When Cultist sat down for an outdoor chat with John Turturro in the garden of The Standard Hotel, the actor and director was coming down from the high of the night before. His new film, Fading Gigolo, which he directs and stars in opposite Woody Allen, just played to a sold out audience at the expansive Olympia Theater at the Gusman Center For the Performing Arts in Downtown Miami. It was a centerpiece film of the Miami International Film Festival in March where it would later win the festival's prestigious Lexus Audience Award. That night, the film's presentation was preceded by a career achievement award tribute ceremony. It was a big night for Turturro, but he says he takes such occasions "with a grain of salt."
Sometimes awards like that can become burdensome for artists like Turturro who only want to create more work. He would prefer organizations keep the career tributes until when he's dead.
"I'm more appreciative of being able to do the things I want," he says. "That's what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times."
In the film, Turturro plays Fiorvanti, a bachelor florist who can do some handywork around homes but mostly keeps to himself. His pal Murray (Allen) says he is hoping to do a favor for his hot dermatologist, played by Sharon Stone. She wants to experience a three-way with her best friend, played by Sofía Vergara, but Murray is certainly not up to offering himself. So, he wants Fiorvanti to do it for some good money. The life of a fading gigolo can get complicated, and it certainly does when Murray gets more ambitious with his pimping, offering his friend up to a Hassidic woman played by a luminous Vanessa Paradis.
It's a funny film which demands some careful balance, and during the career tribute, following a montage of some highlights of Turturro's performances, he sat down for an interview with New York-based film critic and neighbor, David Edelstein. One of the topics they covered was working with Woody Allen. Cultist could not help but revisit some of those points, but also ask about themes in the film, and a breakthrough performance by Paradis.
Cultist: When you were talking about Woody and his input into the film, it almost sounded like he co-wrote it.
No, he didn't co-author. I wrote the script, but he definitely gave me merciless criticism: the structure, "this is too broad, this is that," so it was definitely more editorial. Then I would re-write it, and obviously after spending some time with him in the theater and re-writing it, I could hear his voice a lot. But he didn't tell me what to write. I let him improvise a little bit, and he came up with some really funny things, but he stuck to the script. He was very specific about what he liked and what he didn't like. I figured, if I wanted to do it with him, and I only wanted to do it with him, that I might as well digest his ideas, live with them for awhile or a month. Then I said, "well, let me try it." Now, I am over the shock of what he didn't like, and I think he really encouraged me to make the film more nuanced, and I did.
You said something great about his acting and comedy, how he brings a musician's intuition.
Absolutely. He's a comic/musician, and he's disciplined as hell. If you ask him to be a little more delicate and this and that [snaps fingers], he can do that. He can be bigger, and he can be serious ... He's really underrated. He's a really good actor, really good, and he's alive, and he can hold the screen. A lot of these comedians, their on television, but they couldn't hold the big screen. I mean, who really can? I guess Sandler in certain roles, he's been able, but Woody's performances, if you watch them, they really hold up. If you watch Annie Hall again, it really holds up. I mean, I'd work with Woody again [snaps fingers] in a heartbeat. I loved working with Woody. Of course, we spent a lot of time in order for me to be relaxed with him. That took a while because I go to know him, but my impulse was right.
But you knew him from before?
Yeah. We liked each other, but we really didn't get to know each other, doing theater, obviously, but I think you see that affection or whatever, that we liked each other. It's in the movie.
Yeah, it's very casual.
It's like we're not acting really.
But you go to some great places when you're acting. That montage at the tribute reminded me about some real intense performances.
Yeah, well, there's all different kinds of performances. I mean, people think of that, but I've done other movies like Boxing Moonlight or The Truce where my characters were much quieter, more contained, and I think those are just as good as anything of the things that are more explosive or bravura and stuff. When you can do that kind of thing people think, well, that's what he does, and I can do hopefully a variety of those things. Playing a character like this, I really liked a lot. I love playing someone quiet, because it's hard. It's very challenging. You have to modulate it just so, and sometimes it could be a little too much this way, and sometimes it could be a little too heavy, a little too light. You have to figure out what that is.
I did notice a subtlety to your performance of Fiorvanti because he has to be that way to handle the ladies who are also mature women, who already know what they want from men.
That's right, that's right. It depends what's asked of you. I play Billy Martin in [the cable TV series] The Bronx is Burning. It's different, so I love doing that. I would always like to play fantastic roles, but they're not always available. When there's less movies made, especially when you're not 25 or 30, unless you're on a television series, and one day I might do that, but it has to be something that would keep my interest.
We had a master class yesterday with this notable filmmaker from Chile, Alberto Fuguet. He was saying he's sick of Hollywood saying that when you're over 30, you don't matter anymore. I was wondering, did you encounter any resistance to this film?
Once I put it together, people were interested because Woody has a big following. Midnight in Paris did fantastic. Blue Jasmine is doing really, really well. Vicky Cristina Barcelona did really well. People now are realizing today that older people are going to the movies, too. When I was young, I always wanted to see movies about people who were older than me. I never wanted to see movies about 18-year-olds when I was 18. I was 18. Why would I care about that? I wanted to see people, like sexy older women. I still want to see it (laughs), which makes me feel younger than I am.
Where did you find Vanessa Paradis?
My agent. I can't imagine anybody playing that role the way she did it. Her performance is so finely done without this bravura around it. It's a beautiful, beautiful performance, and everybody in the movie felt that way; whole crew, Woody, Liev. They were like, "wow," and she's a huge talent, huge. I did this little short with her after that, I love Rio, which they asked me to do based on one of her songs from her new album, Love Songs, and that turned out completely different than this.
She's just somebody that I really connected with, and she sang a song in the movie, "Tu si' 'na Cosa Grande," Neapolitan. She learned it. That's the song at the end, when I'm walking down the street. That's her singing. Also, she's so different looking than Sofia and Sharon, but I always knew that character was always gonna be kinda the heart of the movie, but she exceeded my expectations. The movie really shifted more in that way, because I think what you see in her is something unusual.
She has this classic look like an actress from '60s Europe, like Monica Vitti.
Like Jeanne Moreau, Monica Vitti. She has this beguiling, bewitching aspect that, in the end, it's hard not to fall in love with her. Everybody on the crew loved her. I loved working with her. I think she can do a lot of different things, and I want to work with her again.
This is a very multi-cultural cast.
It's Latin, it's Spanish, it's Jewish, it's French, it's black. That's the world, that's my world. If I'm setting it in New York, I don't want to just say it's a black film or it's a Jewish film or a Spanish film. I thought that would be nice to see white Anglo-Saxon, Colombian, European. I'm comfortable in that world, so I thought, when I ride my bike around the park, that's what I see. Why not explore that?
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Fading Gigolo: Starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and M'Barka Ben Taleb. Written and directed by John Turturro. Opens Friday, May 2, at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro.
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.