skip navigation
Mr. Holland's Opus
Remind Me
,Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus

In Mr. Holland's Opus (1995), Richard Dreyfuss plays the title character, a man who takes a job teaching music to school kids as a temporary "gig" to support his lifelong dream of composing. As the years wear on, however, the "gig" becomes a career, and along with raising a family, Mr. Holland realizes the old adage-as pointed out in the film-"life is something that happens while you're making other plans." Reminiscent of Robert Donat's teacher in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), Dreyfuss begins the story as an idealistic young man and ends up a wiser old one. In an interview he explained, "I took the part in Mr. Holland's Opus because no one had ever asked me to play 'a life' before. I get to age through 30 years. The idea really challenged me." Glenne Headly plays his wife, a pillar of strength as she mediates between the growing resentment between their deaf son and her sound-obsessed husband. The supporting cast includes Jay Thomas, Olympia Dukakis, and William H. Macy as school colleagues, as well as a young Terrence Howard in his first major film role. Viewers may do a double-take during a scene where it appears to be recent Oscar® winner Forest Whitaker but it's actually his brother, Damon.

Mr. Holland's Opus offered Dreyfuss an opportunity to reinvent himself as an actor. Beginning with his breakout role in American Graffiti (1973), he shot to stardom with leading roles in Jaws (1975) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). At 30, he became the youngest man to win the Best Actor Oscar® for The Goodbye Girl (1977), a distinction passed on to Adrien Brody when he won -at 29- for The Pianist (2002). In the late '70s and early '80s, however, Dreyfuss struggled with drug addiction and bottomed out in 1982 after a debilitating car accident and subsequent possession arrest. Over the next fifteen years, he had his share of comeback projects, like Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986) and What About Bob? (1991), but it's his performance in Mr. Holland's Opus that reestablished Dreyfuss' acting chops - earning him an Oscar® nomination for his work and new fans.

Portraying a teacher for the once-loose cannon was not as much of a stretch for him as some critics thought. Dreyfuss actually insisted, "If I wasn't an actor, I'd be a teacher, a history teacher. After all, teaching is very much like performing. A teacher is an actor, in a way. It takes a great deal to get, and hold, a class." A couple of things that Dreyfuss had to get during his preparation for the role included the ability to pull off convincing music teacher behavior, like conducting and piano playing. He confessed, "The most difficult aspect was the piano. The hands have to be just right. You can cheat, a little, with the conducting. The most fun was the scene in which I lead a pretty awkward marching band. It's the kind of scene in which everyone can overact."

Dreyfuss, along with Headly, also had to learn some sign language in regards to the subplot involving their deaf son. The deafness consultant for the film, Carl Kirchner, remembers the different approach the actors took in order to learn signing: "Richard chose to only learn enough sign to do his job. Glenne, on the other hand, came to the shoot saying, 'I want to learn this language. Please teach me.' And she spent hours practicing and refining her skills." Given their character's attitudes towards deafness in the film, their differences off-screen seemed appropriate. Every deaf character in the film was played by a deaf actor, and great care was taken to maintain historical accuracy with regards to methods used with deafness from the sixties through the nineties, including the flashing lights used in one of the pivotal scenes.

Esteemed composer Michael Kamen provided the original score and soundtrack for Mr. Holland's Opus. From his work on films such as Brazil (1985) and Die Hard (1988), to rock music collaborations with Pink Floyd and David Bowie, Kamen's work is widely respected by the industry and beloved by listening fans. During work on Mr. Holland's Opus, he returned to his own high school in New York and was appalled by what he described as a "graveyard of musical instruments" in the music department. After learning that the school system was no longer providing adequate funding, Kamen was inspired to create The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation, its mission to "support music education and its many benefits through the donation and repair of musical instruments to under-served schools, community music programs and individual students nationwide." Richard Dreyfuss and the film's director, Stephen Herek, both serve on the Advisory Council. Kamen, unfortunately, died of a heart attack in November of 2003; the last film he worked on was First Daughter (2004), directed by Forest Whitaker, and starring Katie Holmes, Marc Blucas and Michael Keaton.

Producer: Robert W. Cort, Patrick Sheane Duncan, Ted Field, Judith James, Scott Kroopf, Michael Nolin, William Teitler
Director: Stephen Herek
Screenplay: Patrick Sheane Duncan
Cinematography: Oliver Wood
Film Editing: Trudy Ship
Art Direction: Dina Lipton
Music: Michael Kamen
Cast: Richard Dreyfuss (Glenn Holland), Glenne Headly (Iris Holland), Jay Thomas (Bill Meister), Olympia Dukakis (Principal Helen Jacobs), William H. Macy (Vice Principal Gene Wolters), Alicia Witt (Gertrude Lang).
C-143m. Letterboxed.

by Eleanor Quin