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Danny Finds A Family
Fogelman is in an enviable position for a first- time director, leading a cast that includes two Oscar winners, a two- time Oscar nominee, a Golden Globe winner and a double Emmy nominee. " It' s a heavyweight cast," he says. " Al Pacino and Annette Bening and Christopher Plummer. Jennifer Garner. Bobby Cannavale. It' s a lot. And they' re also some of the nicest people I' ve ever met. I lucked out casting five people who happen to be at the top of their acting game and who I enjoy hanging out with."

Early on in the production, Fogelman was delighted to see the cast come together around a common interest. " They are all theater geeks," he says. " We went out to dinner together and they sat around the table talking theater. Al and Chris and Annette and Bobby work onstage all the time. Jen started out in New York theater. You want to know what really happens at crazy Hollywood dinners? They are all geeking out over Shakespeare."

Fogelman and the actors spent weekend afternoons during the shoot in Pacino' s backyard working on the scenes for the upcoming weeks. " It was really an amazing experience sitting at his little picnic table in 90 degree heat, reading pages with each other. We would tweak the lines and I would get more ideas on staging it."

Initially intimidated by the prospect of directing the legendary Pacino, Fogelman soon got to know another side of the actor. " He' s an iconic figure, but he' s also a really kind, gentle soul. The character is larger than life and Al fits into it so nicely. He is in his fancy suit as he strides into this small town hotel and everybody' s taking pictures. Even though the character' s big and famous, he' s very understated. This isn' t a Scarface Al. This is a much quieter Al."

The film introduces Danny as a 21- year- old newcomer, stumbling through his first major interview. " He doesn' t have the kind of confidence to get through the rough spots," says Pacino. " He is a natural songwriter and when he does very well, it shocks him. I' ve known people like that who were catapulted into great stardom and were terrified by it." Danny' s survival instincts propel him forward professionally, says Pacino, but only protect him for so long. " Then he slowly goes into decline. More than 40 years of singing the old songs over and over has killed his creative spirit. We find him at the end of line, but even with all the drugs and the drinking, he still fills a house."

When he receives the letter from Lennon, Danny decides the advice it contains is still worth following. " In fact, it does what it was meant to do when it was written," Pacino says. " John Lennon understood. He said, come see Yoko and me. We will take you in and talk about everything. You can be famous and still be yourself. That really would have meant a lot to him at the time since John Lennon was his hero. But at this point, it' s a lifesaver. It just stops him in his tracks. He sees that he is living without hope, riding on the superficiality of drugs and alcohol and much younger women. The letter sparks him to change all that."

Danny checks into the under- the- radar Woodcliff Lake Hilton in New Jersey to compose new songs while he tries to reconnect with his past, but it would be impossible for him to be anonymous- even if he wanted to be. " He' s like a walking neon sign," says Pacino. " Everybody knows who he is. He brings in his tour bus, this huge bus with his name on it. He does inappropriate things without realizing it and that' s where much of the humor comes from. He just sort of takes over this little Hilton."

Annette Bening plays hotel manager Mary Sinclair. Mary is navigating a messy divorce and trying to raise her daughter alone. " Annette gives a performance that just sort of staggered me," says Pacino. " She' s a great actress- that' s a given. She' s also tirelessly inventive. She just keeps going and you go along for the ride. It was delightful working with her."

Mary may be the only person at the hotel who is not impressed to see Danny Collins walk in the door. " That makes her very attractive to him," says Fogelman. " Mary is at a crossroads and Danny is a force of nature who comes into her life. Their relationship is a beautiful love story, but not conventionally romantic. You' re watching something really deep and meaningful develop between these two people. Al and Annette had such natural chemistry. It was exciting to witness."

Bening had a ball developing her character in those backyard rehearsals. " There was such a good script to start with," she says. " And then, we all worked on it a little bit beforehand. That' s the real joy of making a movie. There' s a kind of alchemy that happens and that' s the fun of it. But it only happens when you have somebody like Al Pacino to work with. We found a lot of surprising things between us.

" When you work with an actor like Al, he really does all the work," she continues. " All I had to do was watch and listen and look into his eyes. He loves what he does and that permeates the whole atmosphere of the set. It' s great entertainment seeing Al sink his teeth into the role of this flashy musician."

She was grateful that Fogelman allowed them to embellish on his script so freely. " Sometimes a writer- director wants exactly the words that he spent so much time and energy and love putting on, but Dan was very enthusiastic about our input."

Asked to describe Danny Collins, Bening says, " It' s surprisingly hard to do that in a nutshell. He' s a charming eccentric who has lived his life according to what he wanted to do. He' s realizing that in the larger picture, that doesn' t really make you happy. He' s ready for something else in his life and that' s really what the story' s about. The letter reminds him and us that the future is always fresh."

To play Danny' s longtime manager and best friend, Frank Grubman, Fogelman tapped 2012' s Oscar winner for Best Supporting Actor, Christopher Plummer. " Chris and Al are quite beautiful together in the film," says the filmmaker. " He provides the yin to Al' s yang. They are wonderful together in real life as well. They were both so magnanimous towards one another. And Chris is so funny. He provides a great deal of the soul to the movie, but also a lot of comedy. He' s such an elegant man, but in this film he' s tougher and gruffer than you' ve seen him."

The respect between the two actors is apparent even in casual conversation. " How does Chris Plummer create these kinds of characters?" asks Pacino. " Where does he go to get the nuance of this character, the subtlety? I don' t know. It' s genius. You see it so rarely and you have to enjoy it."

This is the second film the pair has made together. " We both worked on The Insider, which I felt was a wonderful and important movie," says Plummer. " I' ve known Al off screen over the years and he' s been terrific to me. He' s seen a lot of plays that I did on Broadway and he' s always been terribly loyal. I' ve done nothing for him except admire him tremendously. I call him a great actor because he' s earned it, both in the theater and on film."

The actors' longtime friendship shines through on screen. " There' s a great bond between the characters," says Plummer. " They have saved each other' s lives for years. He got me sobered up early on in life and I try to do the same for him. It' s a delicious relationship, but never cute or sentimental."

Plummer sees Danny Collins as a classic film with wide appeal. " An audience seeing this can come home joyful and thoroughly entertained. The characters are wonderfully rich and the script is very well written by Dan Fogelman. He is really an old- fashioned screenwriter. It' s hard to find scripts that are this human and funny and touching."

Danny Collins goes to New Jersey to seek out his almost 40- year- old son, Tom Donnelly, whom he has never met even though he has known about him since before he was born. " He wasn' t given access to the child and his very big, very famous life got in the way," says Fogelman. " Now he' s trying to make amends, but it starts very painfully."

Bobby Cannavale brings an authentic sadness and grit to the role of Tom. " Bobby is a salt of the earth kind of guy," says Fogelman. " There' s something just so real about him and his performance in the film. It helped that Al and Bobby have a tremendous off- camera relationship. Al plays cards with Bobby, which is one of the reasons I cast him. You can feel it when you look at them on camera together. There' s a lot of love there, as well as a push and pull between the two of them."

Cannavale and Pacino had just completed a Broadway run of David Mamet' s Pulitzer- and Tony Award - winning play, " Glengarry Glen Ross," when they began filming Danny Collins. " I am thrilled to say that I played the role that Al played in the movie," the actor says. " Any actor in my age group looks up to Al Pacino. He' s my favorite actor and it was huge that I got to do a play with him. We got to be pretty close during the play and now, I get to work with him in a movie.

" He' s just a master of subtlety and depth on film," Cannavale continues. " Think of all the iconic roles he' s played. Here we are playing father and son. It' s funny how life turns out sometimes."

Working with his friend Cannavale made the difficult and emotional scenes between Danny and his son easier for Pacino. " You look into Bobby' s eyes and there' s always something going on," he says. " I don' t know that we could have done what we did together if we had just met on the picture."

Tom has been working construction and struggling to get by all of his adult life, explains Cannavale. " I' ve got a pregnant wife and a little girl and a secret of my own that eventually brings my dad and me closer together," he says. " Tom represents a missed opportunity. He is the family that Danny never had. Tom doesn' t want anything to do with him, but Danny sort of gives him no choice. He just keeps bombarding his way in. Danny' s is going to make a connection with him, regardless of what Tom wants."

Cannavale credits Fogelman with creating a great script for the actors to work with. " He has an uncanny sense of the truthfulness that came through, not just in the writing, but in the directing. It never felt like this was his first movie. I was very lucky to work with someone who brought so much passion to the project."

As Tom' s radiant wife, Samantha, Jennifer Garner provides the film' s soul, according to Fogelman. " Jennifer is so nice that you think, ' she can' t possibly be this nice,' " the director says. " But she' s the real article. Both as an actress and as the character, Jen is so grounded. Sam is the first one to open herself up to Danny coming into their lives, but she also tells him that this is her husband' s story and while she wishes him the best of luck, she doesn' t have high expectations for how this is going to go."

Garner, a mother of three, says she loves stories that explore what it means to be a family. " I was so happy to be able to be a part of this film. This gets to the heart of what makes us all love one another and why it is so complicated to love someone else. Sam and Tommy are a really solid couple. She always has her husband' s back. For all of their life together, she' s known about Danny Collins. Every time that song is played, it' s painful. When she first meets Danny, she' s worried about her husband, but Danny so clearly wants to make things right. He just keeps showing up."

Garner admits that having a front row seat for Al Pacino' s performance as Danny was a big draw. " He seemed to be having the time of his life," Garner says. " He was ready for anything, ready to dance, ready to sing at a moment' s notice. He was having a blast. His whole personality was just really light and easy and fun.

" This movie will make the audience feel good, too," she concludes. " And you are going to be singing his signature song. The crew sang it all day."

Fogelman says the secret to bringing the story and characters to life was all in the casting. " Just get Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Christopher Plummer, Jennifer Garner and Bobby Cannavale to do your movie. It would be hard to screw that up. To be around people who are sensitive and amusing and supportive as well as open to me was incomparable. You can' t walk across a wire without the faith and confidence in the people that are holding you up there."

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