CITY ISLAND: STUMBLING TOWARDS A STARTDATE PT. 2
Through all of the ups and downs I've been describing--the feeling that we had a movie about to really happen and the concurrent feeling that we were in the midst of multiple rugs being yanked out from under us--the life-saving event was::
The recce. Short for: Reconnesaince trip. Or: location scout.
Every day a group of us would pile in a van--me, our location manager, production designer Franckie Diago, a couple of PA's and off we'd go to check out various prisons, houses on City Island, possible midtown offices, theaters, streets in Tribeca, etc.
No matter how weird it was to be starting this movie with two big parts uncast, these journies made it feel like we were going to make the damn thing no matter what. Except for the occasional times when they didn't provoke that reaction and instead made me yearn for a life owning and living over a liquor store in Vermont. (This idea, for some reason, has been a soothing concept of disappearence for me for many years...) Best of all, though, was our growing familiarity with City Island itself--the place was beginning to feel like a second home to us as we met the locals--all of them terribly nice and welcoming--and finally found our "hero house".
The Rizzo house, in the movie, is in fact half of a "two family house"--a wonderful, early 20th Century quasi-Victorian pile with round windows, glassed in porches, wide decorative archways and terrific views of the water and, in the not too far distance, the Manhattan skyline. We fell in love with this house immediately and were fortunate to be able to secure it as our main location. By shooting it from certain angles, we concealed the fact that it was only half of an attached house--in fact, I don't think anyone's ever caught on to this who's seen the movie. The house conveys a convivial, old-world spirit and was in just the right state of semi-dilapidation that it truly would have been in the Rizzo's hands.
But back to cast: Andy had the idea that the part of Molly --recently Chloe Sevigny's and now clearly not hers--would be well served and sparklingly realized by his friend Emily Mortimer, with whom he'd been in several Pink Panther movies with and whose offscreen humor sounded like a distressingly good match for mine and Andy's. So we sent her the script.
And bingo! She loved the part and we made arrangements to meet for coffee at a far too precious joint in Brooklyn near where she lives. Once she showed up, I liked the place a hell of a lot better. Emily would be a delightful Molly--proof, really, that problems really do happen for good reasons.
Which would lead one to think that our problems casting Joyce Rizzo would also soon be over. If you read interviews with actresses approaching or just passing the age of forty, certain themes tend to reoccur. Usually they complain a lot about the parts they are offered. Hollywood, it seems, doesn't respect women over thirty. They don't believe "older" women can be desirable, sexual beings. They don't get offered parts featuring "strong" women, mothers, professionals who are also...sexy, I guess is the missing component. You've read this rant before if you read People, Entertainment Weekly, Premiere, Vanity Fair.
So the good news, I thought, is that we were offering just such a role: a mother, a working woman, a strong personality, and still a stunner--capable (SPOILER ALERT) of being attractive to a man half her age...who her husband brings home from prison...who she doesn't know is her husband's...(enough). We made a list of appropriate actresses and prepared to spring into action. We were a "go" movie, with a start date only a few weeks away. We would make the offers to these lucky women one at a time (protocol demands this), give them a couple of days to consider it and then move on in the unlikely event they turned us down.
First up, I think, was Laura Linney. She passed. Second up was Patricia Clarkson. Also a quick pass. Laura Dern anyone? Pass.
Marisa Tomei? Pasadena! Before we knew it, a week was turning into two weeks, our start date loomed ever closer and all of those movies that don't write roles for strong women who are also mothers and also sexual suddenly looked pretty smart--they didn't write them because actresses didn't want to do them. I honestly do think that a big turn off was the fact that the Rizzo's have two teenage children--in the real world, of course, people have kids in their twenties but in Hollywoodland the idea of being in your early forties with teenagers seems...unnecessarily hurried...
Then we got an interesting bite. Mary-Louise Parker, from "Weeds" (and much much more) liked the script. Well that was a relief. A phone call was set up--she was in LA--and I spoke with her. She sounded terribly bright and genuinely enthusiastic, though she stopped short of actually saying she would do the movie. She said she needed to work something out, maybe it could happen, she knew I was in a time crunch and wouldn't hold me up...
And so we waited another couple of days to see if Mary-Louise Parker would be Andy's wife...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 8:31 PM