Interview: "Last I Heard" Director Dave Rodriguez
Thu, 18 Jul 2013 16:57:20
Paul Sorvino Videos
Last I Heard is unlike any other mob film you've ever seen. It's as vulnerable as it is vivacious, and it pushes its stars Paul Sorvino, Michael Rapaport, and Chazz Palminteri into new territory, while encouraging them to shine like never before. The film follows Sorvino's character Mr. Joe as he returns to the real world from prison, and things just ain't what they used to be. The narrative remains sharp, the pacing is perfect, and the emotion is as real as it gets. Simply put, don't miss this one.
It's opening the HollyShorts Film Festival in Los Angeles on August 15 at the TCL Chinese theater. However, to preview it, ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino spoke to director David Rodriguez about the nuances of the movie, music, and so much more.
What were some of the emotions or ideas you wanted to convey from the jump? The film really taps into those feelings of emerging from prison and attempting to re-acclimate to society.
Firstly, it was about doing what you just said. How does an older criminal that's released from federal prison acclimate to a progressive modern society? Not only that, add in the fact that he's got some challenges with his neighbor and his daughter. I thought that would be a wonderful series of obstacles to put this character through. That was the undercurrent and genesis of Last I Heard. How do you take this character we've all seen before from GoodFellas to The Godfather to Casino and do something different? What happens when he comes back? Especially now, when the FBI and government have infiltrated the mob, it's not what it used to be. I thought there were a lot of different dynamics going on that you could put this character through and allow whichever actor that played it to experience this emotional roller coaster. That was the goal there.
You kept it very intimate both in terms of the story and the delivery. It's a vulnerable ride.
It totally is. I didn't set out to do anything bigger than I did. The wonderful thing is many people ask if a lot of the actors improvised their lines, especially in the deli. I tell them it's about ninety percent on book. When you grow up in that environment and you're a good listener, it's very easy to write this dialogue and write it in a very nuanced way where certain words and gestures possess certain meanings. I always tell people there's really no such thing as a New York accent; it's more of a New York attitude. I don't mean that in a negative way. It's more of a confidence and bravado like, "I'm in a big city. I say what I want when I want and no one can say anything about it". That's the underlying tone especially in mob culture. It's that machismo. You even get it with the women.
Paul Sorvino brought Mr. Joe's complexities right to the forefront. The audience gets closer to him. What resonates with you about the character?
I thought a lot about his dialogue and his attitude to his neighbor and his daughter. What really hit home for me was much of what Mr. Joe is as a person—not as a criminal—was my father. My dad was a hardworking guy. He was a Korean War veteran. He was the most influential person in my life. Everything was by the book. However, he had these certain qualities that were stubborn at times and not very emotional. He got more emotional towards the end of his life. He passed away at 2011. So much of the way Mr. Joe is with the little girl Liv, Rita, and Bobby, I remember the emotion of those conversations within my own family. For a long time, I remember saying, "Love you dad", and he would say "Okay" [Laughs]. I knew he loved me. I'm the youngest son, and I'm very affectionate towards my sons. I wanted that back from him. Towards the last several years of his life, he went from "You know I love you" to "I love you too". It was an evolution of giving me back that emotion. It was also about watching other people's parents and relationships. A lot of that has to do with respect in family, which is another major undercurrent of the film.
Chazz Palminteri and Paul have been in so many different mob films. However, you pushed them out of their element and encouraged them to shine in a new light.
Thank you! That means so much to me. I appreciate you taking particular notice of that. That was purposeful. I wanted to take Mr. Joe and put him in a vulnerable position where he couldn't just have you whacked. I wanted Chazz to be the lawyer. He's the guy who informs Mr. Joe he can no longer live his life the way he used to. It was important to put Steven Bauer from Scarface in a law enforcer's position and push this gangster's buttons saying, "You're not in charge anymore. You're under the supervision of the federal government, and you can't live your life how you used to".
How important is music to filmmaking?
I'm a pretty musical guy. Ironically, music speaks to me more than film does. Being a director is the one thing that fulfills me professionally and personally. When you go through a film, there are so many spots and scenes where music becomes more important than what's in the scene. Sometimes, when music's in the background it's even more powerful because you don't necessarily pick up on it immediately. That said, Geoff Zanelli did an incredible job.
Who are some of your favorite bands?
I'm a New Wave kid so it's everything from The Cure to The Smiths to New Order to Material Issue. That's the music that speaks to me most. Today's music though like Santigold, The White Stripes, and MGMT is the best class of music since the eighties in my opinion.
Will you be seeing the film?
Check out the HollyShorts Film Festival for more info, and follow Last I Heard on Facebook!