'Jaws' at 45: Richard Dreyfuss admits he thought Steven Spielberg's classic thriller would be a failure

At least he didn’t pass on it.

In an industry where every major actor has regretful tales of future movie hits they turned down (just ask Brad Pitt about The Matrix), Richard Dreyfuss can point to one he simply didn’t believe in, but still made anyway.

“Everyone had thought they had struck gold, and I said, ‘What are you talking about? It’s just a little movie,’” the actor told Yahoo Entertainment in a recent Role Recall interview when discussing a little film called JawsSteven Spielberg’s seminal shark attack thriller that’s widely considered the first true “summer blockbuster” and scared Americans out of the water for years to come. (Watch above, with Jaws talk starting at 2:05.)

“So when the film was released, I found myself going back to the talk shows and saying, ‘I’m the guy who didn’t believe in it.’”

Having made a slew of television guests spots before his breakout film role among the ensemble of George Lucas’s 1973 teen drama American Graffiti, the never-lacking-for-confidence Dreyfuss was just catching his groove in Hollywood when he was cast by Spielberg (at the suggestion of Lucas) to play Matt Hooper, the oceanographer who arrives on Amity Island to help investigate a pair of deadly shark attacks. (Spielberg initially wanted Jon Voight for the part, while Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms and Joel Grey were also reportedly considered.)

Dreyfuss, now 72, remembers meeting the future film legend for the first time.

“There was this young man with a kind of leather hat. [Someone said] ‘This is Steven Spielberg and he’s got destiny written all over him and all that. And I said, ‘Me too.’”

Richard Dreyfuss in 'Jaws' (Universal)
Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws. (Photo: Universal)

The filming experience was not a day at the beach for Dreyfuss.

He had a toxic relationship with Robert Shaw, the veteran film actor playing the shark-hunting Quint. “While privately, Shaw was the gentlest, funniest guy,” Dreyfuss told Bio.com, the moment he went to set, “He was possessed by some evil troll who would then make me his victim. I was his victim.”

Recalled their late costar Roy Scheider: “Shaw would say, ‘Look at you, Dreyfuss. You eat and you drink and you’re fat and you’re sloppy. At your age, that’s criminal. Why, you couldn’t even do 10 good push-ups.’”

“It got ugly,” said Spielberg, who recounted a moment Dreyfuss took a bourbon glass from Shaw and threw it out the window. “But it was also Quint and Cooper living out that relationship as Shaw and Dreyfuss.”

Dreyfuss also had a harrowing moment on set when filming the scene where Hooper goes underwater in a cage to get a good look at the killer shark.

“They were putting me into the cage and I had a line, which was ‘I ain’t got no spit,’” he told us. “And as I said it, the winch went [buckling noise] and the cage fell. I was caught inside the cage, mask is gone, the breathing apparatus is gone, the top of the cage is gone, and I have to not panic.”

Dreyfuss survived, obviously, and he’d live to see the film he initially doubted go on to become one of the most successful and beloved thrillers in film history.

Stream Jaws on Amazon Prime.

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