BEFORE NIGHT FALLS
About The Production (Continued)
The filmmaker also praises the film's co-stars. "Olivier Martinez (who portrayed
Lazaro) is the child of refu gees; he is someone who is always on the edge in the same way that
Lazaro is. And Andrea di Stefano invented a great character for himself as Pepe Malas."
Several of Schnabel's friends, including filmmakers Hector Babenco (Pixote, Kiss of the Spider Woman) and Jerzy Skolimowski (Moonlighting, The Shout) lent their sup port to the film by stepping into cameo roles. Actors Sean Penn and Johnny Depp also took time out of their packed schedules to play character parts. Penn is all but unrecognizable as
Cuco Sanchez, the peculiar peasant who encounters the teenage Reinaldo on his way to join the rebels. Remembers Schnabel, "It was brutally hot when we shot that scene and Sean had all this make-up on, plus he had to learn how to drive those oxen, very quickly. But I think he had fun with it. It made me very happy when Sean showed up in Mexico."
Bardem says he was thrilled to work alongside Johnny Depp, who took on the dual role of Bon Bon and Lieutenant Victor. "I think Johnny did amazing work, and he was very generous, very helpful. He really got into the mood of the character, Bon Bon, and that scene with him as Lieutenant Victor is something that will stay in my memory. I admire him a great deal, as an actor and a human being."
Also featured in the film is Michael Wincott (Basquiat), whose fictitious charac ter Heberto Zorilla Ochoa - based on two real people Heberto Padilla and General Arnaldo Ochoa Sanchez - suffers a fate visited upon many Cubans when he is called upon to re nounce his work in public and to denounce his family and friends. "It's a pivotal role," ob serves Schnabel. "You've seen this man in the background, he's been part of the city's cul
tural life and then all of a sud den, he's singled out. Michael was able to be very still and yet convey this interior emotion."
Before Night Falls was shot in Mexico for 60 days in 1999, primarily in Veracruz and Merida. Schnabel credits production designer Salvador Parra, as well as the many people they met in Mexico, for helping cre
ate a stunningly realistic Cuba in the middle of Mexico. Often the local landmarks and archi
tecture were adapted to the film's needs. Doubling for El Morro, the 17 Century Spanish colonial fortress where Arenas was imprisoned, was San Juan de
Ulua, another Spanish colonial fortress that had also been a dreaded prison (both have been converted into tourist attractions). Schnabel had previously toured El Morro and found San Juan de
Ulua to be quite similar. "It was obviously designed by the same interior decorator," he notes dryly. "The Spanish had a way with prisons." However, the prison bars had been removed from San Juan de
Ulua, so Parra and his crew constructed wooden bars that were strong enough to support dozens of men standing and hanging on them. The prison tourist office was so delighted by the bars that they asked to keep them.
Other locations required more effort. A200-meter replica on the Malecon, Cuba's famous seawall and the site of Pepe Malas' balloon crash, was constructed in Veracruz. Explains Schnabel: "The seawall in the Malecon is very distinctive; it has pediments and capitals that anyone who has been to Havana would recognize. People who have seen the
movie have asked how we could shoot a scene like that in Cuba. The fact is, we didn't."
In creating a realistic portrait of Cuba from 1943-1990, Schnabel was able to consult a number of Cuban exiles, including friends from New York and expatriates living in and around Veracruz. They offered advice on everything from household products to the color of buses. For those observing the shoot as well as participating,<
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