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There are people in this world that are simply destined for greatness. They build skyscrapers, they heal the sick and they lead revolutions. From the outside looking in, Wayne Beering and Buck Dolby, the characters played by Giovanni Ribisi and Gabriel Macht in Middle Men, don’t appear to be these kind of people. Who expects one of the most important technological advances of last 100 years to created by two drug-addled losers in a Van Nuys apartment?
I had the opportunity to sit down with Ribisi and Macht to discuss the film, touching on subjects such as improvisation, the research to build the characters, and taking a trip to the not so distant past.
When you look at a script and it’s about porn, is there a hesitancy about signing on?
Giovanni Ribisi: Well, just by virtue of the fact that George Gallo was written on the front page of it, it already has an incredible pedigree there. He’s just an incredible. Opening up to read it you know it’s going to be a lot more than that. And for me, I think that that’s sort of the mise en scene of it to a certain degree, but I think that ultimately it’s about so much more it’s about America and the American dream and how these guys go in and achieve that and almost get bombarded by it and eventually get devoured. The movie is almost like a classical epic story, on greed and lust and what people would do, the extent of that underbelly of people in America
Gabriel Macht: I agree in many ways with what Giovanni is saying, for a moment I was hesitant of getting into some of the arena in which we play. There’s a scene where we talk about what kind of names for websites, and there was a moment there. I was like, “Do I really want my daughter seeing her daddy twenty years from now talking about ass banging housewives?” And there was something there that I was like I’m not so comfortable about, but then I thought this is just a little minor part and it’s actually funny stuff and it’s done in a very light sort of way.
GR: I think that our concern was initially just something that applies to getting into any independent film situation where “are they going to do this for the right reasons or is it going to be of a more exploitative nature?” and what project could you do that more with than this. And I think that they really did go in the right direction with it. I definitely get even choked up at certain points, especially at the end when he’s coming down the escalator. I think, across the board, the editing, the cinematography, the acting, the directing and the music in the movie is just really phenomenal. I think that a lot of people are responding to the film in the same way.
GM: To add on to that, it’s like it does seem like a studio film done in an independent way. The actors that George and Chris [Mallick] surrounded us with are all A-list, talented actors, and the department heads were all working in some great films. When you have that around you and such a script it has a lot of weight and is, like Giovanni said, sort of the American dream that collapses.
GR: Poignant and relevant as well.
GM: Then you got to bank on that it’s going to be okay, and I think that’s what we did and I think that’s what we came up with.
Did you get insight from the guys who were doing this at the time and what kind of research did you do?
GR: The story’s based on the true story of Chris Mallick, it’s based on his life and he was there producing the movie and he financed the movie. So the wealth of information came from him and a lot of the inspiration came from him, all of the stories that he would tell. Honestly, for these guys, I really do believe that if it was blenders it would have been the same thing for them as opposed to the porn industry or e-commerce. Of course I think that it’s definitely the obvious question that people have been asking: “How much did you masturbate for your research?” And no, it wasn’t about that, it really wasn’t about that for us. I think that it was ultimately about fulfilling what the characters were and the relationships and trying to tell a good story. I’ve been saying a lot today that George, in a way, just sort of the structure, the way he tells stories when he’s writing, it’s really like [Sam] Peckinpah: raw. He kept saying, there was this expression that he had, “Fuck you, keep up,” that’s what he said every day.
The film is unique in a way that it seems to be a period piece about the last ten years; it’s also very nostalgic in a sense. Do you guys see the film that way and what was interesting about the last ten years for you?
GM: I tried to bring some of that in through the wardrobe. Working with the wardrobe and working with the different hairstyles that Buck had. I would like to say I was pretty responsible for that. I spoke with wardrobe and we were on the same page, but I saw that character sort of not knowing who he was and wanting to be like the people he was surrounded by. So whenever he with the mafia he looked sort of a little more slick. What money does to a guy that feels that way and how tacky can he be where he actually thinks he’s strutting some really cool threads. There was an element of that, but also my cousins are computer entrepreneurs, internet/online guys, and I remember them wearing the Tevas and making that arc to trying to look real cool.
Did you guys ever have an improv moments when you started riffing off of each other especially during the heavy drug scenes?
GM: There was a lot improvised in those moments. We took what was in the script and we expanded on some of that, and George was really trusting of us and really allowed for us to take that and move on that. In those moments specifically there was a lot of improv. But the meat of the scene was always there in the script.
GR: It was the structuring, you have to start here and you have to end here, basically. And then a lot times I was just trying to contribute and come up with ideas and things to say.
GM: We came up with lines for the scene at times and we just sort of said, “this would be a great line for you to say,” or “this would be a great line for me, for my character.” We would help each other out with some of that stuff and it worked.