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Sheriff Andy steals show in `Waitress'

June 23, 2007|Martha Waggoner | Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — At age 81, Andy Griffith has been discovered.

Sure, he'll always be known as Sheriff Andy Taylor, the gentle father to Opie and gunless lawman in Mayberry on the "The Andy Griffith Show." Or as the defense lawyer Ben Matlock. But he's a new type of star in "Waitress," a supporting character in a movie starring Keri Russell as Jenna, a top-notch pie maker trying to leave her brutish husband. Griffith steals the show as Old Joe, the cranky owner of the diner where she works. "I'm glad to be back," Griffith said.

The movie was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, who was found slain in her Manhattan home office not long after "Waitress" was accepted at the Sundance Film Festival. Griffith said that Shelly, who also stars in the film, kept after him "to be firm, be firm."

"I said, 'I'm trying!' She said, 'That way.' "

Griffith lives with his wife, Cindi, in the North Carolina town of Manteo. Until "Waitress," he hadn't appeared in a live-action film since 2001. But when he received three scripts at once, he chose "Waitress" for the quality of Shelly's writing and because Joe "was a good, pivotal part."

Producer Michael Roiff said he and Shelly couldn't believe their good fortune in landing Griffith. Critics agree, with the Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern calling Griffith a "comic virtuoso." Equally important to Griffith is the praise of friends, like director Ron Howard, who played Opie in "The Andy Griffith Show."

Griffith has been a success on stage for decades, starring in the Broadway and movie versions of "No Time for Sergeants" and in Elia Kazan's 1957 movie, "A Face in the Crowd." When "The Andy Griffith Show" ended its eight-year run in 1968, it was No. 1. It's a career that brought Griffith a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. Asked when he'll be cast in a Howard film, he mentions a conversation with Howard. "He said, 'Sometime, it will happen.' At least, Ronnie still knows that I'm a pretty good actor."

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