The Arty Semite

Ric Klass on 'Excuse Me for Living'

By Curt Schleier

  • Print
  • Share Share

In “Excuse Me For Living,” Dan Topler (Tom Pelphrey) is rich, smart and, when the film opens, poised on a bridge ready to end it all. A judge remands the drug-addicted Yale graduate and medical school dropout to a posh rehab center, where he is treated by a Dr. Jacob Bernstein (the renowned actor Robert Vaughn).

Bernstein’s treatment is simple: Young Topler must participate in a senior men’s club at Temple B’nai Israel. Not only does Topler find redemption, but he also finds love in Dr. Bernstein’s daughter.

The film is written and directed by Ric Klass, based on his book of the same name. Klass, 66, has had a number of careers and earned four degrees, including two in aerospace engineering, a Harvard MBA and a Masters in Education from Mercy College.

Klass spoke to The Arty Semite about film, working on Wall Street, and teaching math in the Bronx.

Curt Schleier: What do you want to do when you grow up?

Ric Klass: Exactly the right question. In fact, I’m doing what I want to do when I grow up. I’m feverishly hoping to get to keep doing it. I’ve been in love with the movies since I was a teenager. I have three other screenplays I’m flogging. I have a novel I’m working on and two other screenplays I’m writing. And I have 25 other thought lines and treatments I want to work on, as well.

You started out working in aerospace and in 1990 and wrote and directed your other movie, “Elliot Fauman, PhD,” at the same time. What happened in the last 22 years?

I had more than a dozen careers. I was on Wall Street. I had a private equity firm. I was a high school math teacher. In fact, my narrative non-fiction book published a year ago, “Man Overboard: Confessions of a Novice Math Teacher in the Bronx,” was about that.

How did you become a teacher?

I tutored some disadvantaged boys and that inspired me to become a math teacher. I promptly had my head handed to me. It turns out that to tutor children who want to learn is entirely different than being thrown into a room with 35 kids who would rather take a beating that study math. There was a minor riot in my first class. It was in a kind of amphitheater. There were kids a football stadium away from me who started talking and shouting, I was initially intimidated. I finally shouted them down. It was kind of hair raising. Luckily my adrenalin overcame my fear.

Which is more dangerous: teaching math or the film business?

There are plenty of sharks in the film business — if the choice is between the sharks and the young boys, I’m not sure which is more dangerous.

Your film is about the redemption of a young drug-addicted rich kid. What was your inspiration for this story?

The inspiration was a close friend of mine who I greatly admired. He was a giant of a man and I witnessed his decline and eventual death from alcoholism. His son followed him to the grave two years later from a heroine overdose.

Most of the characters seem to be Jewish. Would you consider this a Jewish film?

I don’t think of it as a Jewish film. They are not Jewish in a stereotypical way. It’s also a story of a generational gap. The young man is led astray by friends and finds stability in the context of older men in a temple group. The setting is Jewish because I’m Jewish. I suppose if I’d gone to parochial school, it would have been a church group.

What was your life like growing up?

I’m from Bexley, a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. I was very fortunate to grow up there. My high school was one in which my classmates respected academic excellence. I would say 99.9% — virtually everyone — went to college. We were very accomplished students growing up in a very safe environment. We never locked our homes. As for growing up Jewish, I’ve never been particularly observant. Culturally I’m Jewish, and that probably influences my thinking and attitudes. I went to Sunday school and was a bar mitzvah, but if anything really developed my character, it was the academic part of my life.

Watch the trailer for ‘Excuse me for Living’:


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Ric Klass, Interviews, Film, Excuse Me for Living, Curt Schleier

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.