Seymour Cassel (1935-2019): Prolific Character Actor Was A Witty, Talented Rapscallion
The colorful, mischievous movie and TV star has passed away at 84. To me, he’ll always be Sy Lerner, the cigar chomping producer in “Cannes Man”
Seymour Cassel, the wonderful, eccentric, witty, mischievous and amazingly prolific character actor who just passed away in his 84th year, was the star of one of the few movies in which I have appeared: "Cannes Man."
It was 1997 and I was on the French Riviera leading my editorial team from The Hollywood Reporter as we put out a daily newspaper for the thousands of festival goers that covered everything from the movies to parties and the business behind the scenes.
Richard Martini had come to Cannes that year to direct his fictional movie amid the real-life frenzy and madness of the festival. He packed in every moment from stars to screenings, parties to sales agents, to producers and characters.
His plot was about a cigar chomping old school movie producer (Cassel as Sy Lerner) who gets involved in a bet. He wagers that he can take anybody off the street, in this case off the beach, and use the incredible hype and excitement of the world’s most important international film festival to make them the toast of Cannes.
His patsy is Franceso Quinn (son of Anthony Quinn), who plays the hapless Frank “Rhino” Rhinoslavsky, who gets the big buildup as the writer of a script that in fact, does not exist.
This is a scene from the movie, used in the trailer for promotion.
I was recruited to play the trade newspaper editor who gets a visit in his Cannes (hotel room) office from Sy Lerner and "Rhino," with a pitch for a big story about his (fake) movie plans.
The picture was a romp that included scenes of Cassel and Quinn with lots of Hollywood hots shots like Cannon’s bombastic boss Menahem Golan and now disgraced, then a megaproducer Harvey Weinstein.
For insiders it is fun to see industry characters like Lloyd Kaufman of Troma and Duncan Clark, a top international distribution exec.
There were star actors in the mix like Dennis Hopper, Treat Williams, Jon Cryer and Johnny Depp, who got stoned out of his brain his for the wildly improvised performance.
Johnny Depp as he appeared in the film, glassy eyes under dark glasses
My few scenes went great. I did it because I thought it would be a boost for The Hollywood Reporter, then as always in an image and brand battle with arch rival Variety.
But when the movie came out I was in for an unpleasant surprise.
After production, the “Cannes Man” producers made a deal with Variety, that included using a Variety for the fictional front-page headline, shown when the planted story is published, for the big movie’s reveal.
So, although I was still on screen as the trade paper editor who take the bait, when it came time to show the headline on screen, it was on Variety.
Unlike that headline, Cassel was the real thing. He was one of those Hollywood characters who you could never forget after meeting him, or even seeing him on the screen.
Duane Byrge and Mike Barnes have a wonderful obit of him today if you want more on this talented actors huge cinematic and video legacy.
We were never buddies or very social, but when I saw Cassel in the years after, he was always as affable and friendly as I recalled.
“Cannes Man” wasn’t a very good movie (50% on Rotten Tomatoes on a handful of reviews) and certainly doesn’t compare to the great films Cassel made, including the cutting edge, innovative, low budget pictures with John Cassavetes, and his later quirky work with Wes Anderson.
He was nominated for an Oscar in 1968 for his supporting role in “Faces,” on which he also acted as a crew member.
Seymour Cassel as he looked in 1997 for "Cannes Man"
He is described in the THR obit as a rapscallion, which is defined as a mischievous jokester.”
“Instead of getting angry when he realizes his shoelaces have been tied together, your grandfather might say, "Which of you rapscallions is responsible for this?" Rapscallion is an old-fashioned word for "scamp" or "scoundrel."
Cassel’s loss is greater because he was such an original that he cannot be replaced on screen or in life.