Albert Brooks at Film Society of Lincoln Center

Albert Brooks, who appeared at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on January 8.

Albert Brooks, comedian, actor, writer and movie director appeared at the Film Society of Lincoln Center on Sunday, January 8 to discuss his career.  It was an evening of film clips, stories, anecdotes; an event that presented a varied and comprehensive look at Brooks’ work acting in the films of other directors, including Martin Scorsese, Sidney Lumet, Steven Soderbergh, James L. Brooks (no relation) and others. Brooks was interviewed by Scott Foundas, Associate Program Director for the Film Society.   The event took place at the Walter Reade Theatre.

Brooks explained that when he started out what he really wanted to do was act.  However, at the age of 20 he could not get any parts.  He joked that all the roles for 20 year olds were going to Richard Dreyfus. As a result Brooks developed comedy bits that he performed on TV variety shows, of which there were many, in the late 60s and early 70s.  His strategy was to use his talent as a comedian to get into acting, but it was tough going.  Brooks recalled having beer bottles and cans thrown at him when he opened for “Sly and the Family Stone” at a concert in Seattle. Brooks recalled that he had to stall a stadium full of impatient, stoned fans to cover a three-hour delay due to the fact that an equally stoned out Sly somehow wound up in Ohio and was flying in.  Brooks said he admonished the crowd that he would go on “Johnny Carson” and say that they were the meanest audience in the world.  He said the threat did not work and it was the last time he did stand up.

The conversation soon fast-forwarded to Brooks’ role as the campaign office worker whose affection for Sybil Shepherd is not returned in Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”  Brooks told the story of how Paul Schrader, the film’s screenwriter, thanked him for fleshing out the character.  Schrader told Brooks that, despite having written the “Taxi Driver” screenplay, Brooks’ character was the only one he really did not know.  An incredulous Brooks replied, “That’s the only guy in the movie who doesn’t kill 60 people.  How screwed up are you?  All he does is work in a store.”

The film clips shown over the course of the evening revealed Brooks to be an actor with quite a range. One clip showed Brooks playing an 80-year-old alcoholic doctor in Lumet’s little seen movie “Critical Care.”  “Six people saw it.  I don’t even think Sidney watched the final cut,” Brooks joked.  Clips were also shown from “The Scout,” “Twilight Zone the Movie,” “Private Benjamin,” “Out of Sight” and two movies for writer/director Brooks: “Broadcast News” and “I’ll Do Anything.”  In “I’ll do Anything” Brooks played a manic movie producer based on a real life producer who Brooks said, because of legal reasons, he could not identify.  Brooks however did allow, “I think he hated me for 14 years,” a  comment which drew laughs from the audience.  In “Out of Sight” Brooks played a nebbishy but wealthy prisoner, based on Michael Milken, who is being extorted by a fellow inmate played by Don Cheadle.

Perhaps Brooks’ biggest dramatic role is that of mob boss Bernie Rose in the recent movie “Drive,” for which, just the day before, he won the National Society of Film Critics’ Best Supporting Actor award.  Brooks explained, “It took a Danish director to make that happen.  I know I have that side of me.  I wanted to play a villain.”  He went on to say that American directors would not cast him in a villain role for fear that audiences would laugh.  Brooks said he met with “Drive’s” director, Nicolas Winding Refn, to discuss the role.  Brooks said that before he left the meeting, he pinned the director up against the wall, grabbed his collar and started choking him.  “I said very quietly, ‘I’m physically a very strong man.  I just want you to know,’” Brooks described to uproarious laughter.  He continued, “Now the Danes are white to begin with.  He turned clear.”

For more information on Film Society of Lincoln Center events please visit


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 11, 2012, in Feature Articles, New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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