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The Fabelmans' Judd Hirsch Took Up Acting Because There Was 'Nothing Else' That Interested Him - Exclusive

Judd Hirsch has enjoyed a 50-year career as an actor, appearing on stage, film, and television steadily since the early 1970s. He's such a staple of the screen that the 87-year-old actor seems perpetually youthful; as he told the New Yorker recently, Hirsch once met Colin Powell, and the former Secretary of State was incredulous at his age. "He could not believe I was older than him," Hirsch said. "Two years!"

Yet Hirsch nearly didn't embark on the journey that led him to shows like "Taxi" — and most recently, films like Steven Spielberg's "The Fabelmans." In "Fabelmans," Hirsch plays Uncle Boris, an ex-circus performer who imbues Sammy (Gabriel LaBelle) with a sense of wonder and caution at becoming a performing artist. During an exclusive interview with Looper, Hirsch explained how he found his own vocation through a process of elimination, ultimately realizing that he could do "nothing else" but act in order to keep himself happy.

'Other people are going to have to be involved'

As Uncle Boris explains to Sammy in "The Fabelmans," the life of an artist isn't a casual or frivolous one, but actually a life of devotion and sacrifice in favor of one's passion. A popular colloquial term for this seduction by and obsession with performing is known as "the acting bug," and as Judd Hirsch told Looper, that "bug" didn't bite him right away.

"The bug hit me later," Hirsch explained, "when I realized there was nothing else." Being a dutiful young man, Hirsch attempted a variety of jobs and pursuits, but he said, "Everything else that looked successful — learning, college, studying, applying, working as [whatever] — was uninteresting."

Hirsch found himself at an impasse with his indecision: "The question was, 'What is interesting?' and the answer was, 'I'm going to need a psychologist for this, folks, because I don't know how to make myself happy. I really don't.'"

Eventually, Hirsch had a revelation that "other people are going to have to be involved" to keep him happy and fulfilled. Explaining his need for collaboration, Hirsch continued: "You have to know other people. You have to want to be with a bunch of other people. You have to want to have relationships of some sort." Thinking back on what had made him happiest as a boy, he realized, "'We had fun in school.' Why? Because I was with all the kids. Where do you do that? In the theater."

Having finally realized what brought him joy, Hirsch focused his efforts on being an actor, and his continued success only proves that he made the right choice all those years ago. From appearing in beloved TV shows to Tony-award-winning plays to a role in the latest Spielberg film, it's clear that Judd Hirsch found his calling.

"The Fabelmans" is in theaters now.