The four years he spent as fictional head of casino security Big Ed Deline on the now-defunct NBC show "Las Vegas"? He was lowered to doing the TV role by a film drought. "It's sort of the difference between wanting to work and having to work," Caan says.
His role alongside Sarah Jessica Parker and Nicolas Cage in the 1992 "Honeymoon in Vegas"? It was fun, but hardly a favorite.
And his little-noticed star turn as Kirsten Dunst's father in the 2000 stinker "Luckytown?" "I can honestly say, other than that one, I never set out to do a movie for money," he says.
And yet, even so, Caan has long loomed over the city's landscape with friendships that drew him in over the decades with the likes of Dean Martin, Steve Wynn and, more recently, Jeffrey and Don Soffer, developers of the $3-billion Fontainebleau resort being built on the Strip. (Caan is a minor investor in the project.)
Regarding the CineVegas award, "we wanted it to go to someone who had not only been in films that were about Las Vegas, but we wanted it to be somebody who really embodies the spirit of the city," says fest artistic director Trevor Groth. "The first person who came to mind when we set that criteria was James Caan."
The 10-year-old event, which runs tonight through June 21, features about 90 films, including the world premiere of Rainn Wilson's “The Rocker” tonight and the Colin Hanks-Tom Hanks flick “The Great Buck Howard” on June 21 at the Brenden Theatres inside the Palms Hotel-Casino. It will also include tributes to and/or live Q&As with other honorees such as Viggo Mortensen, Anjelica Huston, Rosario Dawson, Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle.
Caan, 68, is slated to attend the award ceremony on June 20 at the Planet Hollywood Resort. (His son, Scott, was an award winner for his directorial debut "Dallas 362" at the 2003 fest.) Yet don't expect Caan to use the moment to promote his latest film, “Get Smart,” in which he has a cameo as the president of the United States: He views it as part of a failure of Hollywood creativity.
"I think that people must be taking drugs, because they can't come up with anything new or maybe every story's already been told," he says. "That's why I'm looking for writers and waiting for something good to come along."
He's hoping that might arrive in the form of a double billing with Robert Duvall in a film with a working title of "La Linea," based on the true stories of men known as "tick riders" who patrol the Texas-Mexico border making sure diseased animals don't cross.
If that doesn't work out, he muses, he may have other options.
"I'm trying to convince Donnie and Jeffrey [Soffer] to maybe hire me as the head of security for the Fontainebleau, since I have some experience now," he quips. "Lord knows, I need a good job."
Steve Friess co-hosts the Vegas-centric celebrity interview podcast "The Strip" at TheStripPodcast.com.
CINEVEGAS XWHERE: Brenden Theatres, Palms Hotel-Casino, 4321 W. Flamingo Road; June 20 honorees reception at Planet Hollywood Resort-Casino, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd S.
WHEN: Today-June 21
PRICE: $10, most films; $15-$45, special events
INFO: (888) 8VEGAS8, cinevegas.com