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FADING GIGOLO

About The Production
The idea for John Turturro's new comedy FADING GIGOLO first surfaced in a playful improvisation he did for a friend's amusement over lunch. "I was just riffing, and then he kept laughing and I kept going more with it," says Turturro. It was only afterwards that he started to think this concept might be something worth exploring further. He talked about it to a few friends, including his barber. The barber mentioned it to another of his customers who happened to be Woody Allen. Allen loved the idea so much he, in turn, reached out to John. At this point Turturro didn't have much more than the basic story. "I went over to Woody's place and I talked him through it," says Turturro. "He'd say 'that's funny' or 'that's not funny' or 'that could be funny.'" As Allen remembers: "I thought John had come up with an unusual and amusing notion; it had a group of entertaining characters, it had a little taste of romance to it, and there were moments of real human interest." When Turturro started to write the script, Allen agreed to continue offering feedback. "He was very generous with his time," says Turturro, "but he was also merciless, and if someone like Woody Allen takes the time to do that, I felt that there must be something there." Turturro adds: "I think Woody encouraged me in his own way to go deep, and by the end there was a lot more of me in the movie. He encouraged me on how to do that in my own way. I wound up with much more of a nuanced film than a silly comedy."

Turturro has had a long-time fascination with the topic of prostitution. While there are so many people today who are forced into this way of life, there have always been those who have chosen it as a trade. "It's a profession, and like any profession there are people who do it well," says Turturro. "There can be a true transaction that happens; it might not be an emotional one, but it's a real one. Sex is a big part of life, and not just for 22 year olds. It's a longing that people have, even those who are in relationships. I don't think that longing ever ends and that desire is what has made people seek out prostitutes throughout time."

While portraits of male prostitutes in movies, whether gay or straight, tend to feature exceptionally attractive men, Fioravante (Turturro) in FADING GIGOLO wasn't conceived of as a pretty boy. "In movies it's always the most perfectly symmetrical people, but in real life sexy people come in all packages," says Turturro, adding, "once you take your clothes off, whether you have a good body or a bad body, you're on an equal footing." Fioravente's appeal doesn't emanate from his looks but rather from his extraordinary gift for understanding women-his ability to hold their attention. "There are guys who like sex, but don't necessarily like women," says Turturro. "Fioravante's willing to listen to them, to be a human being with them, and to be very tender with them."

While Fioravante, a modest man who works in a floral shop, might himself be unaware of this ability, his close friend Murray (Woody Allen) recognizes it. When Murray is asked by his dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) to recommend a man whom she would be willing to pay to share a menage a trois with herself and her friend Selima (Sofia Vergara), he immediately thinks of Fioravante. The only challenge is persuading Fioravante to go along with his plan.

"Murray is a nervous hustler," says Allen. "Not stupid, but trying to promote a fast buck. A guy with a foolish idea that works a little bit, but in the end is probably doomed to failure because it's preposterous." Allen continues: "Murray isn't a calculating or exploiting guy. He sees it as an opportunity, and his logic is 'why not?' Fioravante's always been someone who's enjoyed the company of women, and as Murray reasons, 'athletes get paid for what they do and why shouldn't you?' When Fioravante shows some reluctance, he does talk him into it, but he talks him into it in good faith, as he thinks it would be silly to pass up this goldmine that seems to be out there." Turturro adds: "Murray isn't being completely altruistic or exploitative-it's something in between."

Fioravante leads a modest and unambitious life working in a New York City floral shop; a sensitive and solitary man with an old soul who values qualitative things like the books in Murray's shop or wise maxims from the past. He doesn't have many friends aside from Murray, who has acted as a sort of a father figure to him since Fioravante broke into his bookshop as a boy. Fioravante's life seems to revolve around the women who pass through it, as he's never able to find one he can hold on to. His latest paramour, a voluptuous Tunisian singer named Mimou (M'Barka Ben Taleb) lives in Italy and doesn't speak English; Fioravante can only communicate with her in Italian, a language he only dimly understands. He can be attuned to her and even love her without knowing exactly what she's saying. Fioravante is essentially a romantic which is why Murray's proposal makes him feel uncomfortable. He doesn't like the idea of combining sexuality and money: "it dilutes it," as he tells Murray. Still, after reviewing the poor state of his finances, Fioravante reluctantly agrees to the dubious partnership with Murray.

When Fioravante meets his first client, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), she is at a crossroads in her life. Although wealthy and successful, she has always made choices in life according to what she was supposed to do rather than seeking out what she actually wanted. This way of life has left her confused about her own sexuality, despite a picture perfect marriage. "Dr. Parker is like a flower which hasn't bloomed," says Stone. "She's like a bud, a very tightly closed bud. She knows she's kind of shut down, so she asks Murray to bring this guy into her life because she needs someone to help her open her heart. And she hopes that her friend Selima, who knows how to be sexy and effervescent, will be able to help her too." Stone continues: "That beginning of her flowering self-opening is such a wonder to her that all kinds of other feelings come with it: feelings of attraction, feelings of jealousy, feelings of wonder, feelings of hopefulness, that delicious feeling of 'ooh I might know how to get to be sexy.' It's all delightful because she's fifty, not twenty, and it's so touching to see that at any age we can discover ourselves anew."

Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the third client that Murray finds for Fioravante, is an Orthodox Chasidic widow from Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Avigal has lived her entire life in a religious community that severely restricts women's behavior. In terms of dress they must cover their hair, wear skirts, and their bodies must be covered from their necks to their knees. They are also forbidden to sing or read "forbidden" book, outside of the Orthodox canon. Contact between men and women is so limited that even after a twenty year long marriage to a much older Rebbe, and after bearing him six children, Avigal has never been kissed. "Avigal is religious, but there's a curiosity in her character," says Paradis. "She's not supposed to read, but she reads. She is lonely and miserable and wants to have a little taste of life, something different. She has something in her that needs to come alive." It's not surprising that she is very receptive to Murray's intriguing offer of a massage. Says Paradis: "She's at a point in her life when she's completely fading away, and Murray comes along to tell her she doesn't have to. She trusts him."

While what Fioravante offers Avigal might seem modest and chaste, she has never encountered anybody like him in her entire life. "He pays sincere attention to her, what's in her head and what's in her heart," says Paradis. Says Stone: "What Fioravante offers women is that he's present. There isn't anything more attractive in another human being than someone who's present with you, and willing to see and experience you, be vulnerable, be available, be loving, be present." Stone continues: "Fioravante does that for Dr. Parker, but also for every woman that he allows to unfurl in his presence. And in doing that he takes each of them from where they are to the next phase of understanding of what love can be. He shows everyone, and himself, that simply by being present, the heart opens."

While outwardly Avigal and Dr. Parker seem polar opposites, internally they are actually going though something quite similar. "Avigal is oppressed by her religion and her society and you might think that Dr. Parker has everything," says Turturro, "but she is in her own cage too-they're like different ends of the spectrum." Both feel the need to free themselves by journeying outside their comfort zones. While Fioravante arouses an excitement and a girlish posessiveness in Dr. Parker, a deeper and mutual bond materializes with Avigal. "You feel that Avigal and Fioravante could be together, but they are from different worlds," says Turturro. "I think he opens her up to experience life and I think she opens him up too."

Another person on a romantic quest in the movie is Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a brawny Chasidic man working in the Shomrim (the Orthodox community police) in Avigal's neighborhood. Dovi has loved Avigal since they both were children. Although he has rarely spoken to her, and his attempts at doing so have been awkward and clumsy, he has waited twenty years for Avigal. "One of the things I love about Dovi is his loyalty and his patience," says Schreiber. "It wasn't appropriate within the Orthodox community to have any interaction with her, but he hung in there." Schreiber adds: "I don't know if Avigal knew he was doing that, but I would imagine, with him hanging around looking dopey at her all the time she would have figured it out, but I don't know that she knew."

Now that it is two years after her husband has died, Dovi is suspicious when he sees Avigal with Murray and Fioravante and starts tracking their every step. Given his background and shy nature, Dovi is bewildered by the ease with which they are able to interact with Avigal, and increasingly anxious about whether, after all his years of waiting, he's losing her to someone completely alien to his culture. "There's a physical and emotional clumsiness to Dovi," says Schreiber. "I think he's trying to understand things that are a little bit outside his range of experience." Says Turturro: "Fioravante knows how to have emotional intimacy with Avigal, but can't stay; Dovi doesn't know how to act around her, but very much wants to stay."

Dr. Parker's vivacious friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) has a much more light-hearted attitude towards her extramarital adventures with Fioravante. "Selima is fearless," says Vergara. "She is ready in her life to take some risks and she wants to have fun. Even though she's married, I don't think anything's going to stop her from that." Says Turturro: "She's the freest character in the movie. Her belief is: 'I'll try this, I'll try that-I'm going to enjoy life while I'm alive.'"

Selima is more confident than Dr. Parker, and enjoys playing around with Fioravante and being generally outrageous. "She's a little cuckoo," says Vergara. "She's not afraid of screaming, crying, saying and doing whatever she wants. She's a fun character, she brings a bit of humor to the movie, and I think that's why John wanted me to do the role."

Turturro has created several highly diverse portraits of women for FADING GIGOLO. As he explains: "I wanted the women to be very different: small, big, black, white, Spanish; women that are evocative of different things. In an early draft I had much older women too." Turturro continues: "I've worked very closely with the women in the movies I've directed. They interest me more. If I could make five movies in a row I would never make an all male movie. I don't even want to see an all male movie. Some of my favorite directors are Ingmar Bergman, Jean Renoir, Truffaut, and Louis Malle, because they created such vivid female characters."

While Turturro had put a lot of himself into writing the character of Fioravante, this didn't mean it was an easy roll to play. "Fioravante is a lovely role, but a hard one, because I could skew it too light or I could skew it to heavy, so it had to be tender in the middle of it," says Turturro. "It's a tightrope of a part." Turturro also had to contend with directing the film at the same time. Whenever he had questions about his own performance, he would have watch playback of particular scenes or else turn to his director of photography, Marco Pontecorvo (whom he has collaborated with before). Occasionally he would ask Woody Allen. "It's a little schizophrenic to keep changing roles," says Turturro.

FADING GIGOLO marks one of the rare occasions in which Woody Allen acts in a film by another director. "I have great respect for John's work as a director and an actor, and I felt this was a role that was within my range," says Allen. "If John had given me a script where I had to play a policeman or something, I wouldn't have been able to do it, because I'm not really an actor, but this was something I could handle." Turturro and the rest of the cast do not share Allen's modesty about his talents. "When you're acting opposite him, you see how fantastic he can be," says Turturro. "He did some really delicate things. He liked to improvise and it was fun to try things a couple of different ways. He's a very underrated actor… and he was always on time, ready to work. " Says Allen: "Knowing what it's like being a director myself, I tried to be as accommodating as humanly possible and do every single thing John wanted me to do, because I come from a director's point of view. I tried to completely abandon any directorial impulses of mine, or writer impulses or anything, and do as many takes as he wanted, and do them the way he wanted them, as this is strictly his baby."

Allen had some trepidations about acting opposite Liev Schreiber. "I was a little nervous before I did a scene with Liev because I'd seen him on stage and I find him to be such a tremendous actor, and I thought, 'Is he going to roll his eyes the minute I start to speak and think, 'who did they stick me with here?'" Says Schreiber: "Getting to watch him up close was really stunning for me to see what a brilliant physical comedian he is. If you want to see something, just watch the way he moves his hands, like a magician, and his timing." Schreiber adds: "I watched him throw a baseball too and who would've known that Woody Allen's a pretty good baseball player?"

Liev Schreiber brought an imposing physicality to the role of Dovi, as well as an equally formidable resume in theatre and film. "I've always admired Liev's work," says Turturro. "He is very grounded, with great range, and can play all kinds of parts, which he's certainly been able to show onstage. The idea of putting him in a romantic position was something that intrigued me. He's got his own kind of sex appeal and edge."

Award-winning French actress and international singing star Vanessa Paradis (GIRL ON THE BRIDGE) makes her debut in an English-speaking role with FADING GIGOLO. "It's a wonderful role, but for her I think it was much more than that-it connected deeply with her," says Turturro. "She gave one of those performances where people give a part of themselves away. It's happened to me occasionally. Sometimes a role just resonates with somebody, because of whatever they're going through, or their age, or anything at all, and you can't separate the performance from the reality. There wasn't a person on set that didn't feel that." Turturro continues: "I think when you work in the right way, the imaginary world becomes very real, when you're giving to each other and you just dig in without intellectualizing."

Sharon Stone and Turturro had worked with before on the film GODS BEHAVING BADLY, although they had no scenes together. "Sharon has a vulnerability to her," says Turturro. "She's the right age for the part, she's very smart, she looks great-there's something very athletic about her-I needed somebody you could imagine lived on Park Avenue. I think that we had a nice chemistry together. There's kind of a bravery about her that makes her willing to try things. She'd be like 'Alright, I want to do that.' She actually pushed me to do stuff."

Turturro considers Sofia Vergara to be a natural comedienne, something that fans of "Modern Family" would readily attest to. "When we did the scene with the threesome," says Turturro, "I told her, 'I'm like there, and then I disappear, kind of. You get it? And we have to read that on your face.' She did it brilliantly." Turturro continues: "She really has a lot of potential as an actress, if she wants to do it. She can be very expressive. She told me that she thinks in Spanish. If I had known that I would have put in more stuff in Spanish for her and I would just have subtitled it."

Turturro spent several years researching the Jewish Orthodox community, reading books and meeting with many people. Vanessa spent a great deal of time with a young Chasidic woman who had left the community. "She's a very strong, young, beautiful woman, who was 25, but who seems to have the life of someone who's 105," says Paradis. "She helped me to understand all the rules. Also she comes from Israel, and only learned to speak English three years ago, so she still had an accent which I stole a little bit from. I also used my French accent which I pushed a little bit more. John didn't really want to show where Avigal comes from." Paradis was also helped by her costume. "My head is strapped under the wig and I have tight stockings on. I found that the physical sensation of wearing those clothes gave me an identity. It really did a lot for me." Says Schreiber: "I think all too often people have a narrow perspective on communities like the Satmar and Chasidim. They can be insular and so people don't bother to ask questions, and they don't bother to offer answers. It's a fertile environment for misunderstanding and miscommunication. When you go into that community and meet those people, and you get to know them on their terms, you realize that there is a lot more going on than that. They are as complex, complicated and as varied as anyone else."

One attribute that unites all the characters in FADING GIGOLO-Fioravante, Murray, Avigal, Dr. Parker, Dovi, and Selima-is a longing to connect with other people. It's a very big dynamic in life," says Turturro. "I think some people have obstacles that are very distinct, and others seem to have everything but they still feel that they need something else." Murray and Fioravante's idiosyncratic partnership causes ripples affecting all the characters in the film: Murray and Avigal's children start socializing; Avigal's and Dr. Parker's yearnings and searches are satisfied, as is Selima's simple quest for fun; Dovi learns how to express his love to Avigal by following Fioravante; and Fioravante himself learns to follow his heart wherever it leads him. They are all trying to take advantage of the opportunities life offers them while they can. Says Paradis: "There's a line my character says in the movie that goes 'We're alive for just a little while.' That means live life while you can. When there's beauty, when there's a chance that passes in front of you-don't watch it, grab it!" Everybody deserves a little happiness...if not a lot."

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