Shots Fired actor Richard Dreyfuss takes aim at racism in America in new drama

Richard Dreyfuss plays businessman Arlen Cox in Shots Fired.

Richard Dreyfuss plays businessman Arlen Cox in Shots Fired.

Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss tried retirement and it wasn't for him.

"I once asked Penny Marshall (Laverne in Laverne And Shirley) why she took up crocheting and she said, 'It keeps my hands away from my throat'," he says, of his decision to keep working at an age when many people are slowing down.

So, with his 70th birthday fast approaching, Dreyfuss has three movies in the pipeline and a pivotal role in Shots Fired, the television drama about what happens when a black cop shoots a white man during a traffic stop.

Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James in Shots Fired.

Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James in Shots Fired.

The drama stars Sanaa Lathan and Stephan James as investigators who try to seek justice for all involved before rising public unrest over the shooting causes the town to erupt. Dreyfuss plays enigmatic businessman and private prison owner Arlen Cox whose involvement in the case is gradually revealed.

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"I certainly do grow and especially in the last episode. I'm gambling that the show goes to a second season because the second season will inevitably have to be encircling my character," he says.

Richard Dreyfuss says racism in America is "different to anywhere else".

Richard Dreyfuss says racism in America is "different to anywhere else".

Dreyfuss, famous for classic movies such as Jaws, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Goodbye Girl (for which he won a best-actor Oscar), and Postcards From The Edge, is enjoying being part of what many see as the golden age of television.

"It used to be that television was like a graveyard for feature film actors or it was a birthing ground for new talent," says the acting veteran, who started his career with roles on 60s TV shows including Bewitched and Gidget.

"Now it's easily the place to go for the most creative, the most freedom, the most controversial or provocative material."

When Shots Fired – which tackles racism in America head-on – came along, he jumped at the chance to be a part of it.

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"Racism is everywhere. You are not safe in Australia and New Zealand. Everyone has it," Dreyfuss says.

"However, the nature of racism in America is different to anywhere else and (Shots Fired) is about as interesting a close-up scrutiny of that that you could possibly get and it's not from one side."

He believes the racism in America is some of the worst in the world – certainly the First World.

"I lived in London for a long, long time and the legacy of colonialism, as bad as it might be, created a much lighter weight of racism.

"In America we had an opportunity 160 years ago to solve this thing once and for all and we didn't. We blew that opportunity and, in order for it to really be corrected, there has to be a major change in both the white and black cultures in America.

"Judging from today's political divide, that doesn't look like it's in the offing.

"As a matter of fact, we shot this in Charlotte, North Carolina and the people of Charlotte were kind enough to wait for us to leave and then Charlotte exploded," Dreyfuss adds, alluding to the violence that erupted after police shot an African-American man in that city last September.

The other big drawcard for Dreyfuss was director Reggie Rock Bythewood's aim for Shots Fired to not have heroes or villains.

"The fact is no one is all bad and no one is all good. You can see it in traffic," he says.

"If some guy starts to come up behind you, really close, and you start to yell, 'Hey I've got kids in the car. What the hell's the matter with you?' and then you realise while you are yelling you're just about to pass your exit so you cut off three lanes and everyone starts yelling at you. In one minute you can be a hero and a villain."

Dreyfuss acknowledges Shots Fired has been a bit of a gamble on his part but it is one, he believes, that has paid off.

"People where I live have become transfixed by the show and if they take that into consideration, then we'll go another year. It's a 10-part story but when you get to the end of the 10th episode you'll see there is a hook to the second season. We will see."

Shorts Fired, SoHo, starts Thursday July 20.

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 - TV Guide

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