You know Brian Dennehy. The actor, the large guy. What movies has he been in? Almost too many to count, even if you can't think of one right at the moment.
"'Presumed Innocent,' that's a big favorite," Dennehy says, naming one of the movies that come up when fans see him on the street. "They always say 'Rambo'! And I like to make the point that the picture was actually called 'First Blood.' "
Dennehy wasn't the star in those movies, of course. In the former, he played a prosecuting attorney opposite Harrison Ford; in the latter he was Sylvester Stallone's nemesis, the single-minded Sheriff Teasle. But those kinds of roles -- more than 100 of them in movies and on television, and that's not even counting his Tony-winning stage work -- have made Dennehy one of the most recognizable character actors around. This weekend, he'll be interviewed in Port Washington about his 35-year career by another familiar figure, talk-show legend Phil Donahue. The event is being presented by the Gold Coast International Film Festival.
Dennehy, 74, was born in Connecticut and has since moved back to the state, but some of his earliest forays into acting took place in Mineola, where he lived after his family relocated specifically so he could attend Chaminade High School. It was there that he met Chris Sweeney, who coached football and, fortuitously, led a drama club.
"He was the guy who was more responsible for almost everything professional that happened in my life," Dennehy says. "He said to me once, when we were practicing football, 'Dennehy, as a football player you'd make a great actor.' And we started doing theater."
Dennehy attended Columbia University on a football scholarship, but acting became his calling (he also studied drama at Yale). "Theater is a physical activity as much as anything. It's harder for me to learn the lines than it was 30 years ago," Dennehy says. "At the same time, I'll never quit working in the theater -- until I can't memorize two lines back to back."
That time may yet be a ways off. Since his film debut in the 1977 sports comedy "Semi-Tough," Dennehy has never let a year go by without appearing in something (and usually two or three things). He's currently preparing for two plays at the famous Stratford Festival in Ontario, another in Los Angeles and a new film with director Terrence Malick. It's a wonder Dennehy has the time for a quick visit to Long Island.
"It'll be a good evening," Dennehy says. "I've done this many, many times, and I know how to do it. I know what people are there for: to have some laughs and have some fun, and maybe learn a little bit."