John Turturro writes, directs and stars opposite Woody Allen in Fading Gigolo, a charmingly offbeat indie comedy with an unusual premise about two cash-strapped best friends who devise a lucrative scheme involving the world’s oldest profession. A partnership is born when Fioravante (Turturro) embarks on his new career as an upscale New York gigolo with Murray (Allen) acting as his pimp. Turturro’s tale of people’s never ending quest to find happiness through sex and love is as moving as it is funny. Opening April 18th, the film also stars Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis and Liev Schreiber.
In an exclusive interview, Turturro talked about teaming up creatively with Allen in the lead roles, finding the right supporting cast, the decision to shoot on film rather than digitally, setting the comedic action in the Hasidic community, basing the look of the film on Saul Leiter photographs, and complementing the story with music by jazz great Gene Ammons and New Orleans’ Trumbone Shorty and songs performed by Dalida and Paradis. He also discussed his upcoming projects including Exodus: Gods and Kings, God’s Pocket, Mia Madre, a short for the Rio, I Love You anthology, and a Big Lebowski spin-off. Check out our John Turturro interview after the jump.
JOHN TURTURRO: I had an initial gut instinct of thinking that Woody and I could be a good team. I know that he’s always liked me and I’ve obviously liked him a lot. We have the same haircutter, and I spoke to him, and he spoke to Woody – not because I asked him to, but on his own. To my surprise, Woody said, “That’s a great idea. I’d love to talk to John.” And then, we talked about it, and I wrote it, and he would give me feedback on it. At first, it was very broad. I hadn’t really descended into the characters and the story. And then, he encouraged me. He said, “There are a couple things in there that are really interesting, and I think you should go into it and try to develop it in a more sophisticated way because I would be more interested in that.” I thought about it and I said, “You know what, maybe so would I,” but it took me a while to figure it out. I did a lot of research on that business, and then I wanted to choose a religion. I chose the Hasidic religion. He thought that was very interesting. During the course of it, we did a play together and I got to know him quite well. I kept revising it and he’d give me his brutal feedback. He didn’t tell me what to do, but I always considered it. And then, the piece developed on its own. What you see in the movie between us is a little bit of our relationship and that really helps a lot when you have that in a movie.
It’s been awhile since he’s starred in a film he didn’t direct. Was it hard to convince him to get in front of the camera?
TURTURRO: No. He said, “You’ll direct it?” and I said, “Yes.” Once he saw me direct these plays and once he approved the script, it was fine. He said, “Okay, I’ll sign off. I want to do it.” Then I had to go get the money. He was a doll to work with. He was really so easy once I got over my shyness which took me about an hour. He was shy, too, the first hour. After that, we’d go, “Well, what do you think?” and he’d say, “That was okay. Let’s try another one. Let’s try this.” We’d try this and try that. It was really lovely. I mean, I’d work with him again in a second.
What did the rest of your cast bring to the film?
TURTURRO: I was going to do another movie with Vanessa, and my agent who recommended her said, “Why don’t you think of her again?” I did and she did a lot of work beforehand. That really changed the whole dynamic of everything. We had real chemistry on both sides. I thought “Wow, I’m really fortunate to have that.” It turned out to be this film that you would think would be this broad, stupid movie about these guys that come up with this crazy idea, but then things happen during the course of it. It turns out to be a movie about intimacy and why people do these things. With Liev, Sofia and Vanessa, obviously that helped because I had the right people for the right roles. Plus it helps you get the financing, too. I think they were all happy to be involved in it, and especially working with Woody, that’s a wonderful opportunity. I wanted to make a good movie for him and me.
What starts out as a business venture between friends evolves into something quite different as your character ends up discovering something he didn’t know he was looking for. Can you talk about that?
TURTURRO: That’s right. People are never too young or too old to look for human connection. People are 80 years old and they’ve lost a spouse and they’re looking for someone to be with in the dark. That’s an eternal thing that never ceases. It’s an unceasing desire. Even people within a relationship can be really alone, and then have to go outside of it in order to find something, whatever it is. It may be very bizarre and maybe something very tender. I thought if I’m going to make a movie about sex, I should make a movie also where you have to have religion because it’s related. There’s the whole idea of women’s heads being covered. That’s across the board.
What do you think it is about your character, Fioravante, that makes him so appealing and engaging?
TURTURRO: I think maybe he’s the type of guy who’s quiet, and he’s a good listener, and he’s good with his hands. He’s a man who can do a lot of things. I know people like that. I’m good doing certain things with my hands, but I have some friends who can do a lot. They can take something apart. They can take a car apart. They can cook a meal. They can go up into a [electrical] fixture and figure out how to do it. I find that very attractive when I watch a person like that, because there’s movement involved, and there’s doing involved, and there’s not talking involved. A lot of those people aren’t their best salesmen. They’re the opposite of a salesperson and I think there’s something attractive about that. I also thought about how I’m a man who’s comfortable with women. I like women and I like being with women. I like working with women and I like being with women much more than being with men. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because I had a good relationship with my mother. I find it much more interesting, and I find that I can go further places. I thought this is a guy who’s comfortable. He just never committed. I know friends that are 50 years old and they’ve never been with anyone for a long time. So, it was a combination of a couple people I knew and myself. I thought, “Let me see.” Sometimes a person who is quiet can help another person come out of themselves.
Was it challenging to find the right tone for a film with such an unusual premise?
TURTURRO: Well, it’s interesting. You can’t apply a tone. It’s like applying a tone to a relationship or a friendship. You can’t bring into it, “Everything’s going to be red.” You can choose the music. You can play music on a set. You can choose the costumes. I always thought of it as these people trying to reinvent themselves and being in a situation that you’re normally in when you’re 16, 17 or 18. You think, “Well, that’s it. Once I invent myself, I never have to do that again.” And then, all of a sudden, this woman, she’s married and she’s going to pay this guy, and this guy has never performed sex for money. They’re like on a first date. In a way, they’re kind of virginal about the situation. Vanessa’s character, Avigal, is a young woman, but she has six kids because she’s never, ever been courted or actually been encouraged to bloom in a way. I thought that would be interesting, because then you’re bringing your life experience to it and not just youth. So, you just have to do the material, and then I could see it worked better when it was more delicate. If it was too broad, it didn’t work. The love stuff sometimes became almost too serious. We had to find just the right balance. I encouraged Sharon to be as delicate as she could be. Vanessa is just innately graceful and she brought that. Sofia’s (Vergara) character always wanted to be the one who would be like, “Hey, I’m a woman who likes to try things. I’m a big deal and I don’t feel bad about it.” That was just to have a little contrapunto point there.
Can you talk about the visual style and the contributions of your creative team to the look of the film?
TURTURRO: That’s all worked on very hard. I didn’t have that much time, but I did a lot of preparation on the visual palette of the film. We shot in film. We tested digital, and everyone, including myself and Woody, and especially with the women, it was much more fluid because film is a chemical compound. For example, there are a lot of stripes in the Chasidic community, so we thought we’d balance that with Fioravante’s character. I looked at movies that used that a lot like The Conformist. Marco Pontecorvo is a great DP and we worked really well together. The Production Designer Lester Cohen and the Costume Designer Donna Zakowska based the look of the film on these Saul Leiter photographs that he took. They were street photographs that he developed with a special dye process in the 30’s and 40’s which are gorgeous. There’s this famous Italian painter, Giorgio Morandi, who does all these still lifes and those were the colors that we used for the walls of my apartment. Everything was chosen down to the [last detail] because color is emotion. I wanted to put lots of shadow in it. I don’t know what it is, but I recoil when things aren’t really beautifully lit in a movie that’s supposed to be romantic or whatever. They’re supposed to have texture because life has texture. We’re presenting something like a beautiful painting. When you watch it, you can spend a lot of time with it. You could see the movie a few times and there’s still a lot to discover.
TURTURRO: No. I wrote the script to a lot of that music. All Gene Ammons, I grew up with that album. Gene Ammons is a little bit after Woody’s jazz is. He knows Gene Ammons, but he really grew up on the 30’s and 40’s. Most of the music [in Fading Gigolo] is 50’s and 60’s. That was an album I grew up with, and Dalida, a couple songs that she sings I just bought on the streets of Paris. It became part of the DNA of the movie. I have a hard time finding a composer. I didn’t really want to have music that told you how to feel. I wanted to invite you in and take you along. In most of the scenes that are dramatic, there is no music. There’s one Neapolitan song, Tu Si Na Cosa Grande, which we used a tune of and then Vanessa sings it. That’s her singing it in the end in Neapolitan. That song I loved, but I had never used it in Passioni, the musical documentary that I did. I wanted it to be this combination of all these different influences like New Orleans music with Trumbone Shorty. That’s my contribution. There’s a CD of it that’s coming out.
What do you have coming up next that you’re excited for audiences to see?
TURTURRO: I have a bunch of projects. I was in Exodus: Gods and Kings. I have a movie with Philip Seymour Hoffman called God’s Pocket. I just finished filming in Rome with Nanni Moretti on a new film called Mia Madre which I act in Italian and English, but mostly Italian. I have another project, and I hope to do one, or at least start it by the end of the year. I did shoot another short that’s part of the anthology film, Rio, I Love You, which is coming out. I was asked to direct and I did a short segment with Vanessa based on one of her songs from her new album called Plus d’Amor. That’s the name of the song. Her album is called Love Songs. It’s a really beautiful album.
Do you see a Big Lebowski spinoff in the future?
TURTURRO: I’d love to explore the Jesus. I would, and I’m talking about it.