Having recovered from addiction and poor movie choices, ''The Godfather'' actor is ready for his next big break

By Jeff Gordinier
Updated June 28, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT


  • Movie

He has done things you will never do: Played cards with John Wayne and Robert Mitchum in the Arizona desert. Roped steer on the professional rodeo circuit. Woken up in a strange bed with guns pointed at his face. Lived at the Playboy Mansion. In the course of his 56 years, James Caan has made more than 40 movies, married four women, fathered a child with each one, and endured enough surgery, rehab, police interrogations, broken bones, and brawls to turn most men into doddering, whispering spectres.

But on this hot May afternoon off Sunset Boulevard, Caan is just sitting down. In his backyard. In suburbia. The pool burbles. Birds tweet. Lawnmowers drone in the canyon. Caan sucks on one carefully rationed Marlboro, grunts at a plate of fruit salad, and tells you he’s supposed to adhere to something called the Zone diet, which he dutifully describes as ”bullsh–.” Just inside, a few feet away, his 7-month-old son, Jimmy, by his fourth wife, Linda, crawls around in a green-striped jumper. ”Howdy, Buster!” Caan says, sending the baby into a fit of giggles. ”You knock it off, Buster!”

Change is afoot, and not just at home. For years Caan — a cocky, cussing raptor in Thief and The Godfather, a gentle lug in Cinderella Liberty and Chapter Two — complained that a new Hollywood of dopey catchphrases and dizzying F/X would make a New York-bred Method actor obsolete. But this summer he’s facing off with Arnold Schwarzenegger in Eraser, an action flick that proffers no shortage of hot lead and fireballs. ”I’m really not known to be in these big action movies,” he admits, ”but this was a very good script, and it was an opportunity to be in a big picture — hopefully a big hit.” He needs one. After all, Caan says, ”I slowly took my career into the proverbial dumper for a while.”

Same goes for his life. In less serene days, remembers the actor’s 19-year-old son, Scott, ”he’d go to the store for a pack of gum, and he’d come back four days later. With 19 packs of gum.” Back then, Caan ”was always buzzing,” says Hank Hamilton, a buddy from Caan’s years of studying karate. ”He couldn’t just go settle down and take life easy.”

”He has definitely settled down,” testifies Eraser‘s director, Chuck Russell. ”The biggest, wildest event that’s happened in Jimmy Caan’s life lately was the birth of his son.”

Settled down, maybe. Mellowed out, no. For a guy who treats inertia like smallpox, the mere act of staying put can be a battle. Surgery on his left shoulder has forced Caan to taper off his relentless regimen of basketball, tennis, and skiing; for the moment, the only part of his body moving at an athletic pace is his mouth. ”They’ve anchored this muscle into four metal screws,” he says, yanking down his shirt with his good arm to reveal the marks of seven operations and the scarlet ribbon of a new scar. ”The red one is the most recent.” He still looks as rangy as a ranchhand, so working off pounds isn’t the problem. Working off energy is. ”I’m so physical that when I can’t do anything, I just lose my mind,” he laughs. ”But that’s not a long trip either. Losing my mind.”

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  • 115 minutes
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