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I’ve been part of Rob’s 50 years for 41 years. We met on All in the Family in 1975. I was cast as his best friend — Norman Lear had seen me at The Comedy Store a couple weeks before, created this part for me and brought me out for my first trip to Los Angeles. I hadn’t met Rob before, and here we were cast as best friends. Jean [Stapleton] and Carroll [O’Connor] weren’t on the show that week. What impressed me the most about Rob was, one, he was so genial, but two, he was so smart. It was Rob who was fixing the script with the writers and the producers; it was Rob who was making sense out of what we had to do in the piece. He was so smart and so accurate and funny at the same time. And he was a terrific actor as well. It’s a very impressive combination of talents that I first met — plus, he was just hilarious.
It worked really well, and we said, “It feels right onstage, why don’t we just continue this in our lives?” We became the closest of friends. And when I moved out here, we just spent all kinds of time together.
If you look at, say, his first eight movies, they’re all different. Spinal Tap is a classic, and then Stand by Me, which is tender and charming and insightful, and then When Harry Met Sally …, which is a funny romantic comedy, and Misery and A Few Good Men. I don’t know of any other director at the time who had the scope he had and the ability to pull off all the different genres he did. He’s daring, and he doesn’t repeat himself.
He has a great sense of humor but also a wonderful heart, and he tries to accomplish things that have social importance, too, like with The American President. Plus, there’s his own personal politics, which are tremendously important to all of us. It’s his social activism that’s exemplary. My favorite moment was at our first screening of When Harry Met Sally …. Rob and I were sitting in the back next to each other. Then the orgasm scene happens, and the place goes berserk. When Rob’s mother, Estelle, says, “I’ll have what she’s having,” it was thunderous, a laugh you can only hear with the best of jokes in a concert hall. It’s those moments that make movies so spectacular: You set up the joke in September, and you don’t hear the punch line until May. We just grabbed each other’s hands because we knew something exciting was about to happen with this movie.
This story first appeared in the Sept. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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