Art Garfunkel Back On Screen

January 17, 1981
Winnipeg Free Press
By Leonard Klady

TORONTO —"Is all that your real hair?" he asks. "Yes," I reply. "Would you like to borrow some?"

Art Garfunkel, singer and sometime movie actor with the receding hairline, had turned the tables on me. In Toronto, for the premiere of Nicholas Roeg's Bad Timing, Garfunkel appeared to be taking a break from the serious business of talking about his motion picture and recording career.

Garfunkel gained musical fame in the mid-1960s as one-half of Simon and Garfunkel. He was the tall, quiet one with the thinning, frizzy hair who hit the high notes. In 1970, Garfunkel made his screen debut as a bomber pilot in Catch-22. The following year he co-starred with Jack Nicholson in Mike Nichols' Carnal Knowledge. It appeared Garfunkel was on the verge of movie stardom.

However, nothing happened. There were no announcements of new projects — there weren't even rumors. Then, in 1979, Garfunkel was chosen for the lead in Nicholas Roeg's Obsessions (later retitled Bad Timing), the story of an American professor in Vienna who becomes sexually obsessed with a bizarre young woman.

What was the cause of his eight-year absence from the screen?

"Oh, you want to know about me," he said in mock amazement. "Wasn't I conducting the interview properly?"

Garfunkel's moment of whimsy was understandable. He was still eating breakfast and this was by no means his first interview of the day.

"I don't actively seek work as an actor. I think there was a time when I strived for a film career but now, I really have to be fascinated by a role and convinced I'm suitable for the part.

"After Carnal Knowledge there were a number of film offers. Some roles just weren't right and in other cases I had work conflicts — a tour or working in the studio on an album.

"After you turn down a couple of roles, rumors start in the industry.’Garfunkel's not interested in working* or 'he makes tremendous demands.' The film offers became very rare and nothing up to Bad Timing at all captured my interest."

Garfunkel has a reputation for being a perfectionist in the recording studio.

"It takes me about a year to produce an album. When you figure there are about 40 minutes on an album and there are 60 seconds in every minute, my feeling is something should be happening every second. That's why it consumes a year of my life."

Does the same commitment spill over into his acting?

"Well, it's different. I don't feel I have the same control when I'm acting. I look for a director to shape my performance whereas in the (recording) studio I can take the time to control how something will ultimately sound."

"My passion is music. Acting is almost a hobby. I have no desire for it be anything more. I don't plan to direct or write for the screen. I might have a desire to develop an idea into a screenplay but someone else would have to write it."

Garfunkel chooses his words methodically and takes great pains to ensure you understand the essence of his concerns. However, there is a flip side. It's an off-the-wall sense of humor which he slides into the conversation when he senses things are sounding too weighty.

"Do you like New York?" he asks. "1 can't imagine living anywhere else. It's a real city, not like Los Angeles. I relate smells to cities and New York is soft and earthy; Los Angeles is smog; Toronto I don't know well enough, yet.

"In New York, there's a sense of community. I can call up friends and go for a drink, or to the galleries, or a play.

"There are a group of us who've been dubbed the 'rat pack.' We even have a rat pack greeting." Garfunkel demonstrates the salute by raising his hand to his mouth and wiggling it.

Garfunkel's rat pack group includes actresses Carrie Fischer and Penny Marshall, and Saturday Night Live alumnus Dan Aykroyd.

"In one respect the rat pack is very silly but it also has a serious aspect. Most of us are nomads. Apart from our work we have nothing to ground us in the real world. Some of us paint, others act or sing and the only common aspect we share is a professional artistic discipline.

"For a long time, Simon and Garfunkel gave me a sense of identity. It was partially a professional association and partially a marriage. Understand, it was a very amicable divorce."

Garfunkel's former partner, Paul Simon, has also ventured into the movies. Simon wrote and acted in the fall 1980 release One-Trick Pony. "I haven't seen Paul's movie but I'm really anxious to see how things turned out. I don't think anyone has to be told he's an exceptional composer and performer. I hope he'll have the same type of success on film."

Any chance for Simon and Garfunkel reuniting on screen?

"I can't really see us becoming a musical team on screen. It might be interesting if we were a team like Hope and Crosby or Abbott and Costello." Garfunkel leans back before saying, "Abbott and Costello, I guess. What do you think about Simon and Garfunkel  Join the Foreign Legion?"