Though seemingly far from over, John Turturro's career received a crowning award from the Miami International Film Festival Sunday night. The beloved character actor and director arrived in Miami to receive his 2014 Career Achievement Award on stage at the Olympia Theater at Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. The night also featured the Miami premiere of his latest directorial effort co-starring Woody Allen, Fading Gigolo.
After MIFF executive director Jaie Laplante offered his praise for both Turturro's acting and directing talents, a montage of his performances and clips from several of his feature films filled the big screen. The scenes played out against gradually swelling, somber orchestral music, but ranged the gamut from the silly (Bumblebee the Autobot "lubricating" Turturro's character from a "crotch hatch" in Transformers) to the soul-stirring (Bernie Bernbaum pleading for his life in Miller's Crossing). There must have been a few "achievers" in attendance, as Turturro's appearance as "the Jesus" from The Big Lebowski received the most applause over any clip in the mix.
Following the montage, Laplante invited Turturro to join him on stage, and most of those in attendance at the sold-out theater rose to their feet for a standing ovation. The actor/director accepted the award with sincere modesty, noting that what he does is just a job, and he "appreciates those who appreciate my work."
Before the movie began, Laplante invited New York-based film critic David Edelstein of New York magazine, NPR's Fresh Air and CBS Sunday Morning up on stage to interview Turturro. After they settled into large arm chairs below the screen, Edelstein said, "Thank you to the Miami International Film Festival for granting my request to talk to one of my existential heroes."
Edelstein did not hold back, as he considers Turturro a friend and neighbor. He recalled first noticing him in William Friedkin's 1985 crime drama To Live and Die in L.A.
"Either he was going to be one of our best actors of our time or one of the worst."
Turturro took it all with a good sense of humor. Edelstein spent most of the interview examining his latest film. He asked tacky but relevant questions that invited Turturro to look even better than one expected (that's a selfless interviewer). He asked why the past-his-prime gigolo who Turturro plays in the movie was so in demand by such pretty women like those played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. "Are we to assume he's hung like a horse?"
After the laughs, Turturro offered a poignant explanation. "What interested me is people have a hunger to connect, to be touched," he explained in part, an answer that was met with applause.
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But the biggest applause of the night came when Edelstein addressed what he called the "elephant in the room," how has the latest scandal involving Woody Allen factored into how Turturro has presented the film. "I don't talk about people's personal lives," he said to swelling applause, and concluded, "and I would work with him again."
Though the award marks a milestone in his career, Turturro does not seem to be slowing down. He has a sixth directorial effort and three acting roles in post-production, according to IMDB.com. He's also closing in on 100 acting roles since 1980.
If you missed Fading Gigolo at MIFF, fear not. The film has a distributor and it is scheduled to make a theatrical run in South Florida in May.