STAND UP GUYS
Casting the Film
Director Fisher Stevens was told early on that both Al Pacino and Christopher Walken had, at one time, been attached to star in STAND UP GUYS. But as very often happens in Hollywood, for myriad reasons the film had not been made. Stevens recalls, "When I got the script, I called Chris (Walken) who was still set to play the role of Val. I told him that I was directing the movie and in search of somebody to play opposite him. The producers had given me a list of five possible actors but Al Pacino wasn't on that list because they had assumed that for whatever reason, he wasn't interested because he'd already been attached before. Well, time went by and for whatever reason development seemed to be taking forever.
"Then, three days before Christmas my phone rang and it was Al Pacino," Stevens continues. "Al, who is an old friend of mine, and who I originally wanted for 'Stand Up Guys' said that he'd just seen the Woody Allen documentary and he had another project that maybe I could help him produce. I told him that I was directing a feature, one that I knew he was familiar with, so I couldn't work on his project. I said I knew he wasn't interested in my film, to which he responded, 'I'm not interested? You're directing it? Let me look at it again.' Four weeks later we were in prep! After almost a year of trying to cast it!"
Academy Award-winner Al Pacino was delighted to at last be part of this project that he'd previously admired. He says, "The script was one of those good ones that hovers around and gets passed through a few hands and there were a couple of readings. It's the kind of script you think is going to get made because it's so good. I just happened to be talking to Fisher Stevens and he told me he was directing this, and I said, gee, I really like that."
Pacino and Stevens had known each other for many years, mainly as friends. "I knew him as an actor too," Pacino says. "He's a great actor and he makes great documentaries and even though he's young, he's been around and engaged and involved in things for a long time. The fact that we could work together and that he was directing it, was really nice. I believed in him and Tom Rosenberg, who is so experienced and so knowledgeable and such a great producer, so, I was happy to jump in."
Although Al Pacino and Christopher Walken had known each other for many years, they never had an opportunity to work together on film. However, director Stevens instinctively knew that these two professionals would work well together. "It was just like magic, Stevens says of the chemistry between the two stars. "It was beautiful to watch and they really admire each other. You see it in their characters and their performances. There's love there and it comes out on screen."
Curiously, when originally cast, Pacino was set to play the role of Doc and Walken was to play Val. However, Walken mentioned to Stevens that he wasn't necessarily crazy about playing Val and that he would actually like to play Doc. Stevens says he knew that Walken would be great in either role, but could very easily see him as Doc. "In fact, whenever most people read the script, they were assuming that Chris was going to play Doc because the character dances and Walken is a trained dancer," Stevens says.
Producer Luchessi reiterates, "At one point, we thought that Chris Walken should play Val and Al Pacino should play Doc. But they both felt the reverse very strongly. They felt that Pacino was really Valentine and Walken was a better Doc. And when we sat down with them we realized that they were completely right."
When director Stevens cast Alan Arkin as Hirsch, the actor brought in a whole new energy to the project. Stevens says, "It was fantastic. Alan and Al had worked together in the film adaptation of 'Glengarry Glen Ross,' but to see the three of them work together, well it was kind of magical, and I was so blessed as a director to get to work with three icons and three idols of mine."
In selecting which to accept of the many roles he is offered, Oscar-winner Alan Arkin says that the most important criteria is that he must be excited by the script. "There's a kind of moving graph that makes me decide to take a role," Arkin elaborates. "First of all, the script. If I'm not a hundred percent excited about the script, then that hundred percent has got to be made up by the people I'm working with and the director, so in some way everything has got to add up to a hundred percent. Occasionally I'll take a project even if I don't understand the character, or don't have a clear feeling, but if I want to work with the other people enough -- the actors and the director -- I feel like something good is going to transpire in rehearsals."
When Christopher Walken was asked about working with Al Pacino and Alan Arkin, he said it was inspiring, and that it afforded him the rare opportunity to learn from the great actors. "To sit across a table and play a scene with Al Pacino is very, very interesting. And Alan, he makes it looks so easy." Walkin felt it was like dancing, that your partner makes you better.
For the role of Nina, an ER nurse who is also Hirsch's daughter, director Stevens was excited when multiple Emmy Award-winner Julianna Margulies accepted the role. Margulies, the beloved star of televisions THE GOOD WIFE, and previously on ER and many other programs, had known the director for many years and had worked with Stevens in stage productions at his Naked Angels theater company. Stevens says, "I just read the script and thought okay, Julianna would be perfect! I knew that if our filming dates weren't during her work on THE GOOD WIFE that she would squeeze us into her schedule. She's the coolest person and when I asked if she'd play Nina, she simply said, 'I'll do it, of course! Whatever you need.'"
Julianna Margulies says that accepting the role of Nina was for her a "No brainer. I mean you can't pass up a chance to work with Al Pacino and Christopher Walken! It's like being in a master class. That's what I was telling Fisher Stevens who is an old friend of mine. He was another reason to say yes."
Margulies completely agrees with what director Stevens believes about actors who become directors having a better understanding of the process of creating a character. "I think directors have a lot on their hands, but when an actor directs you, there's just a little bit more ease with the language that explains what they want in a scene because they've done it," she says.
"STAND UP GUYS is a character-driven story and stars three of the greatest actors we've ever had in this country," Margulies says of the film. "It's a funny, sweet, touching, sad film and it's really a love story. One of the things that Fisher (Stevens) keeps saying is that he wants this movie to have a '70s feel, and it does. It feels a lot to me the way Sidney Lumet's movies used to feel."
"We were very lucky to get Julianna," raves producer Rosenberg. "She's a good friend of Fisher's and she responded right away. And she had a great time."
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