"Filmmaker/actor Sydney Pollack looks, talks and carries himself like the quintessential New Yorker. But no, not even close.
Pollack was born in Lafayette, Ind., and graduated from Central High School at 17 before moving directly to New York to begin his career.
He’ll be at the Indiana History Center at 7 p.m. Friday for its next History Makers: IHS Distinguished Speaker Series, which will include a question-and-answer session and screening of his excellent documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry. At press time, we learned that the lecture is sold out.
NUVO: I saw the movie in a theater last July, and if someone had asked me a week ago, “What do you remember about it?” the one thing I can really remember is his architecture. I had completely forgotten that you were in it and that you had made it.
Pollack: Different people have different reactions to it. Aspiring artists hook onto another aspect of it because there’s something about the way Frank failed and failed and failed and failed and then suddenly made it late in his life.
Some people hook into the extraordinary work that he did.
NUVO: Did you know all those things were going to come into play when you started making the movie?
Pollack: No. I made the movie for completely other circumstances. This wasn’t a professional job for me. I don’t profess any expertise in either architecture or documentaries, and I had no particular wish to make a documentary and knew that I had nothing to contribute to architecture. But I was, myself, so intrigued with his buildings.
One day he said to me, “Have you ever thought about a documentary?” and I said, “God, no, I don’t know anything about documentaries.” And he said, “If you ever think about it, I’d sure love it if you’d do this.” And I said, “Frank, I’m the wrong guy. I don’t know anything about architecture, I don’t know anything about documentaries.” And he said, “That’s exactly why I want you to do it.”
NUVO: What did he mean?
Pollack: He meant that he didn’t want a boring, scholarly approach. He didn’t want some guy who would be talking over the heads of everybody, who would only be talking to other architects.
NUVO: In the ’80s, you had this remarkable run where you’re acting in Tootsie and that goes over great. Then you follow that with Out of Africa and you win the Academy Award. At that point in your career, do you feel invincible?
Pollack: Not at all. Quite the opposite. At that point in my career, I felt that I was suddenly under a bell jar. I didn’t particularly want to be there. I was loving the success of it but very nervous and insecure about having that much attention.
NUVO: The flip side of the question is, when you have something like Havana, which doesn’t work, what do you take away from that?
Pollack: The only choice you have is to make what you think is good, what you like. And you have to keep your fingers crossed and hope that since you’re a human being and all these other people are human beings that your tastes will be congruent.
NUVO: What are other elements you need to have a long career in Hollywood?
Pollack: I do what I do because I can’t help it — the flops as well as the hits. I do material that I respond to.
I have to ask myself when I do a movie: Do I think I’m going to wake up a year from now and still be vitally interested in their problems and what they care about? That’s a tall order personally. Not to the world, but to me personally.