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Glenne Headly astounded Richard Dreyfuss when the two played husband and wife in the 1995 classic Mr. Holland’s Opus.
Portraying Iris Holland, Headly’s character was her husband’s rock and, when he was emotionally lost, his compass. “To say that she was professional is not enough,” Dreyfuss told The Hollywood Reporter on Friday. “She was just perfect.”
Headly died suddenly Thursday night. She was 62.
Dreyfuss, like the rest of Headly’s fans and those in Hollywood, was shocked and saddened to get the news, he told THR.
“She was a person who did not insist that her personality take over the character,” Dreyfuss explained. “Glenne Headly was this fantastically talented actress, who buried her personality beneath the character she was playing. And it is very rare that you run into that. And at the same time, she was sweet and funny and happy on the set.”
Headly’s total devotion to the role was inspiring, Dreyfuss noted. In the film — about a high school music teacher who impacts countless lives during his decades of instructing — the Hollands learn sigh language because they have a deaf child.
“She learned sign language completely. I couldn’t, but she did and used it with all of the actors who were deaf,” Dreyfuss said, still stunned.
Headly, while able to play intense, strong female characters, was delightful to be around when the cameras were not rolling, Dreyfuss recalls.
“I don’t remember any stories of drama with her. She was not that kind of person,” he said. “She was never the person to say, ‘I am done. I’m finished. Let’s go.'”
Headly most impressed Dreyfuss when their characters were having a heated argument over their frustrations with their young son’s disability.
“Glenne let it all out, and it was so emotionally enormous and truthful,” he said. “It was so loaded with love and loss and anguish. It was incredible to see her do that.”
Dreyfuss‘ favorite scene was another emotional one, even for those on set, he said.
“The scene were I sang the John Lennon song [“Beautiful Boy”] to my son. My character did it because Iris reminded him of his humanity because he had gotten really lost,” Dreyfuss said. “It was really him singing to her. And I can’t tell you the amount of tears that were all over that room. It was great.”
Dreyfuss was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for his performance as Mr. Holland. Headly was not nominated. That bothers him, he said.
“I wish that she had gotten more recognition by the industry for what she did,” Dreyfuss said.
Currently, Dreyfuss is working on a book about reviving the teaching of civics through his non-profit, The Dreyfuss Civics Initiative.
“The absence of the teaching of civics, which happened almost invisibly from 1970 on, is the cause of most of America’s problems right now,” he said. “We witness America rather than participate. And if we do that, we’ll lose it, soon.”
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