Andy Griffith in "Waitress." ((Fox Searchlight / July…)
Andy Griffith made his big screen debut in 1957 as a country-boy-turned-manipulator in Elia Kazan’s prescient media commentary “A Face in the Crowd.”
Fifty years later, the actor, who died Tuesday at the age of 86, took on another small-town part. This time he was Old Joe, a gruff-but-good-hearted regular at a Southern diner, in the feel-good dramedy “Waitress.”
Starring Keri Russell and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, the movie was an art-house sleeper when it came out in the spring of 2007. "Waitress" was considered a breakout for Russell, whose career had languished since her television show “Felicity.” But it was Griffith who in many ways stole the show, extolling the virtues of a good piece of pie (each flavor really is like a new chapter!) and proving to be a white knight at the movie’s end. (You can see some of Griffith’s on-screen musings, as well as Russell and costar Cheryl Hines describing what it was like to work with him, in the video below.)
The role proved a comeback of sorts for a man who had recently turned 80, generating goodwill at the Sundance Film Festival where it premiered and at the multiplex when it came out several months later.
With his advanced age, Griffith did not travel to do publicity on behalf of “Waitress” and studio Fox Searchlight. But he did do a few phone interviews, including one for NPR in which he described the character as “firm in his beliefs … and that firmness is what turns the picture around at the end.”
The Old Joe part was a shrewd bit of casting on Shelley’s part. Griffith played curmudgeonly, a manner that was at odds with his “Andy Griffith Show” persona.
Griffith took on one more film part a few years later, also as a cantankerous man named Joe, in a little-seen indie called “Play the Game." But savoring pie and helping out a young waitress in a small-town seems a fitting way to remember a robust screen career.