Bob Balaban: The Quadruple Threat

Actor, director, producer, writer Bob Balaban executive-produced Can You Ever Forgive Me, starring Melissa McCarthy, which screens at this year's HIFF.
Photo by Mikey DeTemple

by Regina Weinreich

Bespectacled Bob Balaban, so familiar in movies, theatre and television since the ’60s, is never cast as a leading man. With a career spanning iconic movies—Catch-22, Midnight Cowboy, Close Encounters of the Third Kind—and comedies by Christopher Guest and Wes Anderson, he’s worked with a who’s who of actors and directors. In fact, he directs, produces and writes; in common parlance, that makes him a quadruple threat. Moving with ease in all aspects of entertainment may be the surest ticket to longevity in a business known for fleeting fame.

As usual, Balaban has a busy fall: In Condor—based on the book Three Days of the Condor, made famous by the Robert Redford movie—he’s playing the Deputy Director of the CIA. Among several projects he is developing: Cleo, a play written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright. Cleo is the love story between Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor as seen through the perspective of the making of the movie Cleopatra. A run at the Alley Theatre in Houston a couple of months ago was a hit, so the plan is to bring it to London or New York.

“I did make a condition in my contract that I have time off to attend the Hamptons International Film Festival. I just don’t want to miss it,” says Balaban, a board member since 1993, the HIFF’s inaugural year. In 1995, a movie he produced and directed, The Last Good Time, won the festival’s Starfish prize. A supporter and admirer of the HIFF, the Bridgehampton resident says, “I had the pleasure of watching it grow into an important festival.”

“As deeply fun as the premieres of great Hollywood movies at the festival can be, the selection of foreign, independent and local movies are, for me, the surprise treat. Sometimes you can’t see them anywhere else. It is easy to find the movies with Nicole Kidman or Julianne Moore, but you have to seek out the little ones.”

Having been in all kinds, big and small, working with megastars like George Clooney and Matt Damon (in The Monuments Men), Balaban knows the feeling of not being the one fans swarm. The actor notes, “It is a different experience to see someone you grew up with who starred in all your favorite movies, or in the tabloids. People have a familiarity with me. You wouldn’t necessarily say, OMG I got to stand next to him. Some people are famous for their breasts, for their partner, or their penises. Some of the most wonderful actors are more invisible in their work.”