Actor John Turturro may be best known for his work with Spike Lee, the Coen brothers, or even the Transformers movies but his smaller directorial efforts are the ones he is most passionate about.
This joy is obvious during his recent trip to San Francisco to promote his latest endeavor behind the camera, Fading Gigolo.
He writes, directs and stars in the film, a sex comedy about a cash-strapped bookkeeper (Turturro) who, with the help of his business-savvy friend (Woody Allen), is turned into a male prostitute overnight. Pretty soon this inexperienced duo are juggling more than just beautiful women as cash, religion and jealousy are thrown into the mix.
On a recent promotional stop, John Turturro spoke to us about Fading Gigolo and the pros and cons of working on such a tight budget to make the film. Here is a transcription of that conversation.
Q: The film opens with the closing of a small bookstore. Was that meant as a commentary on the passing of time?
John Turturro: I wasn’t trying to make a political statement but I do think that with progress there is loss. With the sex business, which is the oldest business, I didn’t want to explore the exploitive side at all but I did think there’s a human transaction that goes on. I’m using it more as a metaphor for intimacy.
Q: Yeah. Even when you’re dating there’s a transaction there too.
Turturro: That’s right. When you look at all these wealthy guys with these very younger women you go, there’s a real transaction that goes on there. Maybe that’s a bit more dishonest of a transaction.
Q: With so many tasks to do on set as a director, how easy or difficult is it to direct yourself?
Turturro: Directing myself in some ways can be very easy but sometimes the tension of the day can affect your performance. You need someone there to tell you to loosen up a little bit. With my character, I didn’t want to skew him too light or too heavy because he was thought of as a modern day samurai, someone who is physical and confident but not an ambitious man. That’s how I thought of him, someone who liked women and I very comfortable with women but because of his circumstances with his mom had never committed to anybody.
Not that anyone was a problem but Woody and Vanessa were so easy to work with. But some people have their process and it can be a painful one. Someone can be a brilliant actor or actress but they’ve exhausted you by making you wait three hours for them. I don’t take that long to get ready, especially when I’m working for myself. (laughs)
Q: You’ve obviously had great working relationships with the Coen brothers and Spike Lee but you’ve also found success continuing to work with Adam Sandler and Michael Bay. Are these conscious decisions on your part?
Turturro: I have to make a living, man (laughs). Let’s be honest, I can’t depend on Spike or the Coens. They’re my friends but they may not always have a part for me. Years ago I never made these big movies because there used to be these nice, medium-sized movies that were made. Those are no longer made and this film is not exactly a medium-sized film. If we had a medium-sized budget we would’ve had 8 or 10 weeks to shoot it. So when I did my first thing with Adam Sandler I was very picky about it and I had a good time because I took two characters and made them one.
When I made Transformers I had turned down so many big movies that my oldest son said, Dad just do it! and I had a good time doing it but I don’t live in that world. It’s not like doing a Chekhov play or something with the Coens that gives you something. I don’t look down on it, I just try to do a good job. If I mention a Jean Renoir film, it’s not because I’m a snob. It’s just that to me there’s an abundance of comedy in it. For me, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan was really funny for a while but I didn’t think it finished what it started. There were some fantastic things in it but the mind behind it just broke down. I like working with Adam (Sandler), he’s a good actor.
Q: He really is. He is very underrated in his dramatic work because he mostly makes slapstick comedies.
Turturro: Yeah but when he’s made the other movies nobody has gone to see them. I think he’s made some really good performances.
Q: Is your relationship with Woody Allen in the film similar to the way you two interact offscreen?
Turturro: No, that’s how I wrote it. Our relationship may be similar but that’s not how we talk.
Q: Yeah, Woody even gets some physical comedy in this film.
Turturro: Woody is such a wonderful actor and I think he did such a beautiful job for me. I wanted to make a good film with him because it’s a privilege to work with him. He made a big contribution to the film in a lot of ways. I consider him a friend. He would tell what things in the script he hated, which were many. He wouldn’t tell me what to do but he would tell me he didn’t like them.
Q: You have a strong religious presence in the film. How did you balance the tone between the comedic laughs and the seriousness of religion?
Turturro: If you’re going to make a movie about sex you have to have an obstacle. I love films about religion and I think it’s related. I’ve also seen a lot of sex scenes and they’re so ineffectual. You just look at it and go, oh they’re in good shape. You don’t feel anything. (laughs)
Q: Is Michael Bay as eccentric of a personality on set as the rumors would have us believe?
Turturro: All I can say is that I based my character in Transformers on Michael Bay. (laughs)
Fading Gigolo is now playing in limited release. Watch a trailer below:
Second photo credit: Amanda Rhoades