Alan Arkin: 'I Think I Get a Lot of Applause Because I'm Not Keeling Over'

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In Rebecca Miller's The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, Alan Arkin's plays Herb, a retiring Lothario who woos a beautiful wild child (played at two ages by Blake Lively and Robin Wright), then stands idly by as she becomes domesticized (and anesthetized) in an attempt to please him. It's the juiciest part he's had in quite a while, and as Arkin freely admits, he didn't want it. The 75-year-old is as prolific as he's ever been since winning the Oscar for Little Miss Sunshine, but he's also choosy, and he's got a very particular set of criteria for picking roles that Miller had to adapt to in order to win him over.

In a wry interview with Movieline, Arkin expanded on that criteria and also provided unexpected, helpful tips for bloodstain removal. Who says his range has to be saved for the screen?

So in this film, you romance Robin Wright, Blake Lively, Monica Bellucci, Winona Ryder...

They come after me! [Laughs] They all come after me.

Are these the perks that come with winning an Oscar?

I think I made this pre-Oscar. Did I? I have no idea when I shot it. [His publicist interjects, "You filmed it after. You did it after Get Smart."] Then it must be. God, I don't remember. That's the privilege of old age: You don't have to remember.

Have you gotten to play very many romantic characters?

I haven't in general, no. Almost none. I mean, my God, to have four of the most beautiful women in the world running after me? How can you say no!

Was it interesting for you to play opposite Pippa at two ages, played by two different actresses?

Yeah, but you don't go around thinking that. I was working with two different actresses, and just as in life, when you meet somebody after having not seen them for twenty years, you might as well be seeing a different person. How do you play, "This is the same person"? You're just playing the relationship at the moment that it is.

When he first meets Pippa, she's kind of a wild child, but later in life, she's floating in this domestic haze. How complicit is Herb in that.

Oh, totally! I think he did a good thing -- he probably saved her life at that point -- but I don't think he did it for good reasons. I think it was a selfish Pygmalion syndrome, and she tried her best to become what he wanted her to be, but she just didn't have it in her. To me, it's a wonderful sense of the masks we put on to find out what we think we are. It never works.

It's interesting that he's a publisher, because even with women, it's as though he's scouting for new talent and then editing them.

Yeah, it's a way of thinking he's staying young. It's what all older people do who are not facing mortality. It's demented in a way, I guess, but it's part and parcel of what our civilization has turned into. There's no reference for old people! There was a big sociological study done about twenty years ago on the cultures of the world where the people have the greatest longevity, and they couldn't find a common thread. They looked at diet, they looked at climate, they looked at living conditions...they couldn't find a commonality until they realized that the cultures with the oldest people in the world were the cultures who revered old people. It was that simple, but nobody saw it until the last minute.

Do you feel more revered as an older actor?

Me? Revered? I think people are finally getting used to me a little bit. I've been working pretty steadily over the years. You hit a certain age and you haven't died yet, and you become an elder statesman. I think I get a lot of applause because I'm not keeling over.

Were you conscious of when that transition happened?

No. Well, I do know that I never got hit on in my life, women never hit on me until about twelve years ago. It was happening right and left -- and I got pissed off!

Why did it take so long?

I have no idea! I think I was more benign. My reaction was to get mad -- I said, "Where the hell were you thirty years ago?"

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