(Credits: Far Out / Turner Classic Movies)
Back in 1974, the release of Steven Spielberg’s now-iconic aquatic movie Jaws terrified audiences to the point that they began to fear ever going in the ocean’s water again – should a deadly shark come for them rather than the fiction narrative’s characters, such was the cultural impact of the legendary film.
However, while Jaws became one of the most beloved thrillers of all time, it’s fair to say that one of its stars, Richard Dreyfuss, did not have the greatest time on set. Dreyfuss went through an experience that was less than smooth sailing, persistently on choppy waters, which put him at odds with his director.
The film did indeed catapult Dreyfuss into stardom, but in hindsight, he wishes it might have been a touch easier to earn fame and acclaim. The actor played the marine biologist Matt Hooper, but he quickly grew frustrated on set as Spielberg’s notorious insistence on perfection was at the chagrin of one of his key stars.
It’s well known that Spielberg possesses a meticulous approach to filmmaking, although when this leads to seemingly endless takes, actors can naturally become upset. Dreyfuss’ patience was being tested, particularly considering the physical nature of the movie and the repetitive underwater scenes.
Dreyfuss seemed to struggle with how the sea could change in an instant, and with Spielberg on dry land insisting that his actor prepare for another take, tension began to bubble underneath the surface. So, too, had Dreyfuss wanted to deliver his vision of Hooper with a character and personality focus, but Spielberg seemed to favour action over any other sense of nuance.
Eventually, the pressure of Jaws began to affect Dreyfuss, and he later described the production as “hellish”. Not only did the physical exertions of the sea-based scenes tire the actor’s body, but his mind had also taken a beat of repeatability from the endless takes Spielberg shot in his never-ending pursuit of quintessential cinema.
Still, that very insistence on quality made Jaws the eternal masterpiece that it remains today, and Dreyfuss owes Spielberg his first movements towards stardom. Just a few years later, he won the Academy Award for ‘Best Actor’ for his effort in The Goodbye Girl, so perhaps the scars of Jaws paid their dividends.
The animosity that lurks underneath the production of Jaws, like the film’s shark itself, helped to create the tension required to make such a high-quality thriller. Although it appears to have frustrated Richard Dreyfuss, it’s fair to say that without Spielberg’s insistence on perfection, the 1974 movie would not have been half as good.