Meet the kids who owe everything to Jaws

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Ben and Emily Dreyfuss. (NBC)
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Jeremy Barr

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On July 3, a few weeks after the 39th anniversary of its release, Emily Dreyfuss, 30, and Ben Dreyfuss, 28, dissected, with surgical precision, Jaws, the 1975 blockbuster that helped cement their father, Richard, as a star of that quirky chapter in American cinematic history.

“Great film,” Ben wrote.

“Wonderful film,” Emily replied.

“Makes no sense,” Ben wrote.

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“Makes little sense,” Emily replied.

The piece, “Jaws Is Ridiculous, Say Kids Who Owe Everything to Jaws” started out as an instant message conversation between the two, before Ben decided—almost unilaterally—to publish it on the web site of Mother Jones, where he is social media editor. (“Ben put it in the system and said, ‘I’m publishing this story unless there are objections,’” Emily recalled.)

The Mother Jones post turned into an interview on NPR’s “Morning Edition” five days later. A few days after that, the siblings sat down for a segment with "NBC Nightly News." On Twitter, their father made light of the piece with pitch-perfect snark. “‘Jaws’ Is Ridiculous, Say Kids Who Are Now Out Of The Will,” he wrote.

It was something of a reveal for the pair. Though they’ve made no secret of their lineage, and though both are up-and-coming journalists in their own right—Emily is a news and opinion editor at Wired—neither had addressed the family history so publicly on their own terms.

“Someone came up to me last week at the office after hearing that NPR piece and was like, ‘DID YOU KNOW?’” Wired deputy editor Joe Brown said. “So it's not like a known fact at the office, either. Well, I guess now it is, since we all listen to NPR.”

Sitting in a Midtown Manhattan bar over happy hour drinks a few weeks later, the pair demonstrated a familial flair for the dramatic (their mother is actress Jeramie Rain). They’re funny. They gesture. They do voices. When they tell a story, they act out that story. The two said they were glad they published the Jaws chat without overthinking it.

“I actually do think it was good, because I have sometimes spent a lot of time trying not to be defined by who our dad is,” Emily said. “But I think if we had stopped to think about it for more than like five seconds, I would have thought, ‘Uh-oh, maybe we shouldn’t publish this, because then it’ll be so much about dad being a movie star.’ Actually, I was shocked that the response was so sweet. People thought it was funny and cute. It was really nice.”

Ben, who you might be familiar with through his unhinged Twitter persona, said “I never thought that people were going to be like, our worst case scenario, which is, people are going to point at you and be like, ‘Wow, brat. You undeserving son of a bitch.’”

He went on.

“I knew that wasn’t going to happen,” he said. “But that is like the horror story we’ve been telling ourselves in our minds for our entire lives.”

Ben, after graduating from New York University in 2008, spent three years trying to make it as an actor in Los Angeles. It didn’t work out. Meanwhile, Emily was working her way up—from a local newspaper in Connecticut, to an alt-weekly and eventually to the tech site CNET in San Francisco, where she began as a copyeditor before eventually editing the homepage.

When Ben started looking for options outside acting, a social media position at CNET seemed to be a good fit. He’d been honing his voice on Twitter. She vouched for him, and he landed the job.

“It was like the most nerve-wracking time of my life because I was moving up the ranks at CNET,” she said. “At that moment, I was both so excited for him to have a full-time and also so nervous that he would fuck it up and it would reflect badly on me. … or that it would just be weird to work together.”

It wasn’t weird, and they proved to be quite the newsgathering duo (like Woodward and Bernstein, Ben said).

He credits the CNET gig, and Emily’s influence, for his journalism career.

“People like to say that I have everything I have because of nepotism from my father, but the truth is that it’s nepotism from my sister,” he said.

When Ben and Emily have previously found their way into the news for reasons other than their journalism, they’ve been identified—to their slight irritation—by their fatherly connection.

In 2009, Ben fired some profane shots at MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Twitter in response to a comment about the relative popularity of liberalism and conservatism. Gawker wrote up the exchange, and mentioned the actor: “Swearing and booze references dotted Joe Scarborough's feud with Richard Dreyfuss' son.”

Last June, the Associated Press wrote up a story when Emily inadvertently received confidential H.R. documents from Banana Republic. She had attempted to order a tie set online.

CBS’ New York affiliate published the wire story online under the headline “Oscar-Winning Actor’s Daughter Gets Quite A Surprise From Banana Republic,” replete with a giant picture of Richard Dreyfuss’ smirking face.

Ben was a CBS employee at the time (the network owns CNET), but was already in talks with Mother Jones. He sent an angry internal email about the piece.

“That was just an insane thing to do,” he said. “And I stand by my outrage at that.”

So what does their father make of their careers?

“There are no words in total or in combination that could reflect my feelings about the kids, Harry included,” Richard Dreyfuss told Capital in an email. “They justify Evolution.”

(Their youngest brother, Harry, 23, is an actor.)

“He’s so happy that we’re not lawyers,” Emily said. “I think that was just his biggest fear.”

“Dad is actually thrilled that we’re in journalism, way more than if we had gone into either law or acting,” Ben added. “He very much is like one of those Baby Boomers who remembers ‘All The President’s Men.’”

And their public radio appearance might have been the start of an ongoing relationship.

“When we got off the phone with NPR, they were like, ‘Maybe you guys should do a segment where you review old movies for us,” Emily said. “And then we were like, ‘We’ve been waiting our whole lives for someone to ask for us to do that.’ And I think they were just being polite, but we are going to send them a follow-up email.”

“We are going to send so many gift baskets if that’s what we need,” Ben said. “We’re just going to haunt their children and their children’s children until…”

Emily tagged in: “ ….until Steve Inskeep is like, ‘I regret my whole life.”