The easygoing, 46-year-old Los Angeles native has his work cut out for him—including a nude scene—in Rebeck's play, an intense family drama influenced by Aeschylus' The Oresteia. It bowed Off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre on June 14.
"As someone who has had a long-term marriage—18 years—and as a father, this role is very challenging to me," Goldwyn says. "The idea of staying away from your children for 17 years. And the death of a child—there is nothing more traumatic. I've decided he comes back now after all this time because of his girlfriend. She's told him he's got to face it. It's hard for me to understand why he'd bring her, but he's like an adult child who still can't face his parents alone. He needs someone from his present life to remind him of who he is now, so he won't become what he was before." And what most prepared him for the role? "Life," he says.
Goldwyn's life has been filled with high-profile work. His films include The Last Samurai, Kiss the Girls, Nixon, The Pelican Brief, and Ghost, and he has guest-starred on such TV series as The L Word, Without a Trace, Frasier, and Designing Women. He starred on Broadway in Holiday and has been seen Off-Broadway in The Exonerated, The Dying Gaul, and The Sum of Us, for which he won an Obie Award. He has performed regionally at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Mark Taper Forum, and Long Wharf Theatre. In addition, Goldwyn has directed the films A Walk on the Moon, Someone Like You, and the upcoming The Last Kiss, along with episodes of Grey's Anatomy, Law & Order, The L Word, and Without a Trace.
Although frequently cast as a villain, Goldwyn doesn't worry about being typecast. "I'm grateful to be working," he says. "Once you have any kind of success, you may be pigeonholed. That's part of the challenge. Reinventing yourself is an integral part of the business. So I started to direct. Not to avoid being typecast—but as a result of directing films, I became a whole new person in the eyes of everyone. I had a different currency. I was seen as more complex."
Goldwyn's directing career was almost accidental: "In the mid-'90s, I looked at my life as an actor and said to myself, 'Where do I want to be? Do I always want to be at the mercy of my last success?' In films I felt so limited in my contribution. Initially I thought I might produce to have more control. I started reading scripts, looking for parts for myself, with the idea that I'd produce the movie if I found the right role." He didn't, but he did find several scripts he thought he'd like to produce. "I had never planned on directing, but once I did it was an organic process," he says. "I directed myself in an episode of The L Word and found the experience liberating. I thought as an actor I couldn't direct myself, but I discovered that being the director was actually helpful. As a director, I knew where the story was going. And that knowledge told me the choices I should make as an actor."
Goldwyn's criteria for choosing a job depend on which hat he's wearing. As an actor, he zeroes in on the character—"It has to be compelling in some way," he says—and the script should be high-quality. "Directing on episodic TV is a job, a chance to practice my craft," but if he's going to direct a film, the theme is what's paramount. The material must have personal resonance and touch on subjects such as "the complexity of love relationships and family dynamics," he says. "I'm also interested in stories that look at characters dealing with how they want their lives to go and what happens when reality strikes—the ambiguity. I'm drawn to material that has humor and drama as counterpoints. I feel drama works best when there's humor present, and humor works best when there's drama. Generally, I'm most turned on to a project as a director—and actor—when the themes happen to be hooked up with things I'm thinking about in my own life."
Scion of a Hollywood dynasty, Goldwyn is the grandson of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. His father is producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., and his mother, actor Jennifer Howard, is the daughter of playwright-screenwriter Sidney Howard. Goldwyn, however, says his lineage "has been a big help in the cosmic sense, but not in a practical way. My father never made any calls for me or set up auditions or anything like that. But I suppose the name was useful in getting people's attention and perhaps opening some doors. But in the beginning it was very hard. People assume you're a dabbler. You have to prove your mettle, more so than an unknown."
Coincidentally, several people associated with The Water's Edge are descended from entertainment royalty: Gummer is the daughter of Meryl Streep. Burton's father was Richard Burton. And director Will Frears is the son of director Stephen Frears.
"My father was terrified when I said I wanted to act," Goldwyn continues. "He knows how hard it is. And he felt the odds were that I'd fail and be unhappy." Nevertheless, his father didn't stand in his way. Goldwyn graduated from Brandeis University and went on to study at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and following your dreams is a topic he's passionate about.
"Don't let anyone talk you out of your dreams," he says. "If you give a hundred percent to achieving it, either you will, or that commitment will lead you to something else—something that you should be doing but may not have perceived early on. But if you don't go after your dream, you will become the kind of person who looks back and says, 'I coulda, I shoulda.' You don't want to be that person."
Goldwyn certainly isn't. Indeed, he started working immediately after graduation—first at Williamstown, where he earned his Equity card—and hasn't stopped since, though he says he performed in many showcases before landing an agent and admits, "I still feel I'm pounding the pavement."
His career turning point, he says, was the 1990 film Ghost, with Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Whoopi Goldberg. "That role gave me traction," Goldwyn notes. "From that time on, I was able to really support my family as an actor. Up until then, I didn't know where my next job was coming from."
Asked about notable artistic turning points, Goldwyn responds, "I'm always working to redefine what I'm doing and keep it fresh. But I suppose I started approaching roles in a new light 15 years ago, when I went back to acting school to study with Alan Savage. His ideas were so fundamental. While other acting teachers talk about the character's history, his emotions, and choices—the hows and whys—he focused on the what: 'What are you really saying? What is your thought, and are you communicating that to the person you're talking to? Are you clear?' I had really gotten so removed from that."
Now that he's back, where does he hope to be in five or ten years? "I hope to be doing exactly what I'm doing now," Goldwyn says, "although I hope my career as a film director grows and I'm doing bigger and more challenging films. I'd like to direct myself in a good part, but I would never give myself a part just because it's an acting vehicle."