James Caan returns to the big screen


James Caan is back with a vengeance from his self-imposed && hiatus. He says he wasn't interested in making films like "Goonies" and "Star Wars," so he took a few years off.

"Misery" marked an illustrious return for Mr. Caan, who'd done some fine work in the '70s and '80s with films such as "The Godfather," "Cinderella Liberty" and "The Gambler." Last year he made "For the Boys" with Bette Midler, which bombed with a deadening thud.

"Unfortunately [that resulted] from too much politics and cowardice and stupidity," says the 53-year-old actor. "The way that picture was cut. It was all under Barry Diller's auspices the way it was marketed. There was a lot of great stuff that I'll have to go to the grave with. It was never put together. There's a great movie there."

As for co-star Bette Midler, he says, "Bette's very stupid. She destroyed herself. She's not a bad person, she's just extremely stupid. She's not a bright person. I like her. But I like my dog, too."

In his latest film, "Honeymoon in Vegas," which opens Friday, Mr. Caan returns to the sleaze-ball persona he played so well in "The Godfather." But this time he's portraying a slick gambler who spots the object of his affection (Sarah Jessica Parker) and moves heaven and earth to try to win her from her bumbling fiance (Nicolas Cage.)

"Tommy is a straight guy," says, Mr. Caan with a straight face. "I mean, in Vegas, what's abnormal?"

He seems perfect for the role of the eager underworld lothario. And he is happy to be back at work. "I never did anything for the money though I was in dire need of it. It's nice to go to work with people you like. Everything else is corporate."

The audiences are not fools, says Mr. Caan. "They make these pictures and when they give you the premise you know what the end is: The bad guy loses, the good guy wins. He gets the girl. So something's gotta keep your butt in the seat. And there are a few people who can do that."

Mr. Caan thinks there was a period in filmmaking when the product just didn't hold up the tradition. "A lot of mediocrity was produced. Because I think that directors got to the point where they made themselves too important. They didn't want anything or anybody to distract from their directorial prowess. There were actors who were good and capable but they'd distract from the special effects. It was a period of time when I said I'm not going to work again."

Mr. Caan had a low time, he says, while he was on hiatus. "I was informed that I was robbed. That was pretty low. I owed the government $247,000 and they gave me four days to pay it. I was down but then I was up. . . . The nice thing is that my ability was never questioned. Now I want to work and it's much different, the difference between wanting to work and having to work."

He says he spent his off-time coaching kids and he enjoyed that part of it. "But don't believe that absence makes the heart grow fonder. That's a lot of hogwash."

Mr. Caan says the trick of acting is trying not to be aware that you are doing it. "If you're supposed to be tired [in a movie] on Tuesday, don't go to bed on Monday."

Though he hasn't finalized it yet, Mr. Caan hopes to appear in a Steve Kloves ("The Fabulous Baker Boys") film called "Flesh & Bone." "It's a great character. It's a little right of center, but he's a cold character. He's only in the third act, so it's really a cameo, but his presence is always there. It's very good."

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