Capone interviews A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS author/screenwriter/director Dito Montiel!!!
Published at: Oct. 18, 2006, 4:44 p.m. CST by quint
Hey, everyone. Capone in Chicago here. I’ve got about a half-dozen interviews in various stages of transcription right now that I’ll be parceling out over the next couple of weeks, most of which were collected during the Chicago International Film Festival, which wraps up this week. First up is Dito Montiel, who wrote and directed the story of his teenage years in Queens, a wonderful, sometimes terrifying film called A GUIDE TO RECOGNIZING YOUR SAINTS. Robert Downey Jr. and Shia LaBeouf both play Dito at different ages, and the film is a rather remarkable telling of the incendiary times Dito grew up in, during the 1980s. Based on his portrayal in the film, I had absolutely no idea what the real man would be like, but I found him easy-going, aware of his strengths and weakness as both a filmmaker and a writer, and just a groovy guy to hang with. We met in the middle of the afternoon at an otherwise empty hotel restaurant on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
Capone: I want make sure I call you the right name. How is it that you prefer to have your first name pronounced, cause they do it different ways in the movie. Some people call you Dito [pronounced dee-toe], some Ditto.
Dito Montiel: My real name is Orlando--Orlandito. My father’s from Nicaragua. That would mean ‘little’ or a term of endearment. So, my family would always call me Dito. But, of course, all my friends would say Ditto. So, that kind of crept in, and my name has become Ditto over the years. When I hear Dito, it always freaks me out because I’m, like…it’s either family or Antonio [his best friend growing up and a major force in the film].
C: Would you ever have allowed this film to get made without you in charge and directing? Was there ever a consideration in your mind to let somebody else take the helm?
DM: You know, that was a weird reality slide. I was working in Dublin with my friend, who edited the film. We were both working in Dublin. We shot this little video one day, you know, just decided to create a little spot. And, we stuck it on the computer, and we put a little music to it. I had a recording of my friend talking, and I put that on their too. And, it was, like, hmmm, this is kind of interesting. So, we made it longer. We made three minutes, and I looked at him and said, We could do this for an hour and a half. He said, We can. So, we got excited.
And then, when Robert Downey signs up, one minute, we’re going to make this movie for nothing, below zero budget. Maybe we can buy some pizzas if someone helps you out. But then Robert shows up, and then you start getting happy, and then you get nervous. At first, I was so blown away that anyone wanted to make my movie. I remember I was, like, Listen, you can do whatever you want. Put Jim J. Bullock in the lead, I don’t care! I was so excited, you know, I couldn’t believe it. Omigod, just to be around movies.
Before Robert signed on, another producer I had met said, We’d like to maybe make your book into a movie. And I said, Really? He said, Yeah. So, I got so excited, and then they had someone write a treatment, like a three-page sort of thing, you know, and it was so terrible. I knew when I read it was the first time that…the best answer to your question is, I’m going to write it. Because when I saw what somebody else came up with, I said, God, this is embarrassing, this is terrible.
C: Someone wrote the treatment based on your book?
DM: Yeah. And, he met me.
C: And, you hadn’t taken a crack at a screenplay at that point?
DM: No, no, no. This is before I met Robert or anything, and I remember I read it, and I remember I was, like, man, I don’t know about this. And, they’re, like, Oh, we think it’s kind of cool. There was this “Yo, Vinnie” and the Mafia angle to it with all the jokes. It was like if you hired me to write a movie about surfing, I’d say “Hang loose” or something really bad. And, that was the minute that I realized that not just anyone can write this. So, then I tried to get in the world of the writing.
And, then we upped the ante when directing starts coming in. First, it was, like, Hey, man, anybody can direct this. Then, we made that little short, and I was, like, Hey, I can do this. And, then it starts to become, I don’t even think Martin Scorsese could do this right. Only because people will say to you at first--and they said it to me many times--that I was too close to the material.
What does that mean? Isn’t that good to be close to something. I could see where it might be kind of a problem, but I would hope people who write or make something are close to what they make. That’s a weird comment that I’ve heard a lot of people make.
C: If you aren’t close to the material, you’re just a guy for hire, which is definitely something you don’t want, because then there’s no commitment to the material.
DM: Yeah. I mean, hey, Martin Scorsese could probably do a damn good job, but it wouldn’t be my version.
C: You mention Scorsese. As a first-time director, were there certain films or certain filmmakers that you looked to for inspiration, ones that you said, I’d kind of like my movie to feel like that.
DM: Yeah. I love movies so much, but I’m not much of an indie film guy. Once in a while I go to one, and I’m blown away by it. Most of the time, I go to one, and I’m incredibly bored. It’s just, you know, I’m more mainstream. I like reality TV. I like all things you’re not supposed to like, you know. “Big Brother”--I was obsessed.
It’s funny, I hear things said about the film…I’m not trying to act dumb, and I sure hope I don’t sound dumb, but I hear it described as “impressionistic.” I don’t even know what the word means, honestly. I have a feeling I know what it means. I love SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. I saw it when I was, like, eight years old--in the theater. That was the last time I saw it, but I’m sure it resonated in me, right? A million little things develop you as an artist or a writer or anything you ever become.
Just before we made this movie, I saw 25TH HOUR, and it did something to me that most movies don’t do to me. I mean a lot of movies…I’m an easy crier, but that movie…something about it devastated me. I don’t even know particularly why. It just beat me to death.
C: Like your film, it has that father-son thing going on…
DM: And when it ended, I really couldn’t talk for, like, 10 minutes. I mean it, I’m not being overly dramatic. I could not talk. I said, If I say anything, I’m going to burst into tears. And I don’t know what it was. It was this whole weird thing. It touched me in a way. And, the guy who edited my film, Jake…we were working together. He saw it at the same time, but at another theater. He called me and said, Omigod! And, we both had that connection to it. So, the only thing I did say is when I met Eric Gautier, who shot my movie, I said, Watch 25TH HOUR, because that to me is how the present day scenes should feel, and for lack of a better term, it looked professional.
C: Very different than the rest of the film.
DM: Literally 25TH HOUR…Alfred Hitchcock could have filmed it. That is classical filming. Spike Lee, he’s great, and I think that even people who like him underestimate his talent…I mean, he is talented. I love him. And that movie is shot professionally. And, to me, like, present day should feel very professional.
C: Have you ever met Spike lee?
DM: No. I’m such a fan. To me, Spike Lee is like Bob Dylan: even if the record sucks, there’s a great song on it. It’s worth the $15 or whatever.
C: When I was watching SAINTS, seeing Chazz Palminteri in it made me think of his film A BRONX TALE.
DM: They shot that in my neighborhood.
C: It’s a very different film, a different time period, but it had that same, not necessarily nostalgic, but authentic feel to it. When your book came out, did you have actors coming to you at parties or wherever you might meet somebody and just say, Hey, if you ever make that into a movie, I’d like to be in it?
DM: I don’t think enough books were even out there for anybody to know. Luckily, Robert Downey…I had known him in passing. A good friend of mine is also a really good friend of Robert’s. So, over the years we sort of bumped into each other. So, Robert was the only guy that had probably read the book that had any power that could ever make a movie. And, that ended up working out. It wasn’t out there enough, I think, for anybody even to know. I don’t think anyone even read this book until it started getting shopped around as a movie.
C: Based on the caliber of the people in the movie, one might think that maybe people had heard of it even before.
DM: It started to become this weird thing, man, I mean, it was the weirdest thing. I love movies, and this is the blessing of all time, to be able to make a film that I feel proud of and that I love the way it came out. And, I truly do. In life, you don’t get to do many things that come out exactly like you hoped. If someone says they don’t like my film, I say, That’s too bad, I do. You don’t get to do that too often, because usually it’s like, I know, I fucked up. And, it’ll eat me up. I made a record once, I felt like that. They say, It sucks, and I say, Yeah, I know. And, it’s a terrible feeling, you know? But, this film, if they say it sucks, I go, Ah, damn, too bad, I really liked it.
C: How would you rate yourself as a director after having gone through the process?
DM: For me, it’s exactly the film that I wanted to make. It really is. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing. I would have happily gone to NYU film school; I think that would be a great help, and I don’t think it’s a hindrance at all. I know some people say, Aw, it’s better not to have any schooling. That to me is as preposterous as someone who says, you know, that you can’t do it without schooling. Neither is going to ruin it. But, as far as this film, it was exactly what I wanted to make. Look, it’s a story, it’s a story of some kids. It’s been told 5 million times. Chuck Berry wrote every Rolling Stones and Ramones song that we’ll ever hear. But, I still love the Ramones. And so, to me, I believe that if the emotions work, the story will work, as opposed to making sure the story works to make the emotions work. Hey, how hard is it to tell a story about a person who leaves and comes home? I mean, it’s just an emotional journey, hopefully.
C: Obviously, you make concessions between the book and the screenplay. For the movie, were you willing to sacrifice accuracy and reality for the sake of something that worked a little better cinematically?
DM: I’d sacrifice every single moment. Look, the thing is, and I believe it, that you’ll get the truth out of your film if you create it. And, that’s it, it’s a movie. The light is projecting on the screen, you know, and if the emotions are right--I keep going to that--it’s the truth. My friend Mike O’Shea [another major character in the film] in real life, he lives in Essex, England. He’s doing great now. He moved there, he married a girl from Essex, and he’s living a good life.
C: He’s the guy who was killed in the film?
DM: Yeah, yeah. And, in real life, my friend Angelo was killed like Mike O’Shea. When we were making the film, there was a character, you know, Mike, and he really is a combination of Angelo, Mike, and my friend Ray. Ray was the kid that used to go to the city with me. And, he’d show me punk magazines, and I’d go, Who are these people? We tried to find the Village together. It was like a journey.
So, to me, it ends up becoming the truth of the story. If I told you my story, you’d be over my shoulder watching “Big Brother.” It’s very boring, you know? So I just believe that the truth will come out in the weirdest ways. And, the truth is an emotion. And, that’s it.
C: The movie is almost pure emotion. One thing that struck me about the film, as soon as it got going, was the language. It’s great, and I’m including all the four-letter words. It’s just thrown out there in front of the parents, it doesn’t matter who’s there, that’s just part of the language.
Also, everthing is so loud, everything. Even normal conversations are yelled at each other. I know guys who lived in New York, who grew up there, they said it’s always like that. Even if aunts and uncles are in the house. Everyone was yelling at each other.
DM: Right, right.
C: Everyone’s talking over each other, and a lot of times, people aren’t really even listening to what the other person is saying.
DM: Almost all the time!
C: I’ve got to imagine that some days on the set felt like controlled chaos. Was that how it was?
DM: Yeah, but in the best of ways. And I’m not doing this so much to hype the script--because it’s more about what the actors brought--but if you read the script, you’d be surprised how almost word for word it is. I mean, these people were not improvising as much as people think they were. They’re that good. These actors are that good.
And, we had ways of going about it. There were three conversations set up a lot of times. Antonio and Monty, this is your conversation. Shia, you’re doing this. And, then I watched a DVD of a director talking about THE FRENCH CONNECTION, and he said, I didn’t tell the cinematographer who the bank robber was. I said, Someone’s going to come out. He’s going to be a bank robber. Find him.
So, in every scene for fun and for experiment and maybe for some realism, hopefully, there’s always a bank robber. It’s like you’re telling young Julia, who played Diane, Go on and make noise. And I’d say to Chazz, If she gets annoying, tell her to shut up. So, it was made just distracting enough that if there are two different conversations going on and a person making noise, I kind of hoped that it would create a little bit of realism in there. But, they were really prepared, you know.
And then there are actors like the guy who played Frank--that guy, he won’t improvise a word. He’s so good, he will not say a word that is not on that script. So much so that, at one point, he was doing this one thing, and he would say the line, and then he’d cough. And, I would say, Are you alright, Anthony? His name is Anthony DeSando, the actor. And, he’d say, I’m fine. We do it again, and he’d cough. And, I go, Do you want some water? And, he’d go, No. And, I looked at the script--I wrote ‘cough.’ How did I write ‘cough’?! I said, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have… You’re bored at two in the morning, you’re writing a script, so you cough, and you put exclamation points. So, he yells.
But, there is a certain sort of thing that went on, you know, that sort of magic that happens in the fun. My freedom is I don’t put marks down, you know. The words are precious, but…not entirely precious, you bring a little of yourself into everything.
I love the craft of people like Brian De Palma. I haven’t seen THE BLACK DAHLIA, but I love his craft. I know that he tells you, Sit this here, put it down, and turn. And, it works. It’s just not me. But, I admire that craft like nothing else. But, I like the freedom of telling an actor ‘Just do somethin’ weird,’ and that might be really special.
C: Especially the scenes in the house. You’re just like one of the people in the house, and you’re getting caught up in that. So, that was really interesting. Were there moments when you were filming that you were freaking yourself out watching a re-creation of something that actually happened? Did you ever kind of lose yourself for a second and go, Omigod, I can’t believe I’m watching this again!
DM: There were two moments, but most of the time you’re on autopilot. It just doesn’t exist. And, I’d have my friends standing around, and they’d say, Isn’t this weird? and I’d go, What? Is something not plugged in?
But there’s two real things that were funny. One was funny, and one was really intense. The funny thing was…I was hanging out in--well, I don’t know if it’s funny, but luckily it turned out okay, ‘cause Nerf [another character in the film] saw the film now, and he’s very happy with it. My friend Nerf, my real friend Nerf, he’s a paramedic. He teaches people to be paramedics, so he’s doing really good. So, three days before we filmed the scene, another guy I know, he’s kind of messed up on drugs, he’s walking down the street. He says, Hey, Dito, come take a walk with me. “My mother, you know, she’s so fat, and she spies on me and she hides behind skinny little poles. Your mom’s not supposed to do that. I don’t care, your mom not supposed to do that.” I’m thinking, this is terrible, but it sounds really good. So, I put it in the script. And, I’m standing with Nerf when Nerf’s watching that scene, and he’s like, What are doing to me? I don’t talk like that. I said, I know, I know…Luckily, he was okay with it.
But the one really freaked-out moment that set the whole movie up for me, and made the magic of this whole movie, and I can’t explain what the experience of making this movie was more than this scene. One of the first scenes we filmed the first day was where the father has a seizure. So the house gets a little crazy. And, literally, we had no rehearsal, so eveyone showed up on set. Chazz is there, Dianne Wiest, and Channing Tatum and Shia and Melonie Diaz. So, we’re all hanging out. And so, it’s the first meeting, no one knows each other yet. It’s a little uncomfortable.
So, we get ready to do the scene, and I was, like, I knew they wanted to blow up. I know everybody wants to go for it, so I was, like, Okay, listen, let’s try it once and I’ll just read the script, because I wanted me to be the weirdo, because I knew they were all feeling uncomfortable. I said, I’ll read the script. You guys just act it out without words. And, Chazz is, like, You Sundance guys. We’ll give it a shot. But, he’s cool like that.
So, we go and we start doing the scene, and it’s getting a little crazy. I had told Channing, Man, you’re the bank robber, you can do whatever you want. He said, Would I cry? And, I said, Cry? I would kill somebody! I would kill Dianne Wiest. I would lose my mind if I thought this man was dying.
So, we’re doing the scene and Channing starts yelling to me, and he’s like, What can I do? I’m going [whisper], Do whatever you want! And, he, like, freaks out for real. He picks up a table and smashes it through this glass. I was like, Whoa! And, the glass goes all over Dianne Wiest ‘cause she was coming through it, you know, and she cuts her feet. This woman won two Academy awards, you know, and she comes right through it. She stays in character, and we’re doing it. And, I’m, like, [whisper] This is great. And, Eric is in there with the camera, and I’m, like, in heaven…and Chazz fell over a table.
We only have one camera, so I’m saying to Eric [whisper] Over here. Over there. It was insane, you know. Of course, we ran until the tape ran out, because Dianne Wiest stayed in character, and she was so good. And, Chazz was great, and Channing was…it was just perfect for me. So, of course, when the tape runs out, everyone comes running tot me saying, Are you crazy? We don’t have more glass to put there! Now, we can’t shoot that angle! You almost killed Dianne Wiest! And, I’m thinking everyone’s going to be happy. Luckily, the actors were still cool.
Then they start yelling at Channing, and I’m thinking, I’m the director, I should stop them. But, before I could--and this is what the magic and the weirdness of making this movie was--Chazz comes over and he grabs the guy, and he goes, You don’t yell at him. He’s doing what he felt like.
That was, like, the most beautiful moment I ever had, maybe with art in general. For a minute, Chazz was like Monty, like the character. He was protecting Antonio, you know. He didn’t mean to break that. Antonio was like Of Mice and Men, you know? I’ll break your neck, but I don’t mean to. I’m going to put you back together now. You’ll be okay. So, he didn’t mean to hurt Dianne Wiest. Channing was, like, Is she okay? I didn’t mean that. And, I’m, like, It’s okay. And, Chazz is, like, It’s okay, she’ll be okay. And, he’s the father. And, Antonio is in the room, and Dianne Wiest was the mother. She’s sort of looking like, This kid’s really dangerous, you know. And, Shia was watching it and Melonie was kinda freaked out. That was the moment where I was like, okay, go back to the movie now. From then on, it was really special to me. And, I kind of felt like from there on, it was going to be fun.
C: What a way to set the tone.
DM: Yeah, and it really did. It was, like, Hey, watch out, something’s going to come through that door, if you’re not too prepared. Keeps you on your toes a little. But, it was fun.
C: I wanted to ask you about Channing Tatum, because I’ve certainly seen him in ---not to put too fine a point on it--but it’s mostly been kid’s stuff up to this point. I think, when all is said and done, his is the performance that most people are going to really kind of focus on. With Shia and Robert Downey Jr., you expect them to be great. But, most people don’t know what evil Channing is capable of…
DM: And, if they know anything, they expect the opposite.
C: I didn’t even recognize the name, but when I saw his face, I’m, like, Oh, that’s the guy from STEP UP.
DM: When he showed up on my set, I said, That guy looks like a Bruce Weber model. My movie is ruined. So, I had the same thought of him.
C: Now he’s got me curious about him as an actor. I want to see him in more.
DM: He’s making a new movie with the woman who made BOYS DON’T CRY
C: Kimberly Peirce, right. I saw that. Was Astoria a tough place for someone with anything resembling a dream or a goal that involved leaving the neighborhood?
DM: No. I mean, it is what you make of it, you know. My mother used to say--about the Kennedys, she’d say…about how tragic their life was--They had 15 kids, what, do they want everyone to be happy? It’s a strange way of putting it, but Astoria was a beautiful place. I loved growing up there. And, I love it. I grew up in a small town in a big city. It really is that, you know. We looked at Manhattan the way people from Oregon looked at Manhattan. It’s a million miles away. And, when you go, it’s like, This is so exciting. It was a great little place. I moved back there. I love it.
C: I’ll admit, I’m surprised to hear you moved back to the neighborhood.
DM: Yeah. I live in Astoria now, right five blocks from where I grew up. I remember I read a thing when I was a kid, and it said, People in America--I don’t know the statistic exactly, but--80 percent of people in America die within five miles of where they were born. And, I was destined not to be that guy, and now, I’m five blocks from where I was born, so I’m ready to die, I guess.
But, it was a beautiful place. Making the film, the first thing I said to Eric was, you know, I love CLOCKERS, but this isn’t CLOCKERS’ neighborhood. I love REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. This isn’t that neighborhood either. I said, I want to feel special in this movie, I want to see Laurie again, I want to walk down the street and be a kid, and say dumb things that are stupid because I don’t know what they mean, you know. And, I think he captured that.
So, it’s funny, because worse things than are shown in this movie happened there. I didn’t even get into them, because I felt like it’s hard enough for some people, I think, to understand a character like Antonio. Luckily, Channing brought a real humanity to him. But, you know, it’s easy to make bad guys. It’s really hard to make human beings. And, the neighborhood, I guess, is being portrayed in some ways as a bad place, but I saw it as a beautiful place. That was important to me. Anywhere, it’s tough to have a dream, and it’s not because people are bad people or anything. I think it’s because a lot of people had their dreams burst, so they’re really out to make sure you don’t suffer that thing again.
C: There’s even resistance, at least in the film, when you just want to take the train into Manhattan.
DM: “Why do you want to go there?” That was the thing that was funny, because with Chazz…we were talking about it while we were filming. He’d say, This character is crazy. And, I’d say, No, it doesn’t make any sense, that’s all. It didn’t make sense. It’s like when you make a movie, right, or you write anything, you have to pick a perspective, who’s telling the story, right? For me, Monty and Antonio are telling the story. They mean everything they say. Like, Dianne Wiest says a line, where she says, Your father would pass a lie detector with flying colors. He would. He means it. He doesn’t understand why you’d cut him in half. It doesn’t make sense.
So, it was very…I hate the word ‘ignorant,’ because it sounds so degrading, so I don’t mean that. But, it was just more of, like, maybe ‘ignorance is bliss.’ Mike O’Shea, to me, was crack coming into this movie. He’s the alarm fuck that keeps waking me up. ‘Let us sleep. Everything’s okay. Don’t ruin it with all these ridiculous things. They’re not gonna happen anyway, you know.’ That was the perspective I tried to choose, where it’s like, ‘This is a beautiful place.’
C: What did California mean to you?
DM: It’s similar to Manhattan.
C: Yeah, it doesn’t seem like it’s that different?
DM: No. It was Oz. It was all Oz. Two of my sisters went to California, but they were 20 years older than me. It always meant, I don’t know, it was, like, Ca-a-alifornia, everything’s okay over there, man. It’s going to be great. And, it wasn’t that everything wasn’t okay, but you know, when you’re a kid, everything is a tragedy. I tried to make this movie from a kid’s perspective. I mean, really, it’s such a stupid thing…Someone who writes a stupid little thing in graffiti, one person says they cut your face with a bottle. The next guy builds it up to such a bunch of stupid things and such horrible tragedy.
California was the same thing in the other land. You’d say, fruit grows on trees, you can eat for free. So, to me, it was, like, Ca-a-a-lifornia, you know?
C: I’m sure you get asked this a lot, but what actually happened to Antonio? Did he end up in jail like it shows in the movie?
DM: Antonio’s story is much more violent and terrible than this movie goes into. The book I got into it a little more. Like I say, I grew up in a house of love. I’ll never know what an abusive house is like. I’ll never know. I can read about it all day long, and I can witness it, but you don’t know until you’re there. So, I’ll never know. Luckily, I’ll never know. I saw the hell that he was in from an outside perspective. It was a nightmare. So, his real story was a lot more violent.
But, Channing was the Antonio I knew. And, he did something very special, because I thought he humanized a bad guy, an obvious bad guy. And, I kind of felt like if we got into the real stuff, I don’t know that Marlon Brando could pull that off.
C: So, what happened to him?
DM: He went to prison for more than what this film gets into. And, then he actually escaped from Rikers Island, in real life, and then he got put back in. And, what’s strange is Robert Downey, when we were getting ready to make the film, I’d put him on the phone with Antonio a few times, ‘cause Antonio calls me once a month, you know.
C:…I was going to ask if you still had a relationship with him.
DM: Oh, yeah, yeah, we still talk--collect. And, now that I only have a cell phone, he can’t call me, ‘cause you need a land line to call collect. And, I put Robert on the phone, and Robert found out that he escaped, and Robert says, We got to put that in the movie. And, I said, How do you put a prison escape in the middle of this movie and then go back to it, you know? So, life sometimes is stranger than the fiction.
C: It’s interesting that you say he’s obviously a bad guy, because he does the worst things in the film, more or less, at least of those kids, but the fact that he is such good friends with your character makes us want to find the good in him. There’s something there under the tough-ass persona. And, that’s both of them--that’s Shia and Antonio.
DM: They were great together. They were special. Everything that could have happened special between the two of them happened. I think the combination is that, and they’re very smart and good actors, but they became, they had a relationship that was similar to mine and my friend’s.
I mean, we did a scene, the opening scene of the movie where Antonio is walking down the hill, and he beats this kid up and walks away. Right after we filmed that--it’s the way the movie opens, you know, this guy is standing on the corner that knew Antonio, this older guy I knew, and he’s, like, Yeah, you know Antonio would have fuckin’ thrown that guy over the wall and ripped his face and laughed all the way home, you know? And, I remember Channing looks at me, and I said, That guy would have made the worst movie that ever existed. I said, He thinks Antonio is walking tall. Antonio is a human being. He didn’t do this to make anyone laugh. He did it because he was in hell. So, Channing had that down, and that was very special for me, because you can make cartoon characters very easily in films. I hate it when it happens, and it wasn’t going to happen in mine.
C: Do you have any regrets about staying away from Queens for as long as you did?
DM: My story is different, but I was gone for a while, and yeah…my father was older, you know, an older father. My youngest sister was 21 years older than me, and sometimes it’s tough to…you know, my father aging from 60 to 80 is different than 40 to 60. Sixty to 80 is a terrifying sight. Regrets? A million. But, that’s life.
C: Having Dianne Wiest in the film…were you ever worried about offending her? She’s practically royalty among actors.
DM: She is royalty.
C: Were you afraid the material was going to bother her?
DM: She never made me feel like that at all. And, she’s such a…look, she’s a great actress. That’s old news. She’s a really decent person. I don’t even know if that’s new news, but it was good news. Every once in a while, she’d say, I feel so bad for this kid Antonio. I’d have to tell her, I’d say, Yeah, but remember, if you let your son hang out with him, he’s going to get ruined. And, she’d go, Right!.
She is the best. I love her. And, I mean that. Dianne Wiest is a person to me that there isn’t anything on the cutting room floor that couldn’t be in the movie. Never. There is not a false beat out of that woman. It doesn’t exist. She’s the real deal.
C: When I think of all those overlapping conversations in the scenes at home, it’s all these deep voices, and then her voice is so high, and it just cuts through all the sound.
DM: She’s so good in it. Everyone’s going crazy, blah, blah, and she’s just standing there. I mean, she’s Dianne Wiest for a reason. She’s no joke.
C: Were there aspects to your own life story that, as you were making the film--maybe not so much when you were writing the book--but when you were making the film that you became enlightened to?
DM: My life as a whole is a bunch of years wrapped up into an hour and a half. I was not a tough kid. I was a nervous kid. I was always trying to make sure everybody was happy, you know? And, watching the movie was…to me, it was actually more real in some ways than my life. It’s odd, that’s a weird way of putting it, but at times, it was, like, Man, we really figured it out. We did a Q&A in New York. And, this guy’s, like, You threw a bottle at my head when I was a kid. And, I was, like, Did I hit you? I did crazy, dumb kid things, but I was always so nervous.
I was more Shia than me, probably in real life. So, he really got into the core of the character that I wrote, ‘cause I did things out of nervousness. And, I was always afraid if I don’t do something, Antonio’s going to kill somebody, ‘cause he would. If you dared look at me wrong, Antonio would just have your head.
C: Did you guys really have a falling? Was there ever really a moment like that?
DM: We used to fight a lot, but not really. He’d kick my ass, I mean, he was strong, he was no joke. He was Channing Tatum for real. No joke, but he was 5 ft. 6, messed up, but he was tough. And, I remember, every once in a while, we would get in fights, as kids always do. And, my father, who loved Antonio--he loved me very much, too--but he loved Antonio so much, and he’d always say, “Okay, you guys fight it out.” And, I hated when he said that. “When somebody hits the floor, it’s over.” And, I thought, GOD!
C: You always knew who was going to hit the floor.
DM: I was hitting that floor as quick as I could make it look real. And, then he’d make us shake hands, which was, like, maybe, the best and worst thing that ever happened to me in my life. “I don’t want to shake his hand now.”
C: How did you hook up with [executive producers] Trudie Styler and Sting? I don’t think a lot of people realize how many young filmmakers they’ve actually helped out.
DM: Trudie only works with first-time filmmakers. I never knew anything about Trudie. Robert Downey brought her down, because they’re really good friends--him, Sting, and her. And, I got sort of whisked into the strangest world…whenever I hear a story like mine, like this, I’m skeptical, I’m waiting for the punchline.
So, to become involved with Sting and Trudie, it comes with a great privilege. There’s no denying it. Listen, I wouldn’t be sitting and talking to you. I would have made this movie…there’s no denying it. I was going to make this movie, but like I said, I would have probably made it on zero budget. I’d never be in Chicago talking to anyone about it, unless I brought it here myself, which I probably would have, ‘cause I’m crazy like that. But, I was going to make this film. Nobody was going to tell me I wasn’t. But, then comes the privilege and fun things.