In Ghostbusters: Aykroyd played Ray Stantz, the wide-eyed, child-like nerd and PhD. If Egon is the brains and Venkman the nerves, Stantz is the heart. He's an expert on paranormal psychology and metallurgy, and is responsible for unleashing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on Manhattan.
The biographical rundown: Now 56. Wrote and starred in Ghostbusters at the tender age of 31, four years out of SNL. After, he continued double duty on both Spies Like Us (1985) with Chevy Chase and Dragnet (1987) with an about-to-go-supernova Tom Hanks. He delivered a selfless, horrifying performance in Caddyshack II (1988), effectively canceled out with his 1990 Oscar nomination for Driving Miss Daisy, effectively canceled out by his panned sole directorial effort Nothing but Trouble (1991), effectively canceled out by his successful, sensitive starring turn nine months later in My Girl. He rode out the rest of the '90s with bit parts and a failed Coneheads adaptation. He hasn't written a movie since Blues Brothers 2000, focusing primarily on performing and building his House of Blues empire.
What's it all mean?: I spent a couple hours with Aykroyd in April 2005. He was working on a special 25th anniversary DVD of The Blues Brothers. What was supposed to be a 10-minute magazine Q&A turned into a two-hour ride around Manhattan in Aykroyd's rental car. At the time, it was the coolest thing ever. He came across exactly as he described himself to me. "I was a warrior then," he said of the SNL and Ghostbusters years, and "Now I'm a Roman general looking back at his great campaigns and saying he needs to tend the pastures." He seemed very content to live in the present and enjoy the echoes of the past. But now it seems the general is bringing the action to his pastures for old time's sake. He's not writing Ghostbusters 3, and maybe that's for the best. He can act out the success of his past with the fresh ideas from the present. And that sounds great.
Bonus: I recently discovered the entire transcript of our conversation. Since the magazine only printed three or four truncated snippets of our conversation, I thought I'd run most of it right here. There's some really great stuff in it. The conversational English is not cleaned up. Enjoy.
[We're sitting in a hotel lobby.]
JJ: I'm wondering how the trademark Blues Brothers dance came about -- the kind of having-a-fit-on-hot-coals, toes going everywhere -- is that something that happened because of the music?
Dan Aykroyd: I think you're probably right there. Just because of the music. That's just what I did at the time. Now, of course like, you know, I mean, so many great dancers -- the Nicholas brothers, Fred Astaire, Donald O'Connor, "Singin' in the Rain" -- I mean, being exposed to all these great choreographers and choreography and dancing would tend to try to, I guess, inspire us. Now we had a great choreographer on the film, Carlton Johnson. That was just what the music did to me at the time. I don't think I could get the knees up that high now. Maybe...
You were talking with the woman up there [in the hotel room, filming a DVD interview] about how to classify whether it was comedy first, or musical comedy. What I thought watching it was "epic comedy." It seemed kind of epic to me because it's a road-trip movie, it's a buddy movie, there's chase scenes, there's big musical numbers, there's Nazis -- I mean, Illinois Nazis, but still -- and this kind of vengeful love story subplot. Do you think "epic comedy" is a good term?
Epic's a good term for it. It really is. Because it had big scope and big scale and Landis is a filmmaker who loves David Lean.
It came to me kind of like a Lawrence of Arabia --
In an urban scape. Yeah, I think you can say it was an epic piece. That's a good application of that term, for sure.
From the average Joe on the street, what do you get most? Do you get "Hey, Elwood!" or "Hey, ghostbuster!" or "Hey, Bassomatic 76!" What do people seem to know you most for these days?
I don't get much. The most recognition I get are from 18- to 25- to 30-year-old young women for the father in My Girl. I have this other demographic of women: 47 through 75, who like The Blues Brothers and Driving Miss Daisy. So I got this young female demographic that recognizes me as the father in "My Girl" -- that don't know "Ghostbusters" or "Blues Brothers," it's not their type of film -- and then I've got the older female demographic that's "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Blues Brothers." And otherwise I'm not -- most people say "Love your work" or something. Other than those specific references, it's older woman love "Driving Miss Daisy," younger women "My Girl."
If I saw you on the street I would go "Ray Stantz."
Because I was a Ghostbuster for many Halloweens, not to date you.
I just find that so strange.
You know, the recognition factor is kind of diminishing a little bit.
Is that something you welcome?
Oh that's fine. I think it's just a factor of you know, there's a whole new generation watching new people come up. And guys my age on the swing either way, older or younger, are just recognized and people say "love the work."
[At this point, we move to the front of the lobby and an older woman comes up to him and says "I love your work," and Aykroyd looks at me with a knowing "told you so" smile. She proceeds to say that she loves "That film with that woman," and Aykroyd says "Driving Miss Daisy," looking at me again, and she goes "Yeah, that's it!" We walk outside onto Park Avenue looking for the rental car.]
Do you catch any "SNL" these days?
Oh all the time. I'm a faithful, faithful fan of the show. I watch the live broadcasts when I'm not there. And nipping in and out of New York as I do, when they're doing a show here, when I have friends that want to go, I bring them over and I sit with Lorne.
What do you think of it these days?
I think that the girls are strong. The girls are strong. Rachel [Dratch] and Amy [Poehler], strong, strong. I love the new cast. I think they're great. Love the writers. Jim Downey is a master of political writing.
[The valet brings the car and we slip inside.]
What was I saying?
The women are strong.
Oh yeah, the women! And the writing! And Jim Downey -- he's the greatest political writer. You know James Downey.
Sure. [I didn't.]
He does all their political humor. Spectacular writer. Great artist, and love his work. Steve Higgins, the head writer/producer, is a great guy, he has an incredible sensibility. And so I'm a fan, a continuing fan. I went back and hosted a couple years ago, the May 17 show two years ago, and wrote with Tom David my older partner. We used to write the Coneheads together. It felt good, and that was a good show.
Is the sketch-writing something you miss a lot?
Mmm, I think I've pretty much explored the three-minute television sketch format for life, basically.
So is the newest thing continuing to perform?
It's getting the House of Blues company where we're really a meaningful brand in the concert business. We're the third biggest in the world now. So we'll stabilize and get some more venues open. There's people clamoring for it -- every city you go to, "please put one here, please put one here." So we have to make the selections properly, finance, capitalize it properly, and not spend too much like we used to. We spent too much on the early ones and now we have to be sensible and rein things in. And then it's the concerts with Jimmy [Belushi]. So that's basically where my whole thrust is right now: House of Blues, performing, music. I would say it occupies a lot of my time now. I'm on the board of the company and I'd like to see my investors get some of their money.
So how's the time divided then?
It's pretty much half-focused on opening clubs, board meetings, and half concert dates and -- well let's see. I'd say a third concert dates, a third House of Blues-related activity, publicity, board meetings and calls, and a third personal. A third trying to raise my girls.
City-wise it's mostly I would say on the road, according to my calendar, it's mostly on the road. Two-thirds on the road and then we have my home in Canada where we go for the summers and then my wife has the kids in school in New York City. And when I'm not here they travel with me. And they work. When they come to a concert, they dance, they all come up onstage. Wear basic black, put the earplugs in. And I have those girls working.
Do they wear sunglasses?
They wear sunglasses, yep, they do.
How old are they?
I've got a 15-year-old, a 12-year-old, and a 7-year-old. And oh no, nobody rides for free.
So where's your place in Canada? Near Ottawa?
It's near Ottawa. It's what they call the Thousand Islands up there. I have an island up there.
What's it like weather-wise this time of year?
It's, huh, beautiful. Beautiful now. Just really, just breaking. It's just cool and sunny. Of course, a month ago it was hang out the meat to freeze.
Oh yeah, yeah. Where were you born?
Oh wow. You know [he slips into a growling voice] the Canadians. You know Toronto then.
Oh yeah, I spent summers in Canada in Thunder Bay. Not [Paul] Shaffer's Thunder Bay. In Ontario.
Really, wow? Well Shaffer's from there. He's from Thunder Bay.
I think it's a different Thunder Bay. It's the one just over the border from Buffalo.
Oh, oh, I see. Ah, yeah, OK. No, he's way up there.
Isn't that fun in the summer, the boating?
Yeah I grew up there across the border.
Cottage country, yeah.
Yes, it's beautiful.
Cool. Where'd you go to school?
American University in Washington.
Great. You writing books yet?
Do you like the writing?
I do. I actually just got out of college in December. And just moved here in January.
So 1980 -- because I've been a fan of the first class of SNLers, and I think there're the only class worth anything --
Well, Will Ferrell, he's pretty -- you know, Old School, great film, great film. And Lovitz, the devil that Lovitz used to do.
I like the Pathological Liars Association.
I was looking at 1980 and I think Caddyshack came out within a month of the Blues Brothers. And those to me are the two archetypal comedies of that era.
Caddyshack was prior, it was before. I believe it was before.
It was the same year.
Because Caddyshack sort of -- it might of been. Well that's one of the greatest comedies ever written. Animal House, Caddyshack, Old School, Blues Brothers, maybe Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day, Uncle Buck. The Candy movies with John Hughes, I like them a lot. The Great Outdoors. I did a good picture with Candy. The Great Outdoors, if you like cottage country, that was the definitive cottage country movie.
I'm partial to Uncle Buck myself.
Uncle Buck was -- see this was John Hughes, a tremendous writer. What a vibrant, beautiful writer he is. Prolific, amazing.
So what was the mood like, because I know you've got Bill and Chevy in Caddyshack at the same time you and John were in Blues Brothers. What was the feeling? Were you guys like, "We're golden gods now, we've got it."
Oh yeah, we called ourselves "living media gods." Small "g," though. Small "g." We were bratty, ratty, little tyrants, of course, at the time. But we supported each other. We loved to see the success of our colleagues, you know. Chevy was my biggest cheerleader at SNL and we loved Murray of course. You know, who doesn't to this day? He is universally revered. He had such an influence on all of us at Second City. Just his boldness, his style. His character the Honker that he sort of does in Caddyshack -- all of us at Second City were doing the Honker onstage and off. We used to go after work and go to the Old Town Alehouse and [at this point, Aykroyd spits out unintelligible Honker phrases, reminiscent of Murray's character in Caddyshack]. And Billy would do the Honker in Times Square. And in Chicago. And everyone did the Honker. And to this day.
I admit to doing the Honker. You know, anytime the Dalai Lama comes up. "The Lama."
"Uh yes, uh, hehh." That whole announcing thing that he does where he's addressing the ball.
"About to win...the Master's Championship."
Yeah. Everyone loved it. So there was a lot of universal love around. We were riding high. But we also had a fear of the future, what's going to happen after this. And thank God that phase of my life's over.
Yeah, it's all held up. How often do you see those guys?
I see Billy and Chevy more than Jane or Laraine. I see Billy and Chevy frequently, a few times a year. Billy I seek out for little mini-adventures.
A visit up to his house, or have him come and see me, you know, have a House of Blues music night if possible.
Do you golf?
I am not golfer, I'm a golf cart mechanic. I can fix the batteries.
So where are you off to next? You said this was a rental car?
Yeah, this is -- oh boy. I'm of the Hunter Thompson School of Rental Car Occupancy. I'm rough on them. We had this one off-roading this weekend in Martha's Vineyard. It's got the Sirius -- I love this satellite radio.
So you were in Martha's Vineyard then, over the weekend?
I was there. You know, John and I bought a house there with our first checks from Atlantic Records in 1978. And we had a home there every since. His wife, his widow, the new Mrs. Pisano, lives up there full time basically.
So you drove down here then?
I drove the car. I had to go up there. My wife and I have been thinking of tearing down a wall or two so we drove up there and drove back. This is not my regular ride. My regular ride is either the Harley in the summer. I got a police bike that Willie Davidson commissioned for me right from the factory floor. Dead stop, policeman's seats, special, beautiful. There's that, and then I have a very environmentally incorrect Ford Excursion, 10-cylinder.
Is it a good car?
Well the thing is I have a family of five and a bird and a dog and luggage. I would need two of these Lincolns, 16 cylinders, to hall what I do with the truck at 10. So that's how I rationalize that. And then my favorite ride of all, my favorite car of all, is my 1932 Pierce Arrow limousine, built in Buffalo. You know Pierce Arrow?
Absolutely. The building still stands.
It's still there. I have a 1932 factory limousine Pierce Arrow.
Do you drive it at all?
All the time. I drive it all summer. And then I have a 1941 Buick limousine, straight-A, overhead valve, dual carb, Rochester fuel carbs. So those are two old limos I bang around with in the summer.
You keep those in Canada?
Those are my favorite rides. My wife's due for a new car. I bought a Mercedes V12 for her in '94 but I'm not going to buy a V12 again. Not in the ages of $2.50 gasoline [editor's note: ha!], global warming, air pollution. If I buy her a car, I will buy her an 8-cylinder something, whatever that might be. Maybe one of those Cadillacs. I don't know. She deserves the best. She lives with me.
Must be twenty-some years.
Twenty-three married, twenty-four together I think.
So how much of the stunt driving did you do on Blues Brothers?
Blues Brothers I did...I would say...probably 30 percent of it. You know, some spins and stuff. I didn't do the jumps. But a lot of driving. And just a lot of driving behind the camera car.
That car's not in a museum anywhere, is it?
I think the original one is owned by -- well, the original one where we shot most of the interior scenes like where we're together in the car, which I think would be the one that if you'd want to own the car, it would be the one that John and I spent the most time in -- that one is owned by a police officer in Illinois. [Then, speaking to a careless driver in another lane:] This guy has gotta decide what he's doing.
You think Blues Brothers it the only SNL adaptation to a movie that's worth a damn?
Well I like The Coneheads, you know? I did. I liked The Coneheads. I thought it was a good family picture. But you know, a lot of artists and filmmakers, they say "Oh they marketed it wrong." Well in that case, they really did. It came out in the summer. It shoulda come out at Halloween like we planned. At Halloween it would've worked beautifully. So I really regret that that wasn't handled better. And I'm trying to think of the other incarnations...
Well I'm trying to think of ones that were around when Blues Brothers came out. It was all kind of a mid-'90s thing I guess, when they started come out with the later cast, with "It's Pat" and Molly Shannon's thing. I can't think of anyone in the '80s. Well, Coneheads was the '90s, wasn't it?
Coneheads was early 90s or late 80s. It was after Driving Miss Daisy. So it was early 90s. Well I don't think you can speak of the attempts that the girls made with those two movies in the same breath as Coneheads and Blues Brothers. Those were really great, you know, we had great really strong directors and great writing. The other efforts came up a little short, although the characters are very appealing. You can't take away anything from Molly at all, or the Pat character. But I just think in terms of story and execution -- Coneheads and Blues Brothers are pretty strong, if you can compare them.
I just can't get the David Lean image out of my head, just in terms of the epic. It's the opening shots that struck me.
Landis is a great, great filmmaker. No matter how you cut it or look at it, he's just a great, great filmmaker. Starting with his references to silent comedies, his knowledge of filmography, and the knowledge of the work of these directors. You know, stealing from the best. He just knew how to do that. And knows how to do that.
[We pull into Hertz, drop the car off and then walking West on E. 91st Street, talking about putting a House of Blues in Washington, D.C.]
There's a market for it there I think.
Well House of Blues, we're a house of all music. You know, who'd of thought that you go and see KC and the Sunshine Band have a full house and have an incredible night of entertainment? Incredible. We do Tom Jones, we'll do Little Richard when he's touring, Johnny Winter. We have tribute bands, Latin bands, we have all hip-hop and rap artists, anybody breaking a new record. It's a house of all music.
So are you in the midst of a tour?
I'm in the midst of the San Diego opening in the Gas Lamp District on May 15. And then our July opening of the House of Blues boutique hotel, poker room, slot room, with Harrah's -- we have a co-venture with Harrah's.
Is this in Vegas?
This is in Atlantic City at the top of the boardwalk. Incredible partners there. So I've got two big club openings coming up and about seven concerts -- some casinos, one corporate, a charity. The band's going to be pretty busy. Jimmy loves it. So don't have to convince him. And while the knees and the hips and the ankles respond well to the binding, I will continue to do it. Because it's just fun. The music is just these great American songs that we get to sing. We sing songs from 1948 right up through the '70s. We bring people up onstage to dance with us.
Does Goodman ever join you?
Goodman will join us for San Diego, yeah. But he's not on the rigorous --I wouldn't want to do that to the man. Jimmy and I could take it because we're so used to it, but it really is work.
[There is a blip in the tape.]
[...] the other daughter, and we go to the Museum of Natural History for the Young Scientists class, which she's been enrolled in the last couple of years. She loves that. It's an aerospace --
Is this the 15-year-old?
No, this is the 7. I'm meeting the 12, picking up the 7, and then the 7's birthday is today so we're going to have a little birthday dinner. I might call Downey. I have an idea for a piece we were talking about.
Yeah, I occasionally will come back and slip something in. So I'm going to talk to him.
Well it's sort of a political satire piece, I'm still fleshing it out. But we'll utilize Darrell Hammond's impeccable Rumsfeld.
So when you show up on the SNL set, do you find people distance themselves in reverence or do they flock to you for advice?
No they're too busy doing their work. It's only afterwards at the party that I can get up and tell them how much I love what they're doing. And they have to say, "Well, thanks Mr. Aykroyd." Little Rachel Dratch -- what a find. I kind of helped get her hired.
Thank you for that.
I mentioned her name and I also underwrote her hiring by the recommendation of seeing her at Second City, "what do you think of her" and stuff. And I actually did mention her name.
So nothing planned for film, TV?
Pretty much gotta get these clubs open. I'm going to take the month of August off and then we are looking to Europe for House of Blues. London, Paris, Berlin. Maybe Moscow. Australia, they're dying for us there, we want to come down there. So I think the New Year will be focused in on-site planning, studies, approvals, financial approvals, meeting and greeting the people who are going to be supporting us in each town, lining up friendly investors and people who hold real estate who want their places to have a nice tenant like us. You know, I mean, look: If Spielberg or Reitman or one of the Scott brothers or Peter Weir, a great director, calls me, or Phil Robinson, and says "We'd like you to play the U.S. marshal who loses a leg in a train wreck," of course. I can always work as an actor. But the writing I used to do -- I think I got seven or eight scripts made. It's pretty good, considering.
Tomorrow: Rick Moranis. Next week: Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver.