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The Ultimate Caan

Despite a tumultuous career and personal life, actor James Caan stays true to his ideals—and his friends.
Betsy Model
From the Print Edition:
Tyson vs. King, Jan/Feb 04

(continued from page 3)

"It's unpredictability that keeps you from getting a popcorn or going to the bathroom or going to the refrigerator," says Caan, "and this show has that ability. When you're in Vegas there are no boundaries. I mean, kings come, queens come, gangsters come, senators come, vagrants, degenerates…it's very true to life. Listen, I've known people there for many years. You go to any one hotel and go to their security office or the bosses' office or their surveillance room and there's nine thousand stories…It's there…Vegas is a zoo, man…it's a zoo."

If Caan gets off on the unpredictability of Las Vegas, the city, the people behind "Las Vegas," the show, say that selecting Caan to play Big Ed Deline was nearly inevitable.

"Personally, I think Jimmy's one of the greatest actors out there, and when we first thought of a 'hard as nails' guy who didn't take [crap] off of anybody and who was capable of running security in a top casino, we immediately thought of Jimmy," says Scott Steindorff, the co-executive producer and co-creator of "Las Vegas."

Steindorff, whose production credits include the recent Nicole Kidman feature The Human Stain, also admits that the potential inclusion of guest stars in the television feature may be easier with Caan on board. "One of the things about Las Vegas as a town is that it draws top-name talent and we've left room to include some folks into future episodes. Having Jimmy there makes sense to them."

Apparently, trying his hand at a television series also made sense to Caan. He says that doing a series means more time at home with his children, something that he'd not done in the past and had subsequently regretted. When it comes to his children, Caan is unabashedly gooey. When his two youngest burst into the hotel suite to announce that they're going swimming, they do so only after tumbling onto their dad's lap and spending 15 minutes confidently throwing questions at the interviewer and wanting to play with the tape recorder. When conversation turns to eldest son Scott, Caan says, simply, "he's the apple of my eye" and brags about Scott having won a prize at the 2003 Las Vegas Film Festival for his feature Dallas 362.

The elder Caan, who put his last couple of films (including the recent holiday hit Elf, opposite Will Ferrell) into the can before starting "Las Vegas," also says that his upcoming role in the second installment of Danish director Lars von Trier's America trilogy is now officially off his work calendar. "I did this picture last year with Nicole Kidman and Lars von Trier, Dogville, and it's supposed to be a trilogy, but now that she's walked away from it, I'm walking from it. He is very anti-American, so screw him. I'm very pro-America. I'm a conservative, basically."

Rather like his co-star from the 1996 film Eraser, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger? Caan pauses for a moment and then says, "Arnold…Arnold has obviously been in this political family for quite a while. And Arnold, say what they may, he's very, very sincere about a lot of things."

One of the things that Caan is feeling sincere about at this particular moment is the need for some pain relief. He's just returned from playing 18 holes of golf and he's visibly hurting. Years of baseball, basketball, football, boxing, tennis, rodeo roping and karate (Caan's a sixth degree black belt) have taken their toll on his frame and it's evident in the way he moves. There are few joints on his body that haven't been operated on, including his shoulder, which bears the scars from 11 surgeries. His injuries, stitches and subsequent scars are the stuff of legend, enough so to cause the late sportswriter Jim Murray to once quip, "Jimmy Caan was not born, he was embroidered."

When asked about the results of the morning's game, he winces. "I looked at my birth certificate and decided to play golf! Otherwise, it's just a nice walk spoiled. I'm getting there [but] I don't have fun unless I'm playing well. I'm a little competitive."

He also claims that his biggest handicap on the course is his own lack of "patience, which I really don't have a lot of. I mean, I can play really well and then I'll miss some stupid, easy shot and it'll bother me for four holes, which is the worst possible thing. It makes you really stupid and it's not a perfect game."

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