Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman Interview THE EXTRA MAN

     August 8, 2010

Last month I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with husband and wife Academy Award nominated writing and directing team Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (American Splendor) to promote their upcoming film The Extra Man. For those who don’t know, it stars Kevin Kline as a failed playwright who moonlights as an “extra man”, escorting wealthy elderly women to events. Paul Dano’s character rents a room from Kline’s character and the two spark a friendship. The film is based on a book by one of my favorite authors, Jonathan Ames, who is perhaps best known for creating HBO’s Bored To Death, who’s title character shares his name.

To see what Pulcini and Berman had to say about their early involvement with the film, working with Jonathan Ames, working with Kevin Kline, Paul Dano and John C. Reilly (who has a supporting role in the film) and their upcoming project with HBO, continue reading. The Extra Man is currently playing in limited release.

On Kevin Kline’s inclination for public urination:

Shari Springer Berman: Kevin – the whole time we were shooting, Kevin because he’s such a method actor would say, would excuse himself and say “I’ve got to piss!” And then would walk not to the bathroom but like a few feet away, turn around and do his technique and he said it worked.

On Jonathan Ames:

Springer Berman: Jonathan wrote the book, The Extra Man it’s based on, and Bob and I, it was really funny because our manager sent us this book to read and said, you know, “guys look at this to maybe direct”. Bob sat down and read it and I heard him he was like  cracking up in the other room. And I was like “what are you doing?” He’s like “This is the funniest thing I’ve ever read, you have to read it.” I sat down and read it, thought it was hysterical and then that Monday we got a call from my manager saying “don’t read the book, I sent you the wrong book!” And we’re like “too late!”…And we optioned it from Jonathan…and we decided to work together on the script…In our first meeting, Jonathan said “Henry Harrison has to be Kevin Kline” and we were like “well Louis has to be Paul Dano” and we got both of them, it was kind of amazing…

On Paul Dano:

Springer Berman: I had seen Paul in other movies so I’ll tell you what it was about [his performance in There Will Be Blood] – it was the fact that he was able to hold the screen with Daniel Day-Lewis. Because he was gonna have to hold the screen with Kevin Kline and Kevin is in the Daniel Day-Lewis mold. They’re both these major actors…you have to get a young actor that has the confidence to be on screen and in these intimate scenes with these great actors. And then I had seen Paul in Little Miss Sunshine and I had seen L.I.E. and other movies so I knew his range of work and I think he’s a very, Little Miss Sunshine also he was very, he’s a quiet actor. He’s a very interior actor. He can say so much with his face. Which he did through 90% of Little Miss Sunshine! And because Kevin is such a big character and is talking so much we wanted somebody who could say a lot with just a look or face.

On John C. Reilly (who wears a huge fake beard and speaks in a high voice):

Springer Berman: It was really funny because we shot all in New York City and he was walking down the street and I saw a little girl run away crying. And I was like “oh my god, John is scaring the kids in the neighborhood!”…It was funny because he got upset about something and he went up to our producer and he started to argue with him but he did it in the voice and my producer just did not know what to say, he was just sort of staring at him and we were all…

Pulcini: He’s like (fake high pitched voice) – “Really great producing man!”

Springer Berman: Many years ago we had tried to work with him on something and it didn’t work out but we were interested, we’re sort of fans of each other’s work…and we went to him and it was a short commitment of time and he read the script and was like “Yeah, this is a no brainer. I really see myself doing this.”

Pulcini: We had lunch after he said yes and he debuted the voice for us and we said “really?!” and he said that he has a friend that talks like that that calls him all the time and gets over excited about things and it all gets caught up in his voice and it’s kind of an anxiety condition and he wanted to play that kind of character.

Describing a random run-in with an Oscar winner on the streets of New York:

Springer Berman: There was a lot of shooting going on in New York at the time and I guess we were supposed to be shooting the scene where Kevin’s driving like a maniac but we didn’t have any police escort because the police were busy with bigger movies. So we’re just driving down the street…the cameraman and the sound guy are crouched in the back of the car.

Pulcini: And Kevin apparently is notorious for driving like a maniac anyway…and then we stop at a light and Jeremy Irons is walking across the street and we’re hiding in the back filming and Kevin’s wearing this outfit and he’s like “Hello Jeremy!” and Jeremy’s like “Oh hi Kevin!” and they’re having this conversation…

Springer Berman: And then the light changed and Kevin turned to Paul and said “he’s a fellow Oscar winner, he’s worth talking to.”…And Paul had a great comeback, he’s like “yes but he won for Best Actor not Best Supporting Actor!”

On Paul Dano dressed as a tranny for a scene in the film:

Pulcini: The problem with Paul is that he looked kinda good at first, we were like “that wasn’t quiet the idea”…

Springer Berman: He has long legs! I was jealous, I was like “you look pretty good”….It was really shocking the first time we saw him, we were all kind of taken aback…

Pulcini: When we shot that scene we were like “wow, this movie’s crazy, I forgot.”

Springer Berman: We had to put him in a really ugly wig because…in the first wig we had him in, he looks kind of pretty. He shouldn’t look that pretty.

On their upcoming film with HBO Cinema Verite starring James Gandolfini:

Pulcini: It’s about this family in 1971 who were known as the Loud family who were in many ways the first reality show. It was called An American Family, it was a PBS show, it was a twelve part series, one hour a night. Basically this producer had the idea to move cameras into someone’s home, a family, an upscale family in Santa Barbara for seven months and just film everything. And it became scandalous when it aired because the cameras kind of tore the family apart, the presence of the cameras. It actually ended up breaking, the parents broke up on camera and all these things happened and I think it was kind of an embarrassment for PBS even though it was like enormous ratings…it asked all these questions about manipulation and the involvement of this producer and James Gandolfini plays this producer who has this idea and in many ways now it’s accepted, now you’re hired for the manipulation but he was, you know there were all these questions about documentary ethics and things like that when they made the show.

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