Perhaps partly because we’d all just watched The Long Goodbye, a lot of Elliott Gould’s Q&A at BAM on Saturday night centered around his assessment of himself as a “jazz actor” — that is, some who thrives on improvisation, exploration, play, and ultimately on transcending structural (and commercial, and maybe societal and personal) limitations. (He described Long Goodbye as a movie made up of elements that “Altman allowed”, which is to me a wonderful description of Altman’s methods: putting a bunch of people, actors or otherwise, together in a shoot and then choosing what to allow.) And he’s, I guess, a jazz talker, too, juggling stories and tangents, following his stream of consciousness and occasionally leaving stories half-told or statements unexplained; you just have to let him go and trust that he’ll bring it all back together eventually.
And he’s marvelously quotable (and exceptionally generous to his collaborators). Among the quips and tantalizing stories and descriptions of fantasy projects I was especially fond of his description of why he ended up playing a part in California Split that was originally to go to Steve McQueen: “Steve… wanted writing that did not exist.” (As summations of how the star system works go, this is not just a widely applicable description but one of practically koanlike perfection.) Talking about how John Huston was at one point set to play the role in Long Goodbye eventually assumed by Sterling Hayden, he slipped into the John Huston voiced, then stopped: I can’t do impersonations, he said, but Daniel Day-Lewis did a wonderful John Huston impersonation in There Will Be Blood.
Basically, he’s exactly like himself (or at least like the self he plays in The Long Goodbye). The theater at BAM was completely full, and the atmosphere was adulatory, almost kinda celebratory. BAM’s Gould series picks up again this coming Saturday and continues through next Thursday.