"Los Angeles as a Character"
The Gambler was filmed entirely in greater Los Angeles, with brief stops to Palm
Springs and Joshua Tree. Massachusetts native Monahan wrote the script
specifically for the City of Angels: "I have a twisted and conflicted
relationship with Los Angeles," Monahan says. "When I came out here as a kid, it
struck me as an alien planet. However much I've been exposed to it since, it
still strikes me as alien. There's something about Los Angeles that disturbs me,
in a way, and appeals to me in an almost equal measure."
Production designer Keith Cunningham comments on the opportunities that the Los
Angeles's sunny veneer offered in telling Jim's story: "Most people know blue
skies and palm trees, but we're really looking to find the back doors and the
dark alleys, which is both seductive and also dangerous at the same time."
Cunningham brought the production to as many practical locations as possible,
knowing Wyatt's preference for locations over sets that have been constructed on
soundstages. "When you go into a location, there is so much there for you
already in the in the textures in the wall, even the smell. It changes the way
actors work and the way I work. We got to explore locations that haven't been
shot in years," Wyatt says.
The Gambler's location manager Chris Baugh agrees: "A location evokes a tone and
a feeling. Rupert was looking for realism and authenticity."
The production took residence in about forty different locations over the
forty-day shoot, and each location required several weeks of preparation. "It's
kind of like throwing a full scale wedding with two hundred guests every day for
forty days. It's a lot to handle," Chris Baugh says.
At Wyatt's request, Baugh sought out rarely used, unfamiliar spaces. The
Gambler's tour of Los Angeles included locations in Beverly Hills, Pacific
Palisades, Downtown Los Angeles, Koreatown, Pasadena an Dana Point. Jim's
confrontation with Neville at the bottom of an empty swimming pool was filmed at
the Pasadena YMCA, which was designed by architect Julia Morgan, who also
designed Hearst Castle. For the desert casino scenes, the production moved into
Casino Morongo, just outside of Palm Springs, beginning at 5:00 a.m. on a Monday
morning, typically the casino's least active time. The production also enjoyed
the rare opportunity to shoot at the Playboy Mansion, which doubled as Roberta's
home. (When Baugh suggested the Playboy Mansion to the producers, they feared
that the building might be too recognizable. Baugh showed the producers a group
of photos of various Southern California homes and asked them to pick out the
photograph of the Playboy Mansion. Stumped, the producers relented.)
"I found so many different corners of this city that are just fascinating and in
a way belong to their own their own city. There are so many cities in this one
city. I tried to bring that into the film," Wyatt says.
Although there was a narrative draw to set the film in Los Angeles, Wahlberg
points out that filming in the city has become an anomaly. "Los Angeles is
definitely a character in the movie. Hopefully, we'll be taking the audience to
places that they're not familiar with in LA. To shoot in LA, to be home with my
family, was really important to me. I moved to LA to make movies and they don't
do that that often so it was really nice to be able to experience it here,"
Larson also laments the shift of film production to other states. "It's so rare
that we get to make movies in Los Angeles, and it's a shame," Larson comments.
"We're all surprised by the locations because they're so historical and none of
us have ever seen them. It's been a fun adventure to discover all of these new
secret, hidden and sometimes dark parts of Los Angeles."
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