MAKING CITY ISLAND: PRE-PRE-PRE PRODUCTION PT.2
I met Marcia Gay Harden at the Four Seasons Hotel in LA, where she was getting ready to do a slew of promotions for a very good movie she did with Richard Gere called "Hoax" (concerning the author Clifford Irving, who wrote a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes). It must have been mid-morning on a weekend, because the dining room/salon was eerily empty--she walked in looking around a little perplexed, as if everyone had been evacuated for some reason.
We introduced ourselves, I told her how much I liked her work, she said nice things about the script. And then an interesting thing happened: she began to interview me. Or so it seemed. Rather than let the meeting be about me checking her out for the role (which it never really was to begin with), she made sure--with grace and skill--that the shoe was on the other foot; was I a clear-headed, together enough filmmaker for her to be willing to work with--that seemed to be the guiding vibe of the first part of our conversation. I love when actors take situations in their own hands and so I was more entranced by the shift than thrown by it. After awhile we seemed to relax into every day stuff. I remember talking with her about her kids, my son, where she lived in New York, etc. She was at once frank, funny and also just self-protective enough to send you a clear message: she didn't go where she wasn't comfortable. No way.
Fortunately, she was comfortable enough to allow us to go ahead and use her name to help get the movie up and going. She was excited, I was delighted, Andy was pleased. We had a Joyce Rizzo and a damn good one--a true "actor's actor".
Next I met Steven Strait. Since the Four Seasons had been good luck for me with MGH, I suggested it as a possible meeting spot. The time was early evening on a Saturday. This time the place was jammed. Loud. Oppresive. As show-bizzy and uptight and see-and-be-seen, if-you're-nobody-then-piss off, as you could imagine. I instantly regretted the choice--this young actor who I'd never met would no doubt think I was yet another glad-handing, West Hollywood-cruising, scene-making, show-biz addicted wannabe. Indeed, I remember thinking to myself, maybe I really was all of those things and it was time to face who I'd become.
Fortunately Steven--young in years, aged in wisdom and serenity--didn't seem to care one way or the other. He is such a commanding presence--not just because of his super-handsomeness, but because of his aforementioned calm, his sweet and accepting nature--that the role reversal here was similar to my meeting with Marcia but for different reasons. People looked at us, wondering who the middle-aged shlub was, lucky enough to be sitting and hanging out with the young handsome actor who was in that caveman movie. I'm sure most of them thought I was a publicist of some sort. Or, more likely, a journalist in search of a raggy little interview...
Though I didn't know Steven's work, I had an immediate sense that he would bring a lovely complexity to the role of Tony Nardella, a jailbird from age eighteen on who suddenly, mysteriously, is plucked out of prison by a guard and taken into the guards home for reasons he can't comprehend. Tony needed to seem tough and lost enough to have already become who he is. He also needed to be the voice of calm, the prematurely mature one in the household of raging loony's that the Rizzo's had become. By the end of our meeting, I knew Steven was our guy.
Next was Chloe Sevigny. I bet you think I met her at the Four Seasons. Well, no. She was in LA, doing publicity for "Big Love" and they'd put he at the Chateau Marmont on Sunset. So we met there. This time, Andy Garcia accompanied me and I remember sitting out in the pretty, smog-choked patio garden talking with her about the role of Molly. She liked the script and liked the other cast we had. This, by the way, is how these things build upon each other--each additional actor added to the cast enhances the appeal for other actors to come aboard, never mind the fact that we still didn't have money to make the damn thing.
The one thing about Chloe that I remember thinking was a just a bit...well, let's not say strange since we are talking about the co-star of Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny" and so strange is perhaps to be expected of Chloe. I remember thinking, though, that there was a slight tinge of puzzlement, of not quite seeming to know why we were so interested in her for the movie. She was demur about her abilities--charmingly so and incorrectly I think--and didn't delve deeply into the script or role. Things stayed pleasant and on the surface. It didn't bother me and at the time I put it down to actor insecurity--actors really do come in all shapes and sizes and not everyone has the personal command of Marcia Gay Harden, or the cool charm of Andy Garcia. But I remembered this initial impression of Chloe months later--and then I think I finally understood what her reticence was really about. That's down the road though.
So we had four great actors attached to our script. It was early fall, 2007. We'd been at work on the project, Andy and I, for almost a year. Not a bad place to have gotten to. Alas, still not one red cent toward production seemed to be in view...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 1:02 PM