Comedy with a Heart and a Brain
The action in the story, as directed by Ramis, walks a fine line between comedy and drama
The action in the story, as directed by Ramis,
walks a fine line between comedy and drama. Maintaining the balance
was critical, and uppermost in everyone's mind.
"Certainly Billy and I felt we didn't want to remake the
comedies we had done in the past," Ramis says. "With
Bob playing Vitti, we felt that we had a chance to do a new kind
of comedy, a type people hadn't seen yet that wouldn't feel slight
or predictable. We were all on new ground, Bob as well.
"The essential challenge of filming this movie was that even
though there are funny lines, the true comedy must come from the
situation. Billy was determined not to take the easy way out here.
Of course he wanted to be funny -- it's what he does naturally
and what people expect from him -- but his first commitment was
to be true to Ben's character.
"As for Bob, he told us he had respect for what we had done
and that he understood that comedy is 'out there' as a genre in
which he has little experience, so from his point of view the
film is also a departure.
"But Billy and I had to admit that working with Bob was an
essential part of the challenge for us. Bob is someone who represents
some of the greatest American filmmaking of the last 20 years.
It set the bar a little higher for Billy and me, and we were glad
"I was very nervous about it all until we started shooting,"
Crystal says. "But once you start working the sense of awe
gives way and you're just two actors trying to do the best you
can. There's no pretense about Bob: he gives his all to do a great
job. He works hard at never hitting a false note.
"Real excitement came in the therapy scenes. Here, both of
us were taking chances. It felt as if we were two tennis players
or, more accurately, trapeze artists flying through space and
having to catch each other. I have to say working like this pulled
things out of me I never knew I had and made me a better actor."
The climax of the story, in which Ben must pretend he's Vitti's
lieutenant, puts him in real danger for his life. The stakes are
equally high for Vitti. When he arrives, he must use his new-found
psychic health and moral resolve to stand up to his enemies without
unduly threatening them. Both stars became intensely involved
in the scene. "No element was too small for them to think
about," says Ramis.
Weinstein comments, "Here we have a comedian who's come to
acting by way of comedy and an actor who's come to comedy by way
of his character. It's been a real tightrope for everyone. But
with Harold in charge we sense that we're keeping it funny without
turning the film into a parody, and that we're continually being
true to the seriousness of the situation the characters find themselves
Following the Mafia meeting, scenes were filmed inside Sing Sing
Prison at Ossining in upstate New York, after which the film's
opening sequence, a prologue which re-creates the historic 1 950s
Mafia meeting in the Appalachin, was shot in Katonah, New York.
The unit then packed up to shoot in Miami Beach, where Ben introduces
his fiancee Laura to his son Michael.
"Laura has all these anxieties about meeting her new stepson
when, out of the blue, she finds her life complicated by a gaggle
of gangsters," Lisa Kudrow laughs. "Everywhere she looks,
these thugs are interfering with her most intimate plans. She
can't get over it. But Laura's a determined woman. Believe me,
this woman is a match for the Mob and th
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