My father, he was my man. I was very close to him. Even when I don’t wanna be like my father, I’m like my father. I notice it more now that I have children. I can’t help it. The good and the bad. But it’s mostly good.
From the minute I saw Jason Robards, I wanted to be him. And I still always, if I was being honest, wanna be him. I wanna be either my father or Jason Robards. But the way he dressed in his blue—gray trousers and blue blazer and a pocket thing—just always looked super relaxed and elegant. He was hilariously funny. And the first movie I did was with him, and he zeroed in on me and took me to lunch at the Commissary at 20th Century Fox, which was very exciting. And to be with Jason meant Mel Brooks would come over. I felt like I had a calling card. He took care of me, and he really made me feel like I belonged there on a movie set. He always laughed at what I did. He always just—I could tell he was making it his project to make me comfortable and believe in myself.
Jason knew my father. The first job I had, the first movie I had, my father was ill. And I wasn’t telling anybody that. But since Jason had known, he zeroed in on me and made it his mission to get me through that period. He really made me survive. I needed someone. He took care of me, and he made me feel like I belonged.
At his memorial, I had to talk about Jason and how much he had meant to me. And at that time, I noted to myself—or maybe my mom once told me—the way you feel about that is now what you have to do. You have to pass that on. That’s the whole point.
I’m leaving out, before that, teachers who saved my life constantly. These people in your life, they’re like sign posts. I got to her, I got to him, and that got me to the next one.
Gene Saks directed me in my first play. Or my second play. He seemed to me to know how to live—an elegant Broadway director, very smart, very funny. And he took me under his wing. I had these men, I always had them—my father died when I was twenty, so I think I always needed a man. And he would take me to restaurants I didn’t even know existed. And suddenly I’d be at Gallagher’s eating a stew made of oysters and cream. Horrible, but I loved it. He gave me a veal chop once. We were just getting ready to start the play on Broadway. We’d done it on the road—it was Brighton Beach Memoirs—and a few previews before opening, somehow the focus became that I was ruining it a little bit. The producer, somebody thought I was not gonna cut it, or I was gonna do well but the play wouldn’t. And I remember, he told me that. But he said, “I think the best thing for you is, let’s just have dinner.”
I think people need somebody to complain or brag to.
Try to remain curious, and try to keep learning things, and be open to things, and even see someone who you say, I don’t like that guy. But give him another chance. Say, Let me look at this freshly and not keep starting out from the end. Start from the beginning.
From Esquire Magazine’s Mentoring Project