Interview: Checking in With Veteran Seymour Cassel

Mar 22, 2013 | Updated May 22, 2013

Actor Seymour Cassel is on the phone and, when asked what he's been doing, says, "Well, I'm looking for work."

We're supposed to be talking about his latest film, a little indie that's going out in limited release today (3/22/13) called Silver Case. But with a movie resume that includes more than 150 titles (15 since the start of 2010, alone), the veteran character actor has a lot to talk about. We barely get the chance to talk Silver Case, in which he plays a sly dealer, when he's asked what else he's been up to.

"I did Sidney Furie's latest (Pride of Lions)," he says. "We shot that in Sault Ste. Marie. It was summer but it started to get cold. Canada was not a pleasant choice; they didn't even have good chicken there."

At 78, Cassel has been acting in movies for 50 years, ever since he wandered into an acting workshop in New York run by a restless actor named John Cassavetes. The workshop ultimately turned into Shadows, Cassavetes' first film, on which Cassel served as part of the crew and appeared in briefly. It created a long-time friendship between Cassel and Cassavetes that lasted until the director's death in 1989.

I met Cassel in 1990, while doing interviews for my biography of Sam Peckinpah. I spent a wild day riding around Santa Monica with him while talking to him for my book on Cassavetes in 2003, spending another afternoon with him in New York the next year for a follow-up. He's voluble, funny, occasionally irascible, full of stories and opinions, and was always ready to chat about Cassavetes when I needed to check a fact or a story.

When I note that his IMDB page makes it sound as though he keeps busy, he says, "Everybody offers me everything. I read these things and go, 'My God, where do they get the money?' I wait for something good or something that will be fun. But they've got to pay me if they want me to work."

I mention a film of his I'd seen on DVD, offered to me for the film clubs I host by one of its producers. The 2008 drama, about geriatric romance in a hospice, was called Reach for Me and was directed by LeVar Burton; Cassel costarred with Adrienne Barbeau. It was bittersweet and funny, though it was never released theatrically.

"Yeah, we barely got paid for that," he recalls.

This interview continues on my website.