John Turturro had Woody Allen's voice in his head when penning the script for his latest directorial effort, "Fading Gigolo," but the film owes as much to comedic collaboration as it does to the fact that their mutual barber couldn't keep a secret. "Don't tell Woody," Turturro apparently instructed his coiffeur after spilling the idea during a routine trim. Of course, telling Woody is exactly what he did and luckily Allen was sold on the concept almost immediately.
Acting for a director aside from himself for the first time in 14 years, Allen plays Murray, a bumbling bookstore proprietor who resorts to pimping out his younger friend, Fioravante (Turturro), when his business goes under. A jack of all trades who works primarily as a florist, the gentle Fioravante is able to satisfy the needs of his upper class clients with relative ease until Murray procures a Hassidic widow (played with great sensitivity by Vanessa Paradis) for his services.
For a premise that promises all shtick and no substance, "Fading Gigolo" offers a surprisingly tender portrayal of loneliness and connection in the big city—for every outlandish situational set-up there is an equally touching reminder of the base human need for companionship, both emotional and physical. Indiewire caught up with the affable Turturro to discuss sex, religion, and what it's like to direct Woody Allen. ["Fading Gigolo" opens in select theaters Friday, April 18.]
Fioravante is in many ways an everyman but there's also something indescribably magnetic about him—what inspired the character?
He's a quiet man, he could be in a Western…more of a taciturn guy. I thought it would be interesting to take a more verbal guy like Woody and pair him with someone quiet. Not that I'm not verbal at all—but exploring a man who's very good physically: he's good at cooking, making things, fixing this and that but he's not an ambitious person. I know people like that and they interest me. They're very attractive because they can do so much, they're not afraid to investigate. If a car breaks down most people don't know what to do but they get right in there.
Is it easier writing a script knowing you're going to play the main character?
Well it was really for me and Woody so I was concentrating on that dynamic initially. It was conceived for us. Woody liked the idea and I liked the idea, and in the end it was difficult to figure out how to skew it—how quiet to make [my character], would he be able to laugh and relax with his friends and then be quieter and more reserved with others? He's not a cold person; he's more a good listener. Once I figured that out—and Woody helped, obviously—I think the chemistry really worked. In some ways it's easier because I don't have to explain everything [to myself] and in some ways it's harder because I can't really watch myself. So it's trial and error and your cinematographer and editor have to help you a lot.
The idea of Woody Allen playing a pimp seems to promise caricature but I was pleasantly surprised to find his performance very toned down—he seemed entirely comfortable and natural.
I'm glad to hear you say that. Originally when I wrote the role it was broader, and Woody said "No, I'd like to something a little more subtle and sophisticated," and I was like "OK, I got it." That made it easier in some ways. What you see between us is what you see between two friends who can joust with each other or share an inside joke. You have to be able to have that between two people when you're working, you can't act that. So I think our enjoyment of each other, and having worked together in the theater, that helped a lot.
You had Woody's voice and your own voice in mind when you were writing the script but how did you go about casting the other roles? The chemistry between you and Vanessa Paradis also seemed very natural.
I saw [Vanessa] in this movie "Heartbreaker," it was a very emotional but very charming French movie and I knew her a little bit as a singer. And then I met her and we just clicked and I was like wow, she's great. When we worked together I brought her to Williamsburg to meet various people who had left the [Hassidic] community and she so enjoyed that process. We were scouting and it was sukkot--everyone was sitting around in the little cabanas they build. She met a lot of people because I used to go to this organization for people who had left [the community]—a place for them to connect and not feel ostracized. I just think she's a very rare person and she brought her empathy to the character. She's so graceful; she's one of those people who bring you to her. She doesn't go after you. Everyone on the set felt the same way about her.
I knew I wanted to have these different types of women, someone like Sharon [Stone] who's sophisticated but maybe lonely and someone like Sofia [Vergara] who's more of a free spirit (she's based on a friend of mine who designed my glasses). We really needed a balance and we have nice representation—even the smaller roles like Woody's girlfriend Tonya Pinkins and the girl at the end. I would have like to have more women—if it was a three-hour movie, maybe.