”Omigod! This is the second time I’ve played a psychiatrist?” asks Alan Arkin, 63, who’s back on the big screen as the jittery shrink treating hitman John Cusack in Grosse Pointe Blank. ”I forgot,” he jokes. ”I repressed it.”
Very interesting. Today the man who impersonated Sigmund Freud in 1976’s The Seven Percent Solution is himself a doctor of sorts. ”I feel like I’m the guy they hire when they subconsciously feel something’s wrong with the character and they want me to fix it,” he says.
Grosse Pointe was a case in point. Arkin refused to play the shrink without a total rewrite. ”When an actor like Alan says that,” admits Cusack, ”what are you gonna say — ‘No, the script’s perfect!’?” (Actually, when an actor like fellow cast member Dan Aykroyd tried to make a wholesale change in his character, a hitman rival of Cusack’s, director George Armitage said forget it: ”Danny came in with some ideas about some gay Slavic dude. It was funny, but way off — a little out there.”)
Arkin characteristically got his way. ”In the script I first saw, he was cavalier, not very interested in the patient,” says Arkin. ”Kind of a cowboy — he affected Western dress. I said, have [the shrink] pretend he’s in charge, when he’s really a victim screaming for help.”
In the finished film, Arkin wears what he calls ”the obligatory tweeds,” and has an office that Armitage calls an ”almost perfect” replica of Freud’s in Vienna. ”He really wanted the [therapy session] to be totally authentic — exactly what a psychiatrist would say,” says Armitage. ”It’s the best scene in the picture.”
When not ministering to maladjusted film roles, the two-time Oscar nominee (for The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming! and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter) has his choice of occupations. He has directed more than 100 TV commercials (”Well, you make a lot of money in a very short time, and I’ve also learned how to explain why something is funny to people with no sense of humor”). He’s written several books, mostly on psychic self-help themes, for children and adults. And he appears on TV, most recently as the long-lost father of his son Adam’s character, Dr. Aaron Shutt, on CBS’ Chicago Hope. (Arkin, who lives in Connecticut with his wife, actress Barbara Dana, has two other sons: Matthew, a lawyer, and Antony, an actor and director.)
Now Arkin and Cusack are prepping for Arigo, their next film together, written by Dana. ”It’s about a Brazilian psychic surgeon,” enthuses Cusack, ”a real Edgar Cayce guy channeling his strange power from somewhere and performing miracles. Alan has actual footage of the guy doing surgery.” Arkin plans to direct, and Cusack hopes to screen it at Cannes ’98. Says Cusack, ”I play the only American who covers the healer’s trial — a rational skeptic who has the back of his head blown off by spiritual power.”
Good thing Alan Arkin will be there to piece him back together.