When I Met Brian Dennehy

Earlier this week, the actor Brian Dennehy came to Colorado Springs (UCCS, more specifically, where I’m a student on a very part-time basis). I signed up for the opportunity, since I was interested, and the event was free. (For those who don’t recognize his name immediately, he voiced the father rat in Pixar’s Ratatouilleplayed the obnoxious sheriff in Rambo: First Blood; and played the father in Tommy Boy, among many other roles).

He had come in the day before to do a masterclass with the theater students (which gives the theater department “cred,” in my opinion) and stayed an extra day to have a conversation about his life, acting, etc.

He talked for a while about his experience, which included far more than I had known: aside from voicing Remy’s father in Pixar’s Ratatouille, he served in the US Marine Corps, and has been a stage actor in Chicago, Dublin, London and Paris (in addition to New York, where he won two Tony Awards), and appeared in over 100 movies.

At the end of the interview, the floor was open for questions and I decided to go ask one. (I almost always regret doing this because people often misunderstand my question, or make me feel dumb for asking, but I gave it another shot).

Here’s where his personality came through: he really likes to hear himself speak. He interrupted my question three times with unrelated thoughts and completely derailed my train of thought, so I had to keep starting over. I was finally able to ask my question:

Ron Stauffer (Me):

“You worked with Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. What was it like working him him; a guy who was so insanely funny, manic and crazy? And his life was tragically cut short. How could someone hyper like him have channeled all that energy in a more constructive way?”

Brian Dennehy:

“Well you should have seen him in real life! [Laughs]. He was a very sad guy… I’ve known a lot of them [people like him]. Comedians, as a group, are… they’re either ‘on,’ or they’re sunk in despair. Robin Williams was the best example of all: you could not be more talented than Robin Williams. There was no actor, there was no comedian that was ever more talented. …[but] it’s not enough. It’s never enough. It’s not going to bring you what you think it’s going to bring you. Comedians… comic actors… never find enough. That’s why they’re comedians. They want to be loved. They get up and take huge chances on a small… stage somewhere, because they need to be loved. Robin Williams had a lousy childhood, where he was kind of unloved and uncared for, which made him become what he was. …and a lot of comedians do. Farley came from a wonderful family. A great Wisconsin family; great parents, great brothers, so he can’t use that excuse. But… the problem is… people say ‘if I can only do this, I’ll be happy.’ But that’s got nothing to do with it. Happiness is… a decision that you make.”

In all, he didn’t exactly answer my question, but it was a fun evening and I’m glad I got to talk to him. It was kind of crazy getting to ask a question to the Sheriff from First Blood.

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