At 77 years old, Alan Arkin still finds new characters to play on film. His latest film is a dark comedy titled Thin Ice, now in American theaters.
In Thin Ice, Arkin plays a somewhat befuddled old farmer who becomes the target of a conniving, fast-talking insurance salesman, played by Greg Kinnear. But in this genre known as "midwest Noir," every character has secrets and that attracted Arkin.
"Initially I said 'how do I play this guy who is not a real guy?' Then I decided just to treat it like another acting job …as though I'm playing a character," Arkin explains. " I don't want to say any more about it because it gives away too much."
The New York native started his career on stage, winning a Tony Award for Best Actor for his performance in the 1963 Broadway comedy "Enter Laughing." Hollywood soon beckoned, starting with his lead role in the Cold War comedy The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming.
That first film earned Arkin an Oscar nomination. And he got another nod two years later for his moving portrayal of a deaf mute in The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.
Arkin finally got to take home the gold statuette for his supporting role as a crusty, profane grandfather in the 2006 comedy Little Miss Sunshine.
"Maybe I'll be easy on myself, but I like a lot of the parts that I've played," admits Arkin. " I can't say as much for the way they came out, but a lot of the experiences have been wonderful …not necessarily because of the characters I was playing, but because the entire experience was so rich."
Arkin says he was five when he fell in love with acting at his neighborhood cinema.
"I saw Chaplin and, boom, that was it. They couldn't drag me out of the theater," he says. "I sat through The Great Dictator three times and when they tried to get me to go home I threw a temper tantrum and wouldn't leave the theater. It just clicked. It connected."
Then, his first successful performance was convincing his parents to let him take acting lessons.
"My father was a painter, who was never very successful. He never got any kind of recognition as a painter, so he was very much aware of the pitfalls of doing anything in the arts. So I didn't get either encouragement or discouragement. It was just kind of a wary 'uh-huh,'" Arkin says.
Years later, Arkin found himself in the same predicament when his own sons followed in their dad's footsteps to acting careers.