There aren’t many actors who can segue from the Coen Brothers to Adam Sandler comedies, but John Turturro’s one of them. His latest, Fading Gigolo, which he wrote and directed, is about two friends who find themselves in the world’s oldest profession. The eclectic cast includes Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Liev Schrieber. We spoke with Turturro about the film in New York.
Fading Gigolo has an unusual premise, in which Woody Allen plays your pimp; how did it come about?
I thought it would be interesting to do something with Woody; we could have good chemistry and be an interesting duo, and then I thought what would happen if we wound up in the sex business. I was thinking about all these businesses closing throughout New York, and lots of these people had to reinvent themselves. I’ve also always liked movies about streetwalkers; Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria is one of my favorite movies ever. I think it’s a big part of life, and obviously you can trace culture and the dynamics between the sexes and how people go about their business politically and personally.
At the start of the film, what does Murray (Woody Allen) see in your character, Fiorvante? He seems like the kind of a guy who’s had some relationships but wasn’t that successful.
I think he’s a guy who… who knows what happened in his past? Maybe his father left his mother so he doesn’t trust in the longevity of a relationship and never committed to one. But Murray sees that he’s very comfortable with, and likes, women. He’s a regular guy who’s a good listener and is one of these people who expresses himself physically. I always thought of him like a Samurai-type of guy who works in a flower shop, but he can take apart a fixture, he can fix the plumbing, he can do all these different things. He’s not a forward person, but he’s not really shy. He’s just quiet. And the difference between someone who’s confident in who they are and not pushy… between confidence and cocky is a big difference. There are people you know, right away they’re like, “I’m gonna get over,” and there’s other people who are like, “Well, I’m going to enjoy the situation for what it is and if anything else occurs I can enjoy that too.” Murray knows Fiorvante and it’s like a father-son relationship. Murray’s never had a biological son and Fiorvante doesn’t have parents, but he can see something in him. Maybe he just did it [suggested that he become the pimp for Fiorvante] because he knows he’s going out of business, he just said oh yeah, I know somebody and he starts thinking oh, let’s try it. People do all kinds of all crazy things… it’s supposed to be a left-field idea.
There are so many different elements and cultures in the movie.
Well, I tried to represent, like when I ride around the park on my bike, I go, “Look at all these different people.” Some intermingle, and some don’t interact. So if you make a movie about New York, without even trying, it’s right in front of your face. Like my friend, he’s got a younger black girlfriend; he’s an older Jewish man… well, that’s interesting, so you draw on that.
Fiorvante has a relationship with a Hasidic widow. Did you have to do research into that world?
Oh, god, tons of it. I also went to this group where people who’ve left [that world] gather, and I met a lot of people there who were helpful, but I also did a couple of years’ worth of research.
How long did it take to film?
A little over six weeks, so we had a tight schedule and had to do a lot of preparation, obviously. We shot it on film and it was challenging to be able to do that material with that many different people and also have a unified look.
How did you approach Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara for the film?
Once Woody dug the script, my agent had recommended certain people. I met Sharon; I thought she’d be the right age, and that the whole idea of doing something out of the norm for a woman like her would be very surprising. Everybody responded to the material: Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schrieber. He’s really good in that role, and I think he made a big contribution, because I wanted a guy who was different than me, and a solid guy who grew up with boys. His character doesn’t really know how to approach or talk to a woman, but he’s really mad about this woman. I think he does a really lovely job.
So that scene in the Hasidic court—I really hadn’t seen that in a movie before.
They don’t usually grab people off the street (like in the movie), but it’s in the realm of the possible. So they do have those hearings, they have a moral police and all that.
You were born in Brooklyn, right?
I was born in Brooklyn, grew up in Queens, then moved back to Brooklyn in 1988. My friend, Brandon Cole, he cowrote Mac and Illuminata [two of Turturro’s earlier directorial efforts], and he moved to Brooklyn first. I worked on his house in Williamsburg and he took me around, showing me what was going on. My other friend, Michael Badalucco [who has a small part in the film] is there too. I live in Park Slope, and in ’88 there were no restaurants there, Fifth Avenue was nothing, and there was no movie theater on Ninth Street. Now it’s changed a lot, and we’ve lost a lot of little establishments, which is a theme in the movie. My wife [actress Katharine Borowitz] and I are investors in the Community Bookstore, and she works at the Co-Op, so she keeps us planted there.
Do you know what your next project is? I have some movies coming out, including one John Slattery directed, God’s Pocket [out next month, featuring one of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s last performances]. I did a part in Exodus [Ridley Scott’s biblical epic] with Christian Bale, and part of this Rio, I Love You anthology, an episode I did with Vanessa based on one of her songs from her new album. So now I’m reading things and hope to direct again.