In building the backstabbing, outrageous, high-fashion world of “House of Gucci,” director Ridley Scott relied both on his own visual acuity and an openness to collaboration with his cast to bring the story of the murder of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver) at the hands of a hitman hired by his ex-wife Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga).
“The most important thing to do, apart from the script, is cast it well and learn to trust your actors’ intuition. You should be a partner with the actor in that process that allows his intuition or her intuition to kick in and help guide you,” Scott said during a post-screening Q&A last week at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, where he was joined by many members of his cast.
The screening, held at the brand-new 1,000-seat David Geffen Theater, was packed to its COVID-reduced capacity with SAG-AFTRA members and others, making it one of the first audiences to get a glimpse at the film that’s seemingly had awards buzz since it was announced. While Lady Gaga’s method turn has made headlines ahead of the film’s November 24 release (she said she spoke in her character’s Italian-accented English for nine months straight), it was Jared Leto who seemed to make the biggest impression on the Academy audience.
Leto, with his own, less Russian-sounding take on the movie’s Italian-English dialect (“It’s chic-a!”), said Scott initially eyed him for another role. But after reading the script, the Oscar winner fell in love with the character of Paolo Gucci, the black sheep of the dysfunctional fashion dynasty. He’d play Paolo, but on one condition. “I said to Ridley, ‘You know, I’d love to do this, but if I do, I’d go absolutely fucking crazy,'” Leto recalled.
With the help of hours of makeup, Leto’s transformation as Paolo makes the character an empathetic outsider, a dreamer who just wants permission to realize his off-kilter creative visions while tending to his pet pigeons. It was a “heartbreaking” performance, Q&A moderator Jenelle Riley said, a suggestion that was met with raucous applause. Paolo’s dreams are often put down by his father, fashion-house boss Aldo Gucci, played by Al Pacino in a performance met with similar affection by the audience.
“Sometimes you work with younger directors and they think that their job is to keep directing and never stop. But Ridley does a very wise thing that we can all learn from, which is he hires people that he really believes in,” Leto said. “He gives you the greatest gift, and that’s the gift of faith. And when you feel that, your entire world floats with productivity, confidence, and the ability to take risk.”
And you can count Pacino as among the Leto-devoted. “You have no idea how mind-blowing it is when this guy came in, dressed as Paolo, stood next to me — I was new in Italy — and I thought, ‘Who is this?,’ because he kept calling me ‘Papa!'” Pacino said. “Somebody, a sensitive person in the area, said, ‘Al, it’s Jared.’ I swear to you, I bowed to the floor. I remember, I said, ‘You are an inspiration. I can go on now.'”
If Leto and Pacino’s father-son pairing deliver on the kind of campy melodrama promised in the first “House of Gucci” trailer, a steady Driver is on the other end as Maurizio, whose romance with Patrizia builds to disaster as the impact of her manipulation lasts long after the pair split. Then there’s Salma Hayek as Pina Auriemma, the TV psychic who, at one point, speaks directly through the television camera to Patrizia, and to the audience itself.
Gaga is somewhere in the middle, delivering laughs and cold manipulation in her earnest performance. And while the film has already divided early audiences and critics, Gaga’s performance remains a highlight for many.
“Most people would be very excited to play a chancy, risky, gold-digging murderer who gets off on chaos and fucking up people’s lives,” Gaga said. “I thought, but what if I made her a real woman? There was almost no information about her pre-1995, which is when Maurizio Gucci was killed.”
“House of Gucci” is scheduled for a theatrical release on November 24 via United Artists Releasing (the distribution arm of MGM).