MAKING CITY ISLAND: THE CASTING TRAP PT.2
I knew Michael Chiklis from his then newish show, "The Shield", as well as his turn playing Curley Howard in a surprisingly good TV biopic about the Three Stooges. His acting was dynamic, he was tough and he also had a pathos that I thought might make him a good Vince Rizzo. He was Greek, not Italian, but who cared really? The other thing I liked about him was that, while he was certainly well known, he wasn't a mega-over-the-top-super-duper-A-list movie star...in other words, we stood a good chance of getting a fairly quick reaction as to whether or not the script was for him.
And we did. Almost immediately we got word from his agent that he really liked it! Never before in my career has the first actor I've sent something too evinced immediate interest. I was in New York but hopped on a plane to LA to have a lunch meeting with him. My producers seemed pleased and I was delighted.
Michael and I met and liked each other quite a bit. I saw a version of Vince Rizzo in the man-- tough, demanding and also sweet, funny and a bit...insecure, perhaps? Michael had recently lost a lot of weight and undergone a kind of image makeover to become the star of "The Shield." This was clearly somebody who went after what he wanted in life--and he was unabashed at telling me that he loved Vince Rizzo and wanted to be in my movie.
I flew back to New York and reported on my meeting to my producers. And they were happy too. Kind of. But I began to sense a reserve coming from them. Every time we spoke about the female roles, the names they were suggesting got bigger and bigger. What about Meryl Streep as his wife? What about Cate Blanchett as Molly, his friend in the acting class with whom he shares his big secret? Aside from the fact that most of the names didn't really seem right for the roles, they also seemed--somehow lopsided. Like our three million dollar movie with a respected TV name in the lead was teetering one way, while being overloaded on the opposite end with star power it probably couldn't accomodate.
Ultimately, though, I began to sense that the problem was one of expectations. You see, nobody really expects the first person you offer a movie to take it. Once Michael said yes, I think my producers began to wonder along these lines: "If the first guy who we tried loves it, maybe we can get..." And the names start swirling about: De NIro! Bruce Wills! John Travolta! You name it.
Well, humans are human and often times we have trouble accepting good fortune. While I really liked Michael and kept pushing to get the movie started by the upcoming break in his TV schedule, my producers seemed to be sliding in the other direction. Things got slower, the budget seemed to be getting smaller and more and more impossible names were added to the female roles list, and soon Michael Chiklis--no dummy, he--began to get a whiff that something was not going right. Who could blame him for being a little pissed? We offered him a movie, he said yes, the director wanted him and suddenly the whole thing seemed to lose momentum. Then he was offered a part in "The Fantastic Four" and, of course, he took it. That was that. We'd lost his window...and his interest.
I was depressed. We'd somehow torpedoed an opportunity that we'd created. Now we had to start all over again. My producers didn't seem daunted. After all, the first time out of the box we scored. How hard would it be to get a Vince Rizzo? Lets go to the agencies and try to land a big tuna! Travolta! Willis! Brad Pitt! Why not one of them?
A year later we were still waiting for our calls to be returned...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:20 PM