's best bonnets

It's Easter, and that means it's time for Fifth Avenue to turn into a veritable catwalk of bonnet-wearers. The annual march, which kicks off at…

Local

Woman arrested for attempted kidnapping of baby in…

Authorities said that a Queens woman behind an attempted kidnapping of an 8-month-old baby boy was arrested on Saturday.

Local

Hate crime charge in attack on Sikh Columbia…

A man has been arrested and charged with a hate crime after he allegedly pulled the beard of a Sikh Columbia University professor as part…

Local

NYPD arrest man after finding body inside plastic…

Police said they found a man stuffed inside a plastic container in a Brooklyn home. Authorities arrested Joshua Simser, 24, in connection to the death

Television

Discovery cancels 'Everest Jump Live' special in wake…

The Discovery Channel has indicated it will not be moving forward with "Everest Jump Live," a planned special about mountain climber Joby Ogwyn's effort to…

The Word

'X-Men' director Bryan Singer drama continues

  News broke late last week that "X-Men" and "The Usual Suspects" director Bryan Singer is being sued by a man who said Singer molested…

The Word

Miley Cyrus cancels more dates, tweeting from hospital

Miley Cyrus is reportedly so sick that she's had to postpone more tour dates. We know this because she has been sitting in a hospital…

Music

Loop are, er, um, back in the loop

Experimental noise rock band Loop's three mid-1980s to early-1990s albums, “Heavens End,” “Fade Out” and “A Gilded Eternity,” were mercifully reissued.

NHL

Rangers blow two-goal lead in Game 2 loss…

The Rangers got out to an early 2-0 lead in Game 2 and the Garden was rocking. But it went downhill quickly from there.

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

Travel

Packing: The one thing you need in your…

A new survey that looks at the travel habits of 50,000 people around the world has revealed that Western and Asian globetrotters have different priorities…

Home

Is your chair making it hard to talk?

Ever wished there was an office chair that could make impromptu meetings and discussions more private? The Cristiana Wing Chair is an asymmetrical armchair which…

Travel

Live large at these luxury hotels

From Thai boxing lessons and macabre Dracula tours to the Australian Outback, the Four Seasons hotel chain launched a series of new travel packages this…

Parenting

4 things that every summer camp should have

Alan Saltz, director of the 92nd street Y program lists things that every summer camp should have.