John Turturro Plays a ’Fading Gigolo’ (With Woody Allen’s Help)
With an earnest visage and a devious look when accompanied with a smile, John Turturro's likable versatility has made him one of the most productive actors in Hollywood today, from being a reliable player in Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers' movies to an ongoing character in the "Transformers" francise. Yet he is perhaps one of the last people you would think of to play a pay-to-hire lover man for bombshells Sharon Stone ("Basic Instinct," "Casino") and Sofía Vergara ("Modern Family"), but that just goes to show how little men know about what women want.
In his fifth outing as a film director, Turturro enlisted the help of Woody Allen, who has not appeared in a film that Allen has not directed for over thirteen years. There is no easy way to say this, but Allen plays Turturro's pimp, a culmination of the pair's relationship over the years, which was strengthened in 2011 when Turturro directed Allen on Broadway in the one-act play "Honeymoon Motel." Turturro had wanted to write a project for the two to work in: he wanted the two of them in a business, not just any business. Sex business.
Working with Woody
"I just thought we could be good together," tells Turturro. "I know he likes me and I like him. He liked the idea." Allen also became his mentor developing the story, providing advice and feedback, and even agreed to star opposite him. "It took a long two years but he always was interested. He was very easy to direct. You just need to get him out of his khaki pants," says Turturro.
The film’s premise may seem whimsical at first glance: a Brooklyn bookstore owned by Murray (Woody Allen) is closing its doors and when his dermatologist Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) confides that she wants to get into a ménage à trois with her friend Selima (Sofía Vergara), Murray suggests that his soon-to-be out of work employee Fioravante (John Turturro) to give it a shot, and get paid for it!
The film does move into an emotionally meatier territory and even becomes a tender meditation on urban isolation with the character of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a Hasidic rabbi. When Murray convinces Avigal to employ the service of Fioravante, the touch of our leading man metabolizes her loneliness and pain, freeing her from the strict rules of her faith. Sensual but almost never sexual, Avigal’s emotional awakening becomes the heart of the film, a role that Paradis pulls off convincingly and impresses. "She is graceful and strong. She is so delicate. She really did a lot of research, went to the community," praises Turturro. "Everybody is crazy about her because she is such a generous person."
Casting the women
For the wow factor from the women, Turturro turned to Sharon Stone, whom he has known for quite some time now, and Sofía Vergara, who reminds him of a woman that designs his glasses, "This crazy lady who always sells me glasses but she always puts them on her breasts, not this pair (laughs)."
As for Vanessa Paradis, despite being a successful model, singer, actress in her native France, is known stateside more as the former partner of Johnny Depp. Yet, it is the simplest of scenes that makes one sit up and watch: the scene where she walks us through deboning of a fish is one for the books. Her pain, while hovering over most of her scenes, never suffocates.
"What she was able to bring to it was really beautiful," recalls Turturro. "Everybody on the set was aware of it right away. Even when she was just acting with Woody, we can see there was something really happening. When someone who is in this role who is the heart of the film, starts giving something that is very generous, and not like a ’look at me’ type of performance, you realize you’re in a situation that is unusual. I knew right away that she was going to be the heart of the film, and now she is the heart of the film. Now, all the other women in the film have to balance off of her.
"It was like a character that I feel like I could explore in another movie. I couldn’t let her go. When we’re at the ending of the movie, she really exists to me now. What’s going to happen to her?"
Though the comedy centers around Fioravante’s venture into the oldest profession, it was the female characters that were the best developed. "Sharon’s character is sort of imprisoned by her wealth," shares Turturro. "Everything she wanted in her perfect life is not so perfect. I was intrigued by putting characters in situations that they haven’t been in before. People, by adapting to these situations, you’re going to pay for something that you never did before, then how do you act. People who don’t do that, they sometimes lose someone and they start all over again. You bring your whole life to it, but it’s brand new. That never stops in some ways. People’s need for intimacy goes on till one’s death."
"Intimacy is difficult to capture. I think people are lonely even in relationships and that’s why people go outside of it. Some people go to therapists to do that. So it’s always there. Instead of having a woman be the prostitute, we put a man in the reverse situation which I thought could be interesting because it’s a little more unusual."
Directing and acting
Turturro has helmed films before, but hasn’t featured himself as an actor in them. For a passionate project like "Fading Gigolo," there is that one great reason for putting himself as the lead. "One less person you’re talking to," he spills. "You don’t have to talk to that guy. If you don’t get along with that person. I wanted us to be together, me and Woody. It seems to me that wasn’t that hard to do. I rarely watch playback. I kind of know, and give myself some variations maybe, a little lighter or a little more serious, but the in between tone was the hardest to hit and that was what I was trying to do."
When it comes to the film’s music, what we hear is a good mix of what sets the mood in Brooklyn, mostly jazz. Turturro takes the uncommon step of playing the music on the set to help the actors get in character, sometimes even having a crewmember play the music as actors are walking down the street. "Sometimes, I listen to music when I am doing something emotional, to help me place myself and I asked the actors if they want to listen to something because I know these things that are helpful," says Turturro. "Sometimes, being on a movie set is like being in a dentist’s office. It can be so sterile and there is all these guys around. So I tried to make it a little gentler, a little more like a kitchen."
As a well sort after actor, Turturro’s slate is pretty full but directing is so much of a self-discovery process to him that it is likely something he will make time for. "I want to learn," he proclaims. "I want to be a student. That’s why I like working with Woody. He’s older than me. I can feel like I’m the young guy. It’s invigorating."
So what has Turturro learned while making "Fading Gigolo?" "You can make a film about sensuality but it can also be really gentle, really delicate," he reveals. "There’s nothing really stronger, sometimes, than gentleness. I’ve never made a movie that is this delicate. I’ve made wild films. It’s the most delicate film that I’ve made. It’s a movie about when you make things with your hands, you can’t just go thump. It’s step by step, like when you’re cutting the stem of a flower, you’ve to cut it in a certain way to put it in the water. It’s like a relationship."
Fading Gigolo is in theaters.