With his quizzical frown, droll delivery and impish smirk, Griffin Dunne brings humorous exasperation to an art form.
Dunne, 59, first came to audiences’ attention in the horror comedy classic An American Werewolf in London in 1981 as a sidekick corpse. A NYC night from hell soon followed in After Hours. Then the opportunity to hold his own with Madonna in Who’s That Girl.
The self-proclaimed “wildly ADD” Angeleno, whose father was famed crime writer Dominick Dunne, is the rare breed who can deftly move from in front of the camera to behind it. He continued his career taking supporting roles (last year’s The Dallas Buyer’s Club, Showtime’s House of Lies) as well as producing and directing (most notably, TV’s The Good Wife).
Dunne is back front and center as the big-screen star in The Discoverers, playing a down on his luck professor turned security guard with aging parents and obnoxious kids, out Friday. A family road trip to reconnect with his senile dad ( Stuart Margolin, The Rockford Files), who is obsessed with re-enacting the Lewis & Clark expedition, is life-changing.
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“I could relate to my character as a father and as a son so I felt it was a really good part,” says Dunne from New York, where he was filming a new teen drama TV series, Red Band Society. “This guy is working really hard and wants to feel relevant, but he’s going through life and career changes and isn’t quite sure how to proceed.”
Though the production was “breathtakingly low budget,” he was impressed with his younger costars who play his daughter ( Madeleine Martin) and son ( Devon Graye).
“I have a daughter [Hannah, 14, with ex wife Carey Lowell] who is the same age, and she was great so those were kind of my favorite scenes to do,” he says. “These kids are not like the child stars you’re going to read something bad about in 10 years.”
He bonded with Margolin as well.
“He was one of the first actors I got to know years ago. I met him through an old girlfriend, Brooke Adams,” Dunne recalls. “I just spoke to him a few days after James Garner died. He was pretty torn up.”
To prep for the part, Dunne, a history buff, read up on U.S. explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who were commissioned by President Jefferson to check out the territory of the Louisana Purchase. “What they achieved was really impressive. It was like a variation of landing on the moon.”