Sorry about the black cloud a few days ago. My fever has eased and I’m better now. At least now I can read email attachments. Apparently I’m to fly to LA where there will be several screenings of Delirious and a press day with me, Gina Gershon and Alison Lohman. Buscemi won’t be joining us as most of the press have already talked to him for his film Interview. As I said Michael Pitt has offered to help by doing no press at all.
This confluence of events has created intense maneuvering from the actors’ publicists. Apparently they are “very concerned” that doing press in the absence of Steve and Michael is embarrassing for their clients. Even after explaining at length that Steve has already done press for Delirious in all his Interview publicity there was still stiff resistance. It was an interesting lesson for me. I came to understand the goal with publicity is not so much to promote the film but to make absolutely certain your client never gets humiliated.
But, I know everyone in this business has a job that is life and death for them. Hell, I made a film about a paparazzo. I was truly interested in these people who are universally reviled as the bottom feeders of the industry. For 3 months I hung out with paparazzi in NY and LA, riding in their cars, going to clubs and stakeouts and entertainment events with them. One guy in NY took me to a high-profile fashion show. We stood far in the back. A minute before it ended he turned to me, the stuttering camera flashes whiting out the lenses of his glasses. “Watch this,” he said. And the instant the show ended he knifed through the crowd, elbows flying, and was the first one to get a shot of Monica Lewinski before she put her sunglasses on. I have to say I was so impressed I put the elbows into the film.
I noticed something similar about all the paparazzi I spent time with. On the one hand they would vehemently defend themselves and their profession by saying, “Hey, we’re just doing our job. We don’t make people buy these pictures. And who gives a fuck about the Stars anyway? No one asked them to become Stars. They’re no different from anybody. They should thank me for taking their fuckin picture.” And then a split second later the same guy would say, “DeNiro shook my hand once. There was an energy coming from him that went right through my arm and almost blew me away. He’s a fuckin god among men!”
They were all gripped by this schizophrenia: at the same time they believed they were better than the Stars they were also utterly convinced they were worthless in comparison to them. Once I saw this I realized I had the core of my main character, Les Galantine. He’s a raging loser, an invisible peon screaming for the world to notice him. In fact, the more time I spent with the paparazzi the more I came to see that they were actually extreme representatives of us all.
That’s why Les is my favorite character in the film. I love them all but Les is the one my heart goes out to–even though at times he’s the most desperate and despicable. Les has been dealt a tough hand in his life. Everyone, especially his family, treats him as if he’s worthless. Every morning he wakes convinced he’s a piece of shit. Every day he has to battle against the cesspool, sometimes winning, sometimes sinking lower and lower. Ultimately Toby ascends to some strange nirvana of Fame. Les remains on Earth, stuck in the mud like the rest of us, eternally human.
This is why I knew Steve Buscemi had to play this part. No one expresses the rage and desperation of being human like he does. Somehow, even in his most disturbing moments he manages to find the character’s humanity which opens the window for an unexpected and elevating breeze of comedy. I happen to love that combination. And so here’s another confession. I wrote earlier that when I first gave Steve the script he said, No. What I haven’t written is how a year and half later I got him to say Yes. Let’s go back a bit. After months of making no headway with Steve I decided a real face to face meeting was crucial to moving forward. So, the first thing I did was lie to him. I live in Manhattan. He lives in Brooklyn. I told him I needed to come to Brooklyn to pick up something from my wife’s sister. Since she “lived” around the corner from him I suggested I drop by and just have a cup of coffee with him. Steve said ok, and we met in a coffee shop on the bleakest, coldest day in February.
We talked about the script. At one point he recited some of Les’ lines. It was such a jolt to see the character unexpectedly spring to life right in front of me I could barely speak from excitement and longing. Afterwards we walked back to his place. Just before we said goodbye I asked him, “So, Steve; what do you think? Do you want to play this part?” The ensuing silence lasted for almost 3 minutes. He looked at me, I looked at him. He looked away. He looked back. A cold wind shuddered some dead leaves along the icy gutter. Another minute of silence went by. He never answered. Finally I just said, “Ok, Steve. I’ll see you later.” And so, I drove home. The whole ride back the only thought I had was well, at least he didn’t say No.
Four months later I thought about having a staged reading of the script with Steve reading the part of Les. To my great relief Steve thought this was a good idea. So, I made a bunch of calls and invited some very talented and generous actors to come in and read the other parts with him. There was also a small audience. From the moment he opened his mouth no one could take their eyes off of Steve. Even just sitting at a table, reading straight from the script, he brought Les Galantine to life right there into the room. When the reading ended I was standing in a daze after talking to one of the actors and I suddenly found myself alone with Steve. He appeared strangely moved. He said, “Thank you, Tom.”
I said, “For what, Steve?”
“Thank you for waiting for me. Now I see who this guy really is.” There were tears in his eyes. I didn’t blame him; there were tears in my eyes too.