Q&A with Alan Arkin

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In 1968, Alan Arkin scored a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his soulful performance as a deaf-mute silversmith in the drama The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Almost forty years and dozens of film roles later, there is renewed Oscar speculation surrounding Arkin, this time for his role as a foul-mouthed, drug-snorting grandpa in the indie Little Miss Sunshine, out this week on DVD. The acerbic actor chatted with TIME's Carolina A. Miranda about why he doesn't give a hoot about the Oscars, his passion for New Mexico and how we humans are wrecking the planet.

TIME: Your character in Little Miss Sunshine liked to tell his teenage grandson to sleep with as many girls as possible. What practical advice do you like to give your grandchildren?

Arkin: I don't give my grandchildren any advice. They don't ask for it. I don't give it. I used to, but I've learned how to keep quiet. Nobody cares. If someone asks me a question, I'll answer it, but aside from that, I think that people are most interested in getting their agenda out into the world. Not listening to other people.

And it seems that those are the people you like to play.

Well, they just strike me funny. It's people who haven't done any self-examination, yet they know exactly how the world should run.

There's been Oscar buzz around your role as Grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine.

I've never met Oscar Buzz. I've heard a lot about him, but I've never met the man.

I take it that you don't follow Academy Awards intrigue all that closely.

It's nice to be acknowledged by your peers. It's nice to know that if you get an award, your chances of getting a couple of good parts in the next year could be better, but aside from that, I don't really care.

There were two directors on this film: the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris. What was it like to work for a married couple?

I was trepidatious about it. You could have two people who have their own ideas. It could even be a problem if they have the same idea and express them differently. I talked to them about that and they assured me that it was not going to be an issue. They felt a sense of unanimity. I loved the script so much that I just felt that I had to trust them. They ended up being very easy to work with and it was as congenial set as I've ever been on.

Is your work environment important to you when choosing a new project?

It's crucial to me. I didn't care as much 20 years ago, but I care about it very much now. I want to enjoy myself. I don't want to be in a situation of tension and disarray and confusion and hysteria. Some sets are horrible that way. It can be a nightmare.

You've appeared in a wide array of movies over your career — from comedies to dramas to sci-fi thrillers. Is there a binding theme?

Not really. I'm in the position where I pick the best of what I'm given. I like to be able to jump around genres.

Is there something you haven't done that you'd like to?

Stay home for three months. Living as quietly as humanly possible. My wife would like that even more.

Speaking of home, you live near Albuquerque, N.M. Is this a purposeful avoidance of the Hollywood scene?

New Mexico is my home. I have no idea why. It's where I belong. I love everything about it. I love the terrain. I love the people. In my teens I worked on a dude ranch there. You can't get sopaipillas [a type of fried doughnut] anywhere else. I know people that have moved back to New Mexico from other states because they couldn't get sopaipillas. It's a good death food: it'll kill you in a minute, but it's a good death.

In the latest issue of Esquire, you say that "the jig is up" for us as a society because "nature is pissed off." What do you mean by that?

We've pushed the buttons too far. We've been greedy and selfish. Everybody knows what we've done to the rivers and the oceans; the fact that there's only 35 years' worth of fish in the oceans; the fact that the polar ice caps are melting. I think that right under the surface of everybody's consciousness is the full understanding that we're in for a really tough ride and everybody is really afraid to face it. The attitude is: "Let me amass my pile and we'll worry about that 10 or 20 years from now."

There is a video on YouTube that tracks the obscenities uttered by each character in Glengarry Glen Ross, a movie you starred in which is well-known for its off-color language. Would you like to guess whose character swore the most?

It's gotta be Al Pacino's character. Definitely.

Actually, it's Ed Harris. He had 67 instances of swearing.

That's hysterical. I would have sworn it was Al. On the set, while we were making the movie, we used to call it Death of a F---ing Salesman.

Reporters frequently ask actors the question: "What's it like to work with so-and-so?" What would you like people to say about you?

Generous. And helpful. I'd like something like that.