John Dahl and Tea Leoni Interview – YOU KILL ME

     June 23, 2007

While John Dahl might not be a name you’re familiar with, you probably know his work as he’s the director of “Rounders” and “The Last Seduction.”

Tea Leoni is someone you probably know by name as she’s been in a number of big movies like “Bad Boys,” “Deep Impact” and “Fun With Dick and Jane.”

Well, the two of them have teamed up – along with Ben Kingsley – to make a movie about an alcoholic hit-man who has to move to San Francisco to get treatment. While he’s there he falls for a woman, Tea Leoni, and let’s just say things don’t happen like a typical Hollywood movie. People say and do things that are truly unexpected and surprising.

To help promote the movie Tea and John recently did some press and I was able to participate in a roundtable interview with the two of them. But before getting to the interview, here is the synopsis of the movie and here is a link to a previous article where I posted a number of movie clips.

Frank Falenczyk (Ben Kingsley) loves his job. He just happens to bethe hit-man for his Polish mob family in Buffalo, New York. But Frank’s got a drinking problem and when he messes up a critical assignment that puts the family business in peril, his uncle (Philip Baker Hall) sends him to San Francisco to clean up his act. Played with gruff charm by Kingsley, Frank is not a touchy-feely kind of guy. But he starts going to AA meetings, gets a sponsor (played by Luke Wilson) and a job at a mortuary where he fallsforthe tart-tongued Laurel (Téa Leoni), a woman who isdangerously devoid of boundaries. Meanwhile, things aren’t going well in Buffalo where an upstart Irish gang is threatening the family business. When violence erupts, Frank is forced to return home and with an unlikely assist from Laurel,faces old rivals on new terms.

Stylishly directed by John Dahl (Rounders, The Last Seduction), You Kill Me is the story of what happens when two mismatched people find a common calling. With dead-on performances by Kingsley and Leoni, You Kill Me is a street-smart mob comedy that scores a direct hit.

IFC Films will release the film in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington D.C and select additional markets on June 22, with expansion to additional cities on July 6.

As always, you can also listen to the interview as an MP3 by clicking here.

Question: Coming off a big war epic blockbuster, is this crime genre story more in your comfort zone?

John Dahl: Yeah, although it wasn’t much of a buster.

Tea Leoni: We thought there was John.

JD: No, I love doing these kind of films. They’re just hard to get made. Black comedies are always a challenge. If I take a script and I try to go out and cast it, people read it and go, “Eh, you know.” It’s a hard kind of film to get made because it’s hard to tell what’s going to be- – this film at least you start with the script, Ben Kingsley and Tea. Even at the beginning of that journey, it’s a little hard for people to see. But as you start to add more and more of the elements, it becomes a little more obvious to people the kind of movie it’s going to be. But as Hollywood becomes more interested in a way letting marketing departments dictate what kind of films they’ll make, because they’re so tired of going to meetings on Monday morning with the marketing guy saying, “See, we told you, you needed a…”

TL: A dog.

JD: They want things that are genres, things that are easier to sell. These are less obvious.

Even after Last Seduction and Rounders being critically acclaimed and having the lives they’ve had?

JD: Life is never easy, especially in Hollywood.

Tea, why do women get involved with men that aren’t good for them?

TL: Jesus. It’s funny that you say that because actually, I would say in this context that Frank is a perfect choice for Laurel. So he’s a drunk Polish hitman from Buffalo. The little things. I think that one of the things that attracted me to this script actually, there wasn’t that gratuitous monologue on page 45 where we find out why and how damaged Laurel is. And that this guy could come in and simply speak the absolute frank truth and how maybe inexplicably sexy that is. We’ve been trying to tell guys how sexy that is for centuries. They don’t seem to get it. And in that way, I think Frank was a great choice. I mean, I wouldn’t really want my daughter to date him but that’s just me.

Do women ignore their romantic shortcomings to fall in love?

TL: I hope not. That would suck.

Why do women have issues with boundaries?

TL: I think they’re accused of that issue. And I think probably there are habits that form. I don’t know. But I think for Laurel, I always found that a really equally endearing and unattractive quality of hers. I suppose probably because I could relate to it to a certain degree. In a way, I think anybody can. What are you willing to do, how far do you think you have to go, how loud do you have to be to get heard? I think that- – I don’t know, I don’t know if these are classically women’s issues or not but I really, in the end I really liked her. It took me a while to get to know her but I liked her.

Can you relate to her fearlessness?

TL: Actually, I think she has a lot of fear. I think she’s more awake to her fears maybe than most. So maybe she’s courageous in a sense but you could also say she was stupid or you could say she was exhausted. I don’t know but I expect that she recognized this guy, cloaked in alcoholism and murder.

Can you talk about working with Sir Ben?

TL: You could say Sir Ben.

JD: You can say Sir or you could say Ben.

TL: You can call me Ray. You know, the interesting thing about Sir Ben is that first of all, I didn’t know that you were supposed to do the Sir and then the first name, so when I first had lunch with him, I thought I was supposed to call him Sir Kingsley which frankly I thought was very sexy. Because Sir Ben, that’s sort of funny. What happens if your name’s Chuck? You’re going to be Sir Chuck? Whatever. I thought it was pretty sexy and I insisted on calling him Sir Ben long after he almost demanded that I not because how often are you going to get to make out with a knight? But he’s one of the most charming people I think I’ve ever met. And I say that because I think that’s part of the experience of working with him. It’s very hard to work with an asshole. Really. I don’t care how good they are, it’s very hard to get through to them. There’s usually some kind of pig headedness or disconnect. And he’s really available. He’s a very sensitive and interested person. We had really interesting talks about the character together and certainly when we all got to Winnipeg, we had a really- – those were some very interesting talks about the script and what we were doing. They weren’t your average run of the mill “so where’s the funny” kind of talks.

Did you learn anything working with him?

TL: Well, I think it’s hard to sort of say learn because then it sort of implies that I think I could throw it right back, and I don’t know that I’d ever be that good. But I certainly learned to appreciate what he offered as a fellow actor. I mean, I never felt like I was in the room alone or that he was. It really, when you work with him, it is like a tango. He really leans with you, on you and for you when you’re working with him and that’s not always the case in my experience.

How did you feel about Laurel‘s dark sense of humor?

TL: Yeah, I loved it. She’s drier than I am a little bit I think. She reminds me more of David. My husband has more of that sense of humor. I don’t really see Laurel getting into pratfalls, either doing them or appreciating them. Her loss. I think pratfalls are hysterical. But I did think she was funny.

What did your husband think of the quirkiness of your character?

TL: It’s funny because I do always ask David to confirm what I believe is my instinct about projects. If I hate it, I ask him to read it and if I love it, I ask him to read it. All the stuff in between I don’t bother him with. He read this script and he certainly got me in it which was interesting because I think some people didn’t. Didn’t see it. And I did. Boy, I’m setting myself up for a big smack in the head with a big shovel but David got it. Definitely.

John, is this more modern than your other films?

JD: I guess it’s like I like- – I’m not a big fan of those movies- – well, some people do those movies where they are very of the moment. You see the film and it’s just like, “Wow, how did they make that in a year and get it out and it feels like a live this moment?” Some people do that well. I like movies that hopefully you can watch 10 years from now or 20 years from now. There’s something still relevant. I prefer a very classic or look that feels as though- – that puts the characters and the story first rather than the design and all the other window dressing. I have a tendency to try to wipe that out but just with regards to the digital intermediate, I just wanted a very sort of take a lot of the color out and again sort of focus on give it just a bit of a grit. I don’t know why but it seemed like a good idea. You know, in other words, I like to kind of streamline the story to the point where it’s just the basic elements. It sort of supports the characters and the story.

John, what was your take on Punisher 2?

JD: Well, I had talked to them about it but I’m actually not doing it.

What happened?

JD: Well, I love the idea of a kick ass vigilante that’s got a really black sense of humor that could throw three people into a trash can, light them on fire and walk around while they’re screaming. That just sounded funny to me but I wasn’t sure that the script could really get there, that they would have the sense of humor. And it also felt like it just had too much baggage, not in a bad way, but there was just too much. I’d be sort of digging myself out of a hole right from the beginning.

So what’s next?

JD: Right now I’m still- – I’ve got some feature films that I’m looking at but they’re all complicated to put together. I am going to be directing an episode of Californication with David.

TL: I’m going to do a film called Ghost Town that David Koepp wrote and will be directing, Greg Kinnear and Ricky Gervais in New York.

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Are you a fan of Ricky? Was he the one that drew you to the project or was it the script?

TL: Well, actually, it’s very funny, David wrote a script not that long ago for me with Greg Kinnear. Since then, there have been four other projects that have come up for Greg and I to do together, sort of weird. This was the first one that I really liked other than David’s. We were holding out on David’s because it’s very funny, I once again, slept with the director to get the job and then the director decided that maybe he wants to be in it so I got fired which is really extraordinary, and I’ve got to continue to sleep with the guy after he fired me. How’d I get there?

Ghost Town.

TL: Right, thank you. So when this came up, the script, I really got a kick out of it and I knew that it was Ricky and Greg attached to it and I’d met with David Koepp years ago about another script that he’d written that never got going and there’s something- – I get a real kick out of this script and I know I’m going to get a real kick out of working with these three guys.

Tell us about your character?

TL: No. Really, I just decided what underwear she’s going to wear and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. It’s always my first step, the undergarments. Laurel was a Haines lady.

JD: I wasn’t involved in those decisions.

TL: No, you were not involved in those. No one, very rarely, anyone is involved in those discussions. She wears Woo. That’s all I know.

When do you film?

TL: October, mid-October in New York.

Are you reading other scripts for after that?

TL: Well, it’s funny. I actually have a project that came up that David and I have got a production company called And Then Productions. One of the- – we had a script over at Universal called Miss Captivity about a beauty pageant in a women’s prison. And we’re sort of hoping to shoot that I think this spring. It’s a comedy, I’m glad you’re laughing. But in the meantime, this project came up with- – it’s a book by Pagan Kennedy called The First Manmade Man about a woman in England in the ’40s who was the first woman to take hormones in order to become more masculine and then receive the first penis implant or addition. What do you call that, really, truly? It’s not quite an addition, it’s not quite an enhancement. Anyway, received the first penis. And it’s a really incredible, incredible story and Ron Nyswaner who wrote The Painted Veil and Philadelphia is going to write that for us. He’s very motivated and we’re hoping to maybe get that going in early, early Spring.

You’re going to be getting a penis?

TL: Yes, I’m getting a penis in Early Spring. March 1st.

Are the bodies in the morgue real cadavers or actors?

JD: That’s always a complicated thing because you think, “Well, should we get- -” there’s always going to be an issue of them breathing if they’re real people.

TL: That whole thing.

JD: But no, it’s very expensive to get dummies basically. They don’t look very lifelike so they are extras from Winnipeg. Where they were breathing, we just digitally flattened their chest. So they’d look like they’re not breathing.

Craziest thing you’ve done for love?

TL: I would have to say sex in a sauna was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. But David and I were in the throes of our newfound passion and don’t do that. Dry heat, air, need air, quick get air, vomit, horrible, terrible. Anyway.

It sounds very romantic.

TL: It wasn’t. For the first four minutes maybe, but after that, no.

You continued after it got uncomfortable?

TL: Yeah. Duh. But I was sick really. I felt ill for about eight hours after that. I think I was completely dehydrated. And then it’s not like you have cushions in there. All right, that’s it.

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