WAMG Interview: John Turturro – Writer, Director, and Star of FADING GIGOLO
Interview conducted by Tom Stockman August 14th, 2014
Despite his appearance and the roles you’ve often seen him in before, it turns out that actor John Turturro is one sexy stud! In FADING GIGOLO he’s nothing like the nervous genius he played in QUIZ SHOW, or the angry hothead from DO THE RIGHT THING, or that weasel Bernie Bernbaum he played in MILLER’S CROSSING. No, in FADING GIGOLO, which Turturro wrote, directed, and starred in, he played Fioravante, an honest-to-goodness gigolo whose eagerly-paying clientele include Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone! With Woody Allen as Murray, his unlikely pimp, FADING GIGOLO sounds like the most oddball vanity project project to come down the pike in decades. But FADING GIGOLO was a funny, gentle, and surprisingly sensitive comedy with a witty script, amusing characters and a jazzy sense of life in New York that felt like an old-fashioned Woody Allen movie, even though Woody merely costarred. FADING GIGOLO was released on DVD and Blu-ray this week and John Turturro took the time to talk about the film, working with Woody, and bedding these beauties with We Are Movie Geeks:
We Are Movie Geeks: Hi John. I’m here in St. Louis. Have you ever been here before?
John Turturro: Yes I have. My wife was in a play a few years ago at the Repertory Company there and I went and saw her. Great city.
WAMG: I’ve been a big fan of your acting for a long time.
JT: Thank you.
WAMG: I remember the first time I took notice of you was when TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A. was new. There was a scene where William Peterson is interrogating you and you’re denying what he was accusing you of. He was a Secret Service agent and you were a criminal and he had to decide whether to believe you are not. It was a tricky scene and you were great in it.
JT: Well thanks.
WAMG: A couple of years later, I traveled almost an hour’s drive just to see you in a movie called MEN OF RESPECT.
JT: Right! My wife Kathy Borowitz was in that with me as well.
WAMG: Congratulations on FADING GIGOLO. Let me ask you a bit about working with Woody Allen. What was it like being on the set of the Woody Allen film HANNAH AND HER SISTERS back in 1986 when you were a young actor?
JT: Well, I only worked on that for a couple of days but yes that was a nerve-racking experience. A few years later I did another part in a movie with him, a movie by Doug McRath called COMPANY MAN, so I’ve known him a bit. He wanted me to work on another one of his films but there was a scheduling conflict and I wasn’t able to, but I’ve always known that he liked me and I’m certainly a big fan of his. We share the same haircut! I always thought it would be interesting if we did something together. I had not seen him act in a long time. I always liked when he acted. I always thought he was underrated, so I came up with an idea. I had a friend who had a bookstore that was going out of business. The guy was trying to figure out how he was going to make a living, how to reinvent himself. So I was thinking about that with Woody in mind and about how he could end up in this very unlikely business. Woody liked the idea and encouraged me to write it. In the middle of the project we worked together again in the theater. I did this series of three one-act plays. Woody wrote one of them. Elaine May and Ethan Cohen wrote the others. It was really doing that but I got to know Woody quite well and that really helped when I went back to finishing the draft of FADING GIGOLO.
WAMG: So it sounds like what he had a hand in the creative process.
JT: Well, he didn’t tell me what to do or what not to do but he did tell me what he liked. I was feeling him out. He encouraged me to make it as nuanced as possible and not to go for big broad things that couldn’t sustain themselves. A lot of times you’ll get these comedies that are really broad, and they’re okay for about a half an hour but we wanted to do something that was more sophisticated and what I am interested in, or at least something human.
WAMG: Did the actors in FADING GIGOLO stick very closely to your script or was there some improv that went on?
JT: No I’d say the only improv was with Woody, who came up with a couple of really funny lines. The original lines weren’t bad but I told him to try something else if he wanted to. He likes to be loose with his dialogue but he stayed pretty close to the script. But he’s the only one that did a bit of improv…and maybe one of the kids.
WAMG: You must have done a lot of research on the Hasidic Jewish community. Why was religion such an important element am FADING GIGOLO?
JT: Well I was thinking if you’re going to make a movie about sex you’ve got to put in some religion.
WAMG: They go hand-in-hand in your mind?
JT: They go hand-in-hand. Maybe less so in America but throughout the world, and throughout the history of the world it’s dominant in many ways. It gives you something to overcome. It gives you an immediate obstacle. And I think that something that’s positive that’s in the movie. When you don’t have an obstacle, sometimes it’s harder to dramatize things. So it’s something that interested me – even the absence of it interested me.
WAMG: Were the sex scenes in FADING GIGOLO difficult or awkward to film? Have you done a lot of sex scenes in films before?
JT: I’ve done a bunch, yeah, and they are always weird! The scenes that I think are more interesting are the scenes that lead up to the sex. But the actual filming of those scenes requires getting over some embarrassment and some careful choreography. It can look too vulgar and that can take people out of it, but then there’s people that want more of that. It depends what the tone of the film is. Sex scenes are tricky. You want people to look good and feel comfortable.
WAMG: Were there other actresses that you wanted to cast in the film but turned it down?
JT: No! I got everyone that I wanted. I think people were surprised by Vanessa Paradis. People really don’t know her very well as an actress and this was her first movie in English. She had done a lot of movies in France. All the ladies in the film are lovely but I think Vanessa is really a revelation. What she does in the film is really beautiful.
WAMG: You’ve worked with Peter Weir and Martin Scorsese, the Cohen brothers, and Spike Lee. Were there things from those experiences that you picked up as a director?
JT: Well, you learn from everybody you know. You learn how different directors approach things, how they set the tone, how involved they are . Most directors are involved in the whole visualization of their films, the costumes and everything. And the script too, even if they didn’t write it. Making a movie is all about the details. But I certainly have an advantage working with so many great directors.
WAMG: You’ve been acting for a long time and this is your fifth film as a director. Do you think it is easier to a direct a film in which you were starring in?
JT: Not necessarily, no. I didn’t do that in ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES and I didn’t do it in PASSIONE which was more of a documentary . Sometimes there’s an advantage because you can just get on with it. You know what you want. As Woody puts it, there’s one less person to talk to.
WAMG: The films that you have directed have been smaller scale art films. But you’ve acted with Adam Sandler and you’ve starred in the Transformers movies. If you were offered the chance to direct a $150 million Blockbuster would you jump at it?
JT: No I’ve been offered some movies that were more commercial to direct but there was only one that I considered. I try to direct stuff that I would like to see. Then again, if it was something that I thought I could do something really well with, I wouldn’t say no to it but I certainly wouldn’t pursue it. But I don’t even see a lot of those movies. Something big doesn’t necessarily mean something good. I mean you can go to a supermarket but will you get better meat there than at the local butcher shop? I would personally rather go to the butcher shop and pay more money. First of all, I know the guy and I can have a conversation with him and it doesn’t have those awful fluorescent lights.
WAMG: What’s next for John Turturro?
JT: I’m acting in this eight part series for HBO. Steve Zaillian and Richard Price wrote it. Steve directed it and I start shooting in September. I think it will be very very good.
WAMG: Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to We Are Movie Geeks and good luck with all of your future projects.
JT: Thank you