LANDIS: The most remarkable story, casting wise: I thought, ‘Well, I need someone who was a movie star in the ‘40s, who never has never really played a villain, and I was thinking, ‘Hey, what about Don Ameche?’ And the casting woman said, ‘Don Ameche’s dead.’ And I said, ‘I don't think so, I would know if Don Ameche is dead.’
And so we called the Screen Actor’s Guild, and his residuals were being sent to his son in Phoenix, Arizona. And I thought, ‘Well that's not a good sign.’ And he didn't have an agent, and I thought, ‘Shit, goddamm, who else could we get?’ when one of the secretaries said, I heard you're looking for Don Ameche.’ We said ‘Ya.’ She said, ’I see him all the time walking on San Vicente in Santa Monica.’
So I called information, and I said, ‘I there a Don or D Ameche on San Vicente in Santa Monica?’ And there was! So I called him. And you know he has that unmistakable voice, and you realize, Don was a huge star, in the late ‘30s, definitely a big star in the ‘40s — I mean he was Alexander Graham Bell for chrissakes! — a major star in ‘50s, Broadway star, radio star, movie star, television star.
And I said, ‘Mr. Ameche?’ ‘Yeeessss...?’ ‘My name is John Landis, I’m with Paramount Studios, and I'm making a film and I’d like you to consider a part.’ So I had a script sent over. ‘And could you please read this and can you come in tomorrow? And he said, ‘Yes.’ Would you like us to send a car?’ He said, ‘No no, I can drive.’ I said, ‘Great.’
And he came in and was prepared to read for me. I was so shocked. I said ‘You don't have to read for me.’
He hadn't made a movie in 14 years, he'd been doing dinner theater.
While we were shooting later in Philadelphia — he was so wonderful — I said, ‘Don, may I ask a question? How come you haven't worked in 14 years?’ And he said, ‘Well, nobody called!’
The great upshot of this is after Trading Places came out, the next movie he was in was ‘Cocoon,’ which he won an Oscar. He never stopped working the rest of his life — he made like 10 more movies, I worked with him twice more.
i was so happy to see that the opening pic in the linked article, with eddie murphy, was from the scene where they were explaining commodities to him... "bacon... like you might find in a bacon lettuce and tomato sandwich" and he breaks character to stare directly into the camera like, wtf??!! my favorite moment in just about any movie ever.
"We are commodities brokers, William. Now, what are commodities? Commodities are agricultural products, like coffee you had for breakfast; wheat, which is used to make bread; pork bellies, which is used to make bacon...like you might find in a bacon and lettuce and tomato sandwich."
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