Thursday, December 22, 2016
Dick Van Dyke: 'Someone should have told me to work on my Cockney accent'
The actor, 90, on being married to someone half his age, growing up during the Great Depression and hoping to live to be 100
Full of ideas: Dick Van Dyke. Photograph: Andy Gotts/Camera Press
Someone should have told me I needed to work on my Cockney accent. Nearly everyone in the Mary Poppins cast was a Brit but no one said anything. I was given an Irish coach whose Cockney was much better than mine. Years later I asked Julie [Andrews]: “Why didn’t you tell me?” She said it was because I was working so hard.
I wanted to be a magician. From an early age I’d stand in front of a mirror for hours practising my sleight of hand.
I’m married to someone half my age. We learn from each other. She’s a singer and a dancer
Attitude is in the genes. I’m the kind of person who gets out of the right side of the bed. I’m full of ideas and make a list of the things I want to do. Bringing up my family I noticed two of my kids were like me, but the other two woke up grumpy. I’m not sure that’s something you can change.
I am hungry for contemporaries. It’s disturbing that there aren’t many people who can remember what I do. I have a few people I drop by on – like Carl Reiner, my mentor and idol, he’s 94. And Mel Brooks. We mostly talk about how the past affects what we’re doing in the present. We see the mistakes and the roads not taken. There’s very little nostalgia involved.
I had no idea we were poor as a kid. I grew up in the Great Depression so nobody had much of anything. My dad was a travelling salesman and told a good joke. His side of the family all had a light touch when it came to life; I think I inherited that.
Absence does not make the heart grow fonder. My first wife and I lived apart for a year – I was working in LA and she was in Arizona. The geographical separation didn’t work.
It took me a while to figure out alcohol had to go. I was shy in my 20s. I had trouble relating to strangers and I found I’d loosen up with a Martini. Then it got a hold of me.
I’m married to someone half my age. We learn from each other. Her generation questions everything. Arlene [Silver] had trepidation about marrying someone so much older, but it became inevitable. She’s a singer and a dancer and we perform together, which we love.
You should have done as much unlearning as learning by the time you’re in your 40s. Growing up you get your head stuffed with a lot of things that aren’t all true, and you have to rid yourself of some.
You can’t just sit around. A lot of older people bemoan that they can’t do what they once did. But you have to find new things to replace them.
My house looks like it’s been attacked by clowns. I’m always putting things off, like tidying up. I’m a terrible procrastinator. My wife’s the same. She’s kind of turned the place into Disneyland. She has balloons and characters everywhere and is building a toy guesthouse outside.
I would like to live to be 100. I’m working on it. I dance every day and go to the gym. And emotionally, I don’t feel old at all.