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Were you very involved in the casting?
I was. I had some very specific casting ideas. What's interested, being on that side of it, too, is -- I don't have a lot of experience with producing and working in conjunction with a studio -- it's interesting the lists of names and people that are thrown to you and suggested. It's a matter of kind of gently massaging it to get closer to the people that you originally perceived. Or to get the studio to understand the tone of the movie you're looking for. There were a lot of people interested in doing the movie but we had a very specific idea as to the types of actors that we felt would be right.
As a producer, do you have the ability to sort of skip over traditional channels and just call James Gandolfini and ask him if he wants to do it?
No, we went through all the channels. It's not like I have James Gandolfini on speed dial. It's fun, though, because there's all these people that I idolize and respect. Alan Arkin, as far as I'm concerned, I always want to be in movies with him. This is the third time I’ve been able to. I am, frankly, always looking for opportunities to work with him. He’s the greatest guy ever and one of my idols. You look at someone like Steve Buscemi or James Gandolfini and they’re just people I admire so highly. I would be too nervous to call them on the phone and say, “Hey, you want to be in this movie?” You just sort of cross your fingers and hope they like the script. When the did, I remember seeing Steve for the first time. He was so giddy about it. He couldn’t wait. They actually postponed “Boardwalk Empire” by a couple of weeks so that he could fit it all in his shooting schedule. He was really, really committed to doing it. I just had the best time.
Do you watch Boardwalk Empire? Do you see a different side of him?
The first time I watched Boardwalk, it was the first season. I was visiting my parents in Florida and they had gone to bed at, like, 7:30, so I had the whole night. I started watching and they had it on sort of a marathon. I watched one after another after another. I must have watched five episodes in one sitting and was immediately hooked. He is so good on that show.
What made you think of him for this part?
The part has a sort of innocence and a naiveté. He’s very kind and a very generous soul. I think that’s a part that -- I mean, he’s a great actor, apart from anything else. He could play every part in this movie and be fantastic at it. But he just seemed exactly right. And man is he funny. He’s just so good. He’s real. He makes very specific and clean choices. I’m a huge admirer.
How do you feel about lots of takes versus very few and what’s the most takes you’ve ever done?
The most takes I’ve ever done? On The Office there was a scene with a director who I think only did one episode who had us do a scene 50 or 60 times. Over and over and over. I think that that’s the most takes I ever did. At a certain point, it’s diminishing returns. You can get all hooked up on something and wanting to make it perfect or not finding something. Ultimately, when you go back and look at it, take three is probably the one they’re going to use. At least I find. Doing it 40, 50 or 60 times isn’t usually going to help anyone. It’ll just bum people out and you’re not finding anything new. If you’re finding new things, that’s always fun. And if you have time. That’s the other thing. On a movie on a budget with a limited shooting schedule -- I think we’re shooting for 47 days -- it’s pretty tight. It’s not like we have days. Today we shot a bunch of the wirework this morning and then this scene in the afternoon. On any other movie or a bigger budgeted movie, you’d be doing wirework just one day. Just that scene in and of itself. That has a lot to do with how many takes you think you can use. But I think that, after a certain point, it just doesn’t help. You may think you’re coming up with new and inventive stuff but, at a certain point, it just becomes -- somebody said and I don’t remember who -- it just becomes hamburger.
What’s it like working with Don? He sets the tone completely. Everybody loves him and everybody respects him. That comes from his sense of respect for everybody else. The cast and the crew. Everybody. He creates a really positive, fun environment. He knows what he wants. He has a great eye. He’s very efficient. He’s good. He knows how to move things along and make his day. He’s great. He’s just fun. He’s incredibly positive. He came in Friday and had watched a bunch of footage and was just so ebullient. He was glowing about what he’d seen so far. He was so happy. It’s pervasive. You really feel how genuine he is.
What did Tina [Fey] tell you about him? She said he was -- and it was short e-mail -- she said, “He is the best.” I e-mailed her and said, “What’s your take on Don? You know him.” She said, “Don is the best.” And I think she was mad that we stole him. He is, though. He’s doing the best job.
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