Fred Melamed, who plays the unlikely love rival, Sy Abelman, in the Coen Brother’s 2009 dark comedy, “A Serious Man,” comes to The Jewish Center of the Hamptons Aug. 30 (8 p.m. at 44 Woods Lane, East Hampton, 631-324-9858) for a screening of the film. Afterwards, Melamed will field questions with Jewish Center Rabbi Zimmerman.
There should be plenty. The film is a modern-day Book of Job. Its final scene is a lightning rod for metaphysical musings.
And how did the Jewish Center get Melamed? “I called them,” he said. “One of my sons goes to their Camp Karole day camp. I saw they had a film series and the last film they were showing was my film, which was nominated for a Best Pictures Oscar in 2010. It’s a film that often incites strong feelings. So I reached out to them, and asked to be a part of it.”
Melamed bought his Montauk house 11 years ago. Six years ago, when his twin sons were diagnosed with autism, he and his wife moved east fulltime. “We wanted to raise our kids where it was peaceful and beautiful,” he said. His kids attend The Child Development School of the Hamptons and “are doing great,” he said. “ We chose Montauk because we liked being close enough to high culture and good restaurants in East Hampton, but is still a honky tonky fishing town. City dwellers tend to bring their pomposity and impatience with them on the weekends. Montauk doesn’t have that sort of clenched jaw thing. And I like the wildness of it, the elevation, its hills and valleys.”
Melamed’s no marquis movie star, but he has one of those faces you’ve seen over and over. He’s had major roles in nine Woody Allen movies, and next season will play Larry David’s smug psychiatrist, Dr. Simon Thurgood, in “Curb Your Enthusiasn.”
“As you can imagine, that was a tall order,” Melamad said. “But I had a fantastic, fun experience. There’s not one word of written dialogue, which is the opposite of the Coen brothers. They don’t like you to deviate from the written page at all.
“I loved the improv, especially working with people who are so good at it. They set up the situations so masterfully.”
Here’s an exclusive preview he gave us of some of his “Curb” scenes, how they set them up and what he added:
“They tell you, for example, you’re Larry’s psychiatrist,” Melamed explained. “Larry sees you at a baseball memorabilia convention. He’s having an erectile problem. Something happens and he wants to tell you about it. You talk about it for five minutes. You send him a bill and he get’s very upset about that.”
Melamed’s adlib, “ ‘You know, Larry, sometimes people with the more extreme narcissistic disorders have a hard time gauging the amount of time.’ I also came up with the idea the psychiatrist should be a name dropper.” He has never been a professional comedian, but said, “I like to be funny whenever possible in real life. A lot of times I want to rewrite the script anyways. When a director says, you don’t have to stick to the script, they don’t know what they’re in for!”
An example of that is a “Harold and Kumar” scene of his in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. “Who’s in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas, but Jews?” he said. “When I order the Kung Pao chicken, I say, ‘Very little oil. General Pao killed more Jews than Hitler.’”