Earning a deserved nomination for Best Foreign Film at the 2012 Oscars felt like the perfect to cap a successful year for Michael Roskam and his rugged debut “Bullhead,” the enthralling Belgian character study with which he burst onto the scene. Be it courage or foolhardiness, something then convinced the young director to follow up with the daunting task not only of adapting a Dennis Lehane story, but also of pitting a downright intimidating cast of James Gandolfini, Tom Hardy, Matthias Schoenaerts and Noomi Rapace against each other.
Playing this weekend here at the Zurich Film Festival and currently playing in select theaters, “The Drop” is a deftly-executed crime drama and a thoughtful moral tale, with predictably impressive performances across the board. Indiewire spoke with Roskam about working with such an impressive cast, his love of Brooklyn and what’s next.
“It was great fun,” he said of working with Hardy and Schoenaerts on set. “I have to say that one of my guilty pleasures was sticking those two men in the entrance of a house where these two guys, full of energy, had only have one and a half square meter to work with.” He was quick to dispel any perception of spontaneity in the scenes between them, the choreography of which he claims the duo would prepare for and an hour-and-a-half. “I would tell them to keep it natural but they’d just say, ‘Dude, let us work,” he laughed. “And then everybody’s like ‘great directing’ but really my job was just not to interfere.”
Roskam insisted that he wanted Hardy because of his virile and powerful brand of acting, but also because he detected a “vulnerability, a sweetness” to him. “So there’s this Marlon Brando thing going on,” Roskam said, “but also that little bit of Gary Cooper I was looking for.” He said he wanted “The Drop” to play like what “‘Taxi Driver’ would’ve been if it had been directed by Capra.”
If the Dodgers cap stuck firmly on his head isn’t convincing enough, the Belgian’s affection for Brooklyn was made manifest when he indulged in an excited description of the neighborhood. “It was perfect for the film… blue collar, catholic and, sure, it’s America, but there are a lot of European echoes,” he said. “Brooklyn has so many faces.” Having spent a long period scouting shooting locations, which he described as an “anthropological expedition,” Roskam felt he got a good sense of the people who live there. “We tried to find a real bar to shoot the film, but they would never let us because they were afraid of losing their client after a period of closure, because their client are people from the neighborhood… they spend more time at the bar than in their own living room… something we also have in Belgium.”
Talk inevitably led to the subject of working with Gandolfini, who makes his last on screen appearance in “The Drop.” “He was funny as hell… very cheeky,” Roskam said of the late actor. “He would make funny jokes and often sit there and, you could tell from a distance, he would say something to Tom who would burst out laughing and he’d do that Gandolfini chuckle.” The death of the actor, he claims, was a huge surprise. “It’s not like he was an athlete, but we didn’t need a defibrillator for every scene to get him back on track’.”
He provided a heartwarming answer to why he fought to get him for the role: “I chose him because I love him. I love steak and fries, I love my wife, I love my son, I love my cappuccino, and I love James Gandolfini. Like Lehane said, he could turn street speech into a symphony and he would give fire and color to everything he did. I wish he could have seen the film, but his family came to see it and they loved it… I think their blessing was very important to me.”
There are exciting plans ahead for the director who said he is working on “one Belgian film and an HBO series with Michael Mann,” that he can’t say anything about.