Extraordinary everyman

He’s a scion of a Hollywood dynasty, an actor unafraid to venture to the dark side, whether he’s playing a money-laundering banker in “Ghost” or, most notably, a brilliant but psychologically damaged president of the United States in the recent ABC hit “Scandal.” Nor does he shy away from otherworldly characters, such as the voice of the gorilla-man Tarzan in the animated feature of the same name, astronaut Neil Armstrong in the HBO miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon” or a contemporary Jesus in the movie “Joshua.”

So when people meet Tony Goldwyn, one question keeps reoccurring:  Why are you so normal?

He laughed. “Jane keeps my feet on the ground,” he told a Greenwich International Film Festival audience this past June — Jane being his wife, production designer Jane Michelle Musky. It was also Jane who suggested 23 years ago that he get involved with Americares, an international health relief organization founded in New Canaan — not far from where they were living at the time — by a couple responding to a Vietnam War-era disaster.

Goldwyn told the film festival audience that in 1975, an American plane crashed in the jungles of Vietnam, killing a third of the 243 orphans it was carrying. 

“The U.S. government said, ‘There’s nothing we can do.’” But, Goldwyn added, that’s not what “Bob” said.

Bob was Robert C. Macauley, a paper broker in New Canaan. He and wife, Leila, mortgaged their house to bring the remaining children to the United States and Americares was born. Working with Pope John Paul II in 1981, Americares airlifted more than $3.2 million in aid to Poland, then under martial law. Today, the organization is the leading nonprofit provider of medical programs and supplies to those suffering the effects of natural catastrophes and poverty, delivering more than $500 million in goods and services to all 50 states and more than 90 countries. Be it Hurricane Michael or the recent Indonesian tsunami, Americares is there.

And so is Goldwyn, who is not like the kind of spokesman who shows up at n event, writes a check and enjoys a great party.

“At the end of the night of the (Americares) gala, you get on a plane to one of the countries Americares serves,” Goldwyn said, remembering a 2015 trip to Guatemala. “The model is that Americares works with local health workers. It’s had a long presence in Guatemala and it’s especially rewarding to see the local people doing the work.”

In the field or at a party, you encounter the same normal Tony Goldwyn.

“My daughter had a 20-minute conversation with him and she said to me afterward, ‘He’s just a dad,’” said Michael Nyenhuis, Americares’ president and CEO.

Well, maybe not just a dad but definitely a dad of Anna — a TV writer who’s worked on the series “Supergirl” and Tessa, a New York actress — one who believes in the adage that “90 percent of anything is showing up” and advises parents to “listen to their kids and love them for who they are.”

His are the fourth-generation of a family that has cut a legendary swath in Hollywood. Tony’s paternal grandfather was Samuel Goldwyn, a pioneer in the film industry who produced such gems as “Wuthering Heights,” “The Little Foxes” and “The Best Years of Our Lives.” (Though he was the Goldwyn in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, or MGM as it is commonly known, Samuel Goldwyn was not involved in running that company, which had acquired one of his earlier ventures, along with its Leo the Lion logo.)

Tony’s maternal grandfather was playwright Sidney Howard, who won an Oscar for his script for “Gone With the Wind.” Tony’s father, Samuel Jr., followed in his father’s footsteps as a film producer whose credits included “Mystic Pizza,” “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.”

Speaking of his family, Goldwyn told WAG, “I feel very privileged to be part of it.” Yet he remembered that his father cautioned his mother, the actress-artist Jennifer Howard, that “our kids will never be movie brats.” Goldwyn and his three siblings — his father would remarry and have two more children — were not raised in Hollywood. And Samuel Jr. did not want Tony to become an actor. Nonetheless, some of the siblings did go into the family business. And, after attending Hamilton College, Brandeis University (from which he received a bachelor of fine arts degree) and the London Academy of Music & Dramatic Art, Tony said, “I became an actor and loved doing it.”

There was also, though, a pull toward directing and producing as he did with “A Walk on the Moon,” a sensitive story of a woman’s psychological awakening set against the backdrop of Woodstock and the moon landing in 1969.

“I found myself saying, ‘I’m going to try to be a director,’” he told the film festival audience. “I always wanted to produce and direct. And then ‘Scandal’ came along. Shonda Rhimes (creator of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and its sequel, ‘Private Practice’) called and said she wanted me to play the president of the United States. …It was too good to pass up.”

The series — which centered on Goldwyn’s president, a daddy’s boy with a roving eye and his adulterous relationship with his seemingly omnipotent fixer, played by Kerry Washington — quickly became a phenomenon, so much so that although it ended earlier this year after seven seasons, fans waited patiently for Goldwyn to sign their “Scandal”-ous magazines and peppered him with questions about the characters at the film festival. There was a conversational serve and volley between him and audience members that made it seem as if they were talking about family members. But then, he said, “the ‘Scandal’ family was really close.”

Goldwyn directed eight episodes of “Scandal” as well as WE.tv’s “The Divide,” a fictional treatment of the Innocence Project, which seeks to exonerate people wrongly convicted of crimes by using DNA evidence. In 2016, Goldwyn directed a public service announcement featuring Rhimes, Washington and actresses Viola Davis and Ellen Pompeo in support of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. An arts advocate, Goldwyn is also a past president of the Creative Coalition, which focuses on industry and social concerns.

So might there be a public office in Goldwyn’s future? That remains unclear. But don’t look for him to disappear entirely behind the camera.

“I found there’s real power in being able to draw eyeballs,” he said. At the end of the day, however, he added, “you do your work and hope people want to see it.”

For more on Americares, visit Americares.org.

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