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A Cool Production
The smash hit comedy Get Shorty was a huge success on many fronts. It introduced a hip new kind of gangster, revising pre-existing stereotypes; it was a major breakthrough for John Travolta, introducing audiences to one of the most memorable characters of his career; and it encouraged a broader readership to take notice of novelist Elmore Leonard's impressive body of fiction. In Hollywood, when you hit that big, a sequel isn't far behind. It took almost 10 years for production to get underway, but in early 2004, filming finally began on Be Cool entirely in Hollywood, California.

What you see on the screen begins on the page. For esteemed novelist Elmore Leonard, it took a while to feel confident he could write a sequel to Get Shorty. "But when I thought about it, and about John Travolta as Chili Palmer because he was so good in Get Shorty,” says Leonard, "it wasn't difficult to see him in the role again. I also had firmly in my mind that it was a sequel – and a sequel has to be better than the original – so I had to think of another idea and another arena in which to set the story. I thought Chili, still in the motion picture business, would now be looking for something fresh. I decided he could find his way into the music business, and suddenly there was so much good material, perhaps because it's a rougher business than the movies and there are many more scoundrels in it.”

Once the novel was completed, screenwriter Peter Steinfeld was brought on to turn the story into a screenplay; he first heard of Be Cool from his wife and agent. "I read the book in about three hours and I flipped over it. Then I had to go to Jersey Films and pitch myself to producers Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, and Stacey Sher. One of the things I do when rehearsing a pitch as I'm driving is that I talk out loud in the car by myself. I'm driving through Beverly Hills, and as I stop at a light I'm in the car talking to myself and I realize the guy in the car to my left is staring at me. I look over in mid-pitch, and it turns out it's Delroy Lindo, who played Bo Catlett in Get Shorty. I actually had a copy of the books Get Shorty and Be Cool in the seat next to me, so I grabbed Get Shorty and held it up, and he gave me the thumbs up. Right then I thought, ‘This is a sign. This was meant to be.‘” Steinfeld got the job.

When you read his books, Leonard's style of writing makes it feel almost like you're watching a movie because his dialogue is so crisp and well paced. "Adapting Leonard is sort of a blessing and a curse,” says Steinfeld, "because his writing is so cinematic and tight. He's like the Shakespeare of crime fiction. He cuts right to the heart of a situation. The most terrifying thing was sending him the first draft of the script, but when the phone rang, he said, ‘Peter, this is Elmore Leonard.' I said, ‘Mr. Leonard, how are you? It's a pleasure to talk to you.' And he said, ‘I loved it, loved the script.' He was so supportive.”

Leonard's researcher, Gregg Sutter, echoes Leonard's praise for Steinfeld. "Peter took it to a whole new level, much like Scott Frank did with Get Shorty,” says Sutter. "Elmore had confidence in Peter because the basic road map of Be Cool was followed, the dialogue and the spirit of it, but there was so much Peter was able to expand upon.

"And the casting, of course, is brilliant,” he continues. "John and Uma together again! Some of their magical moments – the scene of them dancing with the Black Eyed Peas playing ‘Sexy' in the background – that's a scene that people will want to see. They want that reunion because it was such a magical moment in Pulp Fiction.”

Director F. Gary Gray signed on to helm the picture partly because he's such a big fan of two other films made from Leonard's novels: Get Shorty and Out of Sight. Gray loves the world Leonard creates and how the attention paid to detail in his books translates so well to film.


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