During the Miami International Film Festival, I had an opportunity to sit down with actor/director John Turturro. I was told I had 12 minutes to discuss his new film, Fading Gigolo, with him. Somehow we lost track of time and carried on for double that time, but it was a great conversation, touching on specifics in both his filmmaking and his acting style, directing Woody Allen the actor, his vision to hire Vanessa Paradis, a model/singer/actress better known in France for all her talents and best known in the U.S. as Johnny Depp’s ex. We also touched on his memory of Philip Seymour Hoffman, who only recently passed, and who we did love so much here at Independent Ethos.
It was a long chat that had to be spread across two articles in the Miami New Times. This first one appeared in print in and was written as a feature story and touched on not only the movie but Allen and that controversy that hung a bit too close over the film’s premiere in Miami. It also features his comments on Hoffman. Read it by jumping through the Miami New Times logo below:
There were many details left out of that piece for the sake of space, which one has to be very conscious of when writing for print. We spoke much more about Allen and how it was working with him, but we also spoke about Paradis’ talents and, on a more important scale, the presence of a film like Fading Gigolo in a major movie production industry more concerned with adapting YA stories and comic books. Where does a film about more complicated adult love fit into such an industry? We get into all that and more in the expanded Q&A I provided for Miami New Times’ art and culture blog Cultist. You can read that part of our chat by jumping through the Cultist logo below:
Finally, there is what is left of our chat, which was no less compelling. Turturro was certainly gracious about his award, which he received at a packed concert hall in Downtown Miami a couple of months ago, at the 2014 Miami International Film Festival (A re-cap of a hectic half-attended, still impressive Miami International Film Festival 31). However, there’s something of a feeling of achieving a peak with such awards, and it can do things to your creativity and career … We start there, talk about color and film, shooting in 35mm (which Turturro has not given up on), and love stories for mature people. Here’s part three of our talk, exclusive to Independent Ethos:
Hans Morgenstern: So what was it like getting your big career achievement Award?
John Turturro: You know, I take those things with a grain of salt. People obviously like what you do. But I wouldn’t like to be doing it, because I’m not announcing my retirement. You know, I got one of those things when I first started out in Sundance. They gave me this Actor Piper-Heidseick Award. I think I was the first person to ever get one, and I was just starting out. It was like 1990 or 1991 or something like that. I remember I didn’t even have a proper suit jacket to wear. I guess because I do a variety of things, oh, look at this, look at that. I’m always appreciative, but I’m more appreciative of being able to do the things I want. That’s what I want to do. People can win an Academy Award, and it may not help them get another job. Things like that have happened many times, and my important thing is being able to do things I like to do. That’s it. That’s what I care about. I can’t sit and stare at the walls and say I got all these awards. It’s nice, but I don’t think about it too much.
They also showed your new movie, Fading Gigolo. One of the things I noticed about the film was the range of colors you used.
Oh, yeah, very carefully selected. We used the Saul Leiter photographs. He was a fashion photographer who did all these great street pictures and reflections in windows. Maybe they were staged, some of them. I’m not sure some of them weren’t, but they were like Kodachrome. There was a certain dye transfer that he did. Then I used the Italian painter, [Giorgio] Morandi, a still life painter, for a lot of the colors of Fiorvante’s apartment. So those were the two visual sources. Everything was selected very carefully, stripes that the Hasidic community used and the stripes that my character had, and even getting Woody in dark pants was a big thing. I told him, no khaki pants. I didn’t tell him, but I gently nudged him, and as you see, he’s got dark pants on, and that’s very unusual for Woody, and he even has a purple, kind of, colored corduroy hat. He’s even got a black jacket at some point, and he never dresses that way.
I even noticed the white of his hair more in this movie.
Well, he hasn’t really been in that many movies for a long time. Anyway, yeah, cause color is emotional, and the way it’s lit, we shot it on film. We didn’t shoot digital. We used 8 millimeter for the credits and it’s 35 millimeter, and [director of photography] Marco Pontecorvo, he’s great with the light. We used a lot of shadow, a lot of chiaroscuro.
Have you always shot in 35mm?
Only Passione I did with the Red [digital camera]. But this we tested, and we thought it was a lot softer on the women, and it’s a film about New York or any city that’s kind of changing and fading a little bit. I thought that would just be—it’s more voluptuous, soft.
Well, fading is a key word to your film.
Yeah, of course.
So what motivated you to do this film about a man far along in his prime, let’s say? Because when you are dealing with Hollywood and this complex idea of love, it’s so much easier to focus on the youth.
Well, youth is part of life, but it’s not all of life, and sometimes you can see a film like Blue Is the Warmest Color, and it’s fantastic. The girl is unbelievable because you’re seeing someone budding. I thought her performance was brilliant, but most of the time you see it, and their reference is very young, and life goes on, and people start life again at 40. They get divorced. They lose someone. They never find the right person, and though, well, here’s a guy who’s in the middle of his life and lives in a room, and I know people like that, who are really comfortable with women, who likes women, but he never really commits, but he’s a guy who is very good, physically. I have friends that can fix their engines, they have a plumbing problem, they have an electrical problem, and it’s very attractive to be around a person like that, cause you’re like, wow. These people express themselves in that way, and they may not be ambitious, and I was thinking about that. So many people want to be famous instead of doing what they do. I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it’s a universal thing. It never ends. You’re livin’ by yourself, and you’re 70 years old, you know, loneliness can kill a person. So I thought that could be an interesting thing to explore. Obviously, you have to be in good enough shape to do it, and I thought when Woody makes the suggestion to me, the guy is resistant. I’m too old. I’m not a gorgeous looking guy, but he’s not insecure that way at all. He’s like, well, I know who I am.
And that helps with the ladies.
Yeah, that’s right. It could help a lot. Especially if you know how to listen and you know how to behave, you know how to pick up what’s going on in the moment.
Your character has a great name: Fiorvante. Where’s that from?
A lot of the names I took— my father was a builder— right out of his phone book. He’s no longer alive and Dan Bongo, I took right out of his phone book. He was a plasterer. Fiorvante, I think [his last name was] Boccio, he was a painter. I just took the names right out of it. Not all of the names, but those names I did. Virgil Howard was a name I took right out of a phone book. So sometimes you’re superstitious. You think, well, maybe if I take something from my parents, it’ll bring you good fortune. It’s a way of communicating with them or something.
Fading Gigolo opens Friday, May 2, in the Miami area at Coral Gables Art Cinema, Regal South Beach Stadium 18, and AMC Aventura 24. On opening night, at the 7 p.m. screening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema there will be a live video-link Q&A with Turturro. For screening dates in other cities, visit the film’s official website.