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The Characters
With the screenplay coming together, Ramis and the producers began to assemble key players, beginning with Robert De Niro and Billy Crystal, who were delighted to work together again and further explore the comic potential of their characters.

"I love working with Bob," says Crystal. "We never get tired of what we're doing. We love finding out what's different about ourselves and our characters and celebrating that. I love watching him have a good time."

De Niro was equally enthusiastic about reuniting with Crystal, citing both an on-screen and off-screen camaraderie that the two native New Yorkers share. "Billy and I have a good rapport, we can play off each other like musicians. We both have a New York rhythm that's built into each of us, which helps. Plus, he's very, very funny, and not just on camera. That was especially helpful when we were shooting at night and we were tired."

After Sobel is called in to consult on the cause of Vitti's psychotic breakdown, Vitti is forced to submit to a psychological examination conducted by Sobel under the supervision of Sing Sing medical and psychiatric authorities. The exam became a classic slapstick comedy routine with both actors, at the top of their form, struggling to keep from cracking each other up.

"He was definitely making me laugh," De Niro recalls. "I kept it straight but there were moments when he was sort of barking at me and doing everything to get a reaction and, well…all I can say is that there are some good outtakes of that scene."

Ramis could not have been happier with the dynamic between the two stars.

"Billy always knows the dialogue and likes things pretty well set, although he's wonderfully inventive and could fly with just about anything you could give him," Ramis explains. "He understands the value of a well-written joke in and of itself and will do what it takes to make the joke play. Bob works more from a solid commitment to reality and so things have to feel totally authentic to him so that he can be funny in context.

"People wondered how I was going to reconcile these two styles," Ramis continues. "The trick is not to reconcile them at all. The tension comes from their differences, not from them suddenly getting on the same page. You're not going to see De Niro turn into a stand-up comedian, delivering one-liners. The verbal jokes he makes in the film are very carefully crafted so that they don't feel written or forced."

De Niro also shared responsibility for keeping Paul Vitti honest, at least where dialogue was concerned, and Ramis respected his point of view. "There were certain instances where I was supposed to do something as Paul and I said, ‘He would never do this, not in a million years,'" the actor explains. "It's essential, even in a comedy, that people believe the words a character is saying, that he's aware of what he's doing and that there is always a sense of reality connected to it."

Ramis admits to being in awe of Crystal's comedic abilities, and also acknowledges his remarkable generosity as a performer to function as a straight man in many scenes in which his natural inclination would be to deliver the punch line.

"It's extraordinary," the director says. "For a world-famous comedian to repress his comic urge in certain situations takes genuine effort, and Billy really made the effort.

In many instances he behaved just as a psychiatrist would, acting as the anchor for everything going on around him. Like a psychiatrist, he was there for everyone, holding everyone's hands, often at the expense of his own needs, just the way the character Ben Sobel is constantly putting himself second in favor of his wife, his son, or Vitti.

"On the other hand," Ramis says, "we were always l

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