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May 2004
Set Visit: Be Cool

By Todd Gilchrist

Set Visit: Be Cool

Distributor: MGM
Director: F. Gary Gray
Cast: John Travolta, Danny DeVito, James Gandolfini, The Rock , Uma Thurman, Vince Vaughn, Cedric The Entertainer, Christina Milian , Harvey Keitel, Andre 3000 , Steven Tyler , & Arielle Kebbel

Ten years after the success of Elmore Leonard's gangster comedy "Get Shorty", John Travolta returns to the role of Chili Palmer for the film's sequel, the forthcoming "Be Cool". blackfilm.com was recently invited to the set for a conversation or two with key members of the cast and crew- namely Travolta, The Rock (Walking Tall), Vince Vaughn (Starsky & Hutch) and director F. Gary Gray (The Italian Job).

F. Gary Gray

F. Gary Gray, what scene are you shooting tonight?

FGG: "This scene, this is the finale. This is where the heroes meet the bad guys and we see

Did you face any problems bringing Harvey Keitel back for the sequel since he appeared as himself in the first movie?

FGG: "It's a wink. It's a very cool wink, I think, but I'll let you be the judge. He's a very good Nick Carr, and for people who got a chance to see the original, they'll stop for a second but I think they'll be really satisfied at the fact that we had the balls to actually do it. And to the people who didn't, they'll just love to see Harvey Keitel play a villain, I think, in a comedy. Now, you don't, you just don't see Harvey Keitel in a comedy, so you get the kind of double satisfaction, I think."

Have you discussed the overlap of Uma's and John's current projects, "Kill Bill Vol. 2" and "The Punisher"?

FGG: "Well I mean, it's great for me, because I have seven leads in this movie, so every single one of my leads stars in their own movie. Most of them have movies out; Vince is in "Starsky", the Rock is in "Walking Tall", you have " The Punisher" and "Kill Bill" coming out this weekend, you have Cedric in "Johnson Family Vacation". I'm a very lucky director, and very rarely does it even happen, so I'll be lucky to see this again in my lifetime, so I'm just enjoying it. It's cool, I mean, it's kind of a trip to see them competing on the same weekend, but you know, it's better that they are than not. I'll put it that way."

Has it been tough to work with so many big actors?

FGG: "I thought it would be. I thought going into it I really better brace myself for major challenges, but it's been great. And I know directors say that all the time, 'ah, it's been great,' but they really have been great."

What's been the biggest surprise so far on the shoot?

FGG: "There's fire coming out the front of that train. Besides that surprise, the biggest surprise? You know, we run a really tight ship. There hasn't been a lot of surprises. Maybe the biggest surprise is the first day of shooting, when John Travolta showed up and he turned into Chili Palmer. You know, it's been eight, nine, ten years, and you just don't know in rehearsals, because everyone's really casual and I don't require the actors to jump right into character. I just want to really find them and kind of loosely get a sense of the direction of the movie. But when John showed up and he kind of became Chili Palmer, that kind of freaked me out. That was a freak out, a little bit."

What's your favorite John Travolta movie?

FGG: "That's a hard question; I like a lot of them. Obviously I enjoyed "Get Shorty", um, "Saturday Night Fever", "Urban Cowboy", it's probably everyone else's favorite John Travolta movie but I really did enjoy "Get Shorty"."

Does Uma beat anyone up in the movie?

FGG: "That's for you to find out. You know when she tried to beat someone up in rehearsal, she tried to convince me to beat somebody up in rehearsal, so you never know what happens. I haven't shot the scene yet."

How far into shooting is the production?

FGG: "We have like six days left, so we're almost through."

How many days is the total shoot?

FGG: "Uh, somewhere in the mid-fifties. It's a short shooting schedule, kind of old school-type pressure. I love it."

How well is the cast getting along and working together?

FGG: "They're getting along great. I mean, because John and Uma obviously worked with each other, so you have that chemistry from "Pulp Fiction". The Rock is the nicest guy in the world; I swear I don't know anyone nicer. I wish I could say I did but I don't, so you're not going to have any problems with him. Everybody's great, but you know they all work on different days so there's not a lot of time for them to get into big fights."

Do you have to adapt your directing style for each performer?

FGG: "Of course. It depends on what your background is. If you have a wrestling background, I have a different approach. If you're from Julliard, it's a different approach. If you're from New York theatre, it's a different approach. It just all depends. I've had a little bit of practice in working with Kevin Spacey and Ed Norton and Mark Wahlberg and Chris Tucker and Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, Queen Latifah, so I've had a little bit of experience dealing with people from different backgrounds, so that all kind of prepped me for this."

How closely is Elmore Leonard working with the production?

FGG: "Elmore Leonard did what he was supposed to do when he wrote the book. I read the book, I met him, he was cool as hell. You don't need to work real close with Elmore because all the details are in the book. All you have to do is just rip off the book. That's what happened; we're just ripping off the book. We call him up, he's cool with it, he loves the script, he's been seeing the dailies because he's an exec producer on it, he loves the dailies, and that makes me happy, and that's it."

Is it faithful to the book?

FGG: "As faithful as you can be. It's still a large book; you can't do everything, but there are some things that actually surprised him. I think that we went above and beyond even the book with some of the details, with the music, the hip-hop references, and some of the things that I'm familiar with because of my music background. We kind of went beyond even some of the details in the book, and we ripped off a lot for the book too."

What challenges have there been since you're shooting on location?

FGG: "Of course there's a lot of challenges because most all of it is on location, and when you're on location, you have to deal with all of the elements, you know, what could go wrong will go wrong, but to be honest with you, Like "The Italian Job", we've been really lucky. Weather, you know we always missed the rain storms, we always missed the hailstorms. Well, not hailstorms, but you know what I'm saying. We've been really lucky shooting in LA, we have a great crew, our location manager and my production designers, they're all on point. I mean, I have the A-plus-plus crew, which makes it a lot easier for me to kind of slip into these locations and slip out of them unscathed. It hasn't been a big challenge, but the obvious ones."

Runaway production.

FGG: "I shot all of my films in LA. If the story works for LA I'm not going to try to force a script to Los Angeles, but it's the home of movies. It's a lot easier to shoot here in some respects, but it's expensive. It's really expensive, but you know, you fight, you keep the economy thriving in Souther California and I think ultimately, it helps even though you get squeezed."

Are there any musical guests in the movie that we don't know about?

FGG: "Besides Andre 3000 from Outkast? Um, Patti Labelle, Steven Tyler if you haven't read that already, Aerosmith, Joe Perry, who else? Um, those are some of the surprises. I don't want to give you all of them."

Does Andre have a role?

FGG: "Of course he has a role. He has a great role. He has the role of Dabu. I created that role for him. That role was not in the book."

What is his role in the movie?

FGG: "He is a rapper, but what's really funny is it really is a stretch, because he's a thuggish gangsta rapper, and so far from Andre's persona, because he kind of an eccentric musician, rapper, actually, and he's just straight thug, which you wouldn't expect, and which is really entertaining. He's got great comedic instincts, and he's frankly a scene stealer. You've got to watch him. I actually discovered his talents when I did the "Ms. Jackson" video. I did a close-up of him, and when I said 'cut,' I said 'you know what? There's something about your face and something about your charisma, I think you should really strongly consider motion pictures. Let me try to find something for you.' when I read this script, although there wasn't something for him in this movie, I found a way to wedge and create a character for him, and when you see the movie, you'll understand why. He's great.He's got a very expressive face, the camera loves him, he's a nice guy in the world. All of the success couldn't have happened to a nicer person, so I'm happy to work with him, and I think a lot of people are going to be really surprised when they see him on the big screen."

How tough is it to keep up people's interest in material if it's following long after the original?

FGG: "I just make sure it stands on its own, make sure that it doesn't matter that there was an original. I really enjoyed the original, but people are going to go see "Be Cool" to see "Be Cool", not because it's a continuation of "Get Shorty". Ifo you watch this movie and you never saw "Get Shorty" ever, you would be satisfied. That was the only reason I would do it. I wouldn't have done it other wise; if I felt like there had to be some connection to the original, I would just do my own original and then do the sequel to that, "The Italian Job 2" or something like that. I wouldn't, if this story wasn't strong enough to stand on its own, I wouldn't have done it."

What's next for you after "Be Cool"?

FGG: "Rest. I didn't get proper rest after "The Italian Job". I jumped right into this thing, so I'm probably going to get a little rest, and find my "Lord of the Rings"."

With Chris Tucker?

FGG: "With Chris Tucker (laughs). Exactly. You would watch it!"

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Vince Vaughn

Vince, tell us about your character in "Be Cool".

VV: "Raj is a guy in the music business, who sort of adopts the behavior and speech of kind of hip-hop, and wants to be associated with it, and kind of convinces himself that he is part of that. He kind of has schemes to try get everyone else out of the way, nothing's going to get in the way of his success. And The Rock plays my bodyguard, who's also my friend, and there's a lot of interdynamics within the relationships in the movie that people try to on one hand be funny and on the other hand try to outfox each other."

What's it like filming in Los Angeles?

VV: "You know, my home is here in Los Angeles, and always it's nice if you can stay home and shoot."

How's it working with John?

VV: "I love John. He's a great actor, a fun guy."

How much opportunity has there been for improvisation?

VV: "Uh, a little bit, because I got to play around. Gary's been real supportive, and he's actually had some good ideas too, but I don't know how much of it they'll use but I'm getting my fair share of stuff."

Do you have a favorite LA location?

VV: "Probably for "Swingers". All of those places were places we really hung out at, and so we drew on some of the places me and Jon would go before we shot that movie, so that was fun."

How tough are these overnight shoots?

VV: "You know, it's always difficult to switch the days and nights, particularly for me. I've been shooting this other movie "The Wedding Crashers", so we've been shooting during the day, we shot Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday during the day, but I had to make the switch today to come over and play a different character at night, so this character has a different way of speaking than the other character, so it's just trying to maintain your energy and stay focused and concentrate."

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Rock, what challenges have you faced on this, flexing comic instead of action muscles? The

Rock: Sure. Well, for me, I've always been a big fan of comedy. I love comedy, and any chance I get an opportunity to do a comedy, I take it. With "The Rundown", I had a chance, and with a movie like this, for sure. And, you know, challenges to where there are so many other actors involved who are really, really good actors. You know, and you get to test your timing against them, and who aren't necessarily comedians either.

Is this the biggest ensemble you've worked with on a movie?

Rock: Of course. Yeah, sure, absolutely. Yeah, I can't... Let me see, "Mummy Returns", no, "Scorpion King", camels [sounds like big daddy] wasn't a star.

Is it more comfortable feeling that they are relying less on you?

Rock: Is it more comfortable for me?

Yeah, or does it make any difference?

Rock: No. I mean, either way, number one or number five, and I think I'm number five, so, it's fine. I understand what you're saying, though. It's a little less pressure, but I'm all for pressure too, I like that. With something like this, it's such a team effort. It's smartly written. Everybody knows their characters. I'm very, very excited. Everybody knows their roles, so to speak.

Are you intimidated to be on set with Harvey Keitel?

Rock: No, man. I'm excited. Not intimidated, not at all, just really, really, excited. To be able to work with Harvey is great. Uma, John, Vince Vaughn, sure.

Have you seen "Kill Bill Vol. 2" or "The Punisher" yet?

Rock: I haven't seen either one. I saw the, I think, 1987 version with Dolph Lundgren. I know this one's a lot better. And, I can't wait to see "Kill Bill 2". I was telling Uma earlier, I'm just really excited about that.

What are some of your favorite action movies?

Rock: That's a tough question. What are my favorite action movies?

Or one that you might like to see get remade?

Rock: Oh, get remade? Well, I could tell you my favorite action movies, by far, would have to be a lot of Clint Eastwood movies, my favorite actor. Steve McQueen, movies of that era. Get remade, man that's tough.


Rock: Well, yeah, "Bullitt" got sure. You could easily say "Bullet", you could say "Cool Hand Luke", another one of my favorites. But it's really tough. It's just like with "Walking Tall", when you're remaking something that's pretty good originally anyway, you know what I mean? Obviously, I'm a big action fan. I love "Kill Bill", the first one is awesome.

Set tonight and working in LA?

Rock: Oh, man. It's great. It's easy for me, because I'm home. And coming off of the tour that I just did with "Walking Tall", it's just nice to come home and, you know, I live 30, 45 minutes away, but at least I'm home and you're here in LA, and there's always something nice to be said about working at home. I live in Florida as well, and I might do a comedy down there based out of Miami.

Have you and Travolta talked about that at all?

Rock: He lives a little bit North, but yeah, we were talking about that. As a matter of fact, where I used to live was up in Tampa, and he is probably 30 minutes from Tampa now.

Do you know what you're working on next?

Rock: Yeah, absolutely, man. I'm in pre-production for a movie called "Spy Hunter". I'm very excited about that. It's going to be with Universal.

Based on the video game?

Rock: Yeah, man. It's awesome. The script's great.

You drive the "Spy Hunter" car?

Rock: Of course, man. The Interceptor, it's awesome. And the developers, this is what I'm really excited about with the developers, who developed all the "Mission: Impossible", all the "Terminator 3", all the effects. What's really cool is, they told me this last week, they were like, 'You can't visualize this in your head, because in our world, it doesn't exist, and we're going to create that.' And it's awesome and they've shown me this cut footage that they have of the car. It's just great.

Will it look like the one on the Playstation game at all?

Rock: Oh, yeah. But you know what? It's even, it's actually even better than that. Because, to go from the boat to the car and then to the motorcycle, it actually goes into a three wheeler first, and then into a two wheeler when you need it to. So, it's great. Smartly written, and it's really, really good. We haven't cast it yet. John Woo is in line to direct, which is great, yeah.

Is Woo signed?

Rock: He's not signed yet, no. So that's just, like, first hand information I'm giving you guys, as I just found out this afternoon. He would be, he is in the running, I should say. There are other directors too, as well, but he's in the running.

Would he be at the top of your list as an action director?

Rock: For an action director, him. I firmly believe Clint Eastwood could pull off a great action movie, given that type of action from that era that I love. It's just like with "Walking Tall", I love that kind of stuff where, if you throw a punch, one punch means something, you know what I'm saying? There aren't explosions just for the sake of explosions. Well, we'll probably get a lot of explosions in "Spy Hunter", so I'll take my foot out of my mouth.

The scene tonight?

Rock: It's the final scene, and it's the scene where I've got a gun pointed to Uma Thurman, and a lot takes place. [Laughs] And we say bye-bye to Vince Vaughn.

Do you have any action sequences?

Rock: In this movie? No. Just comedy. It's funny, because I sing a song, it's this crazy song by Loretta Lynn, it's called "You ain't woman enough to take my man." I'm singing that in the end, which we'll shoot next week, and then this big dance sequence, so it's like, just all singing and dancing, not what you would expect.

Is the hair and your look all F. Gary Gray's?

Rock: Yeah, absolutely. And Gary's great that way, by the way. We got together a long, long time ago and got close and talked about the character and things like that, so between the hair and the goatee, the songs, singing that song, like here's Elliot Willem, Samoan, there's not a Samoan in the world named Elliot, singing a country song on top of that, and old school country song by Loretta Lynn, what else... Keeping the tattoos, which is very important?

Where does the balance lie between playing that character without too much camp?

Rock: I think the balance lies in just finding a, forming from a place of honesty, without sounding too technical, keeping it real, so to speak. Here's a guy, in this crazy world, and he wants to get out of this world, but yet, you know, at the same time, he's trying to hide, not only is he gay, but he doesn't want to be this guy, doesn't want to be this bodyguard, doesn't want to be this thug, he doesn't want to hurt people. He wants to sing, he wants to act, he wants to do all these things. So, I think as long it comes from, and this is stuff that Gary and I talked about way earlier in the process, of not being over the top, not 'eeewww' like a Saturday Night Live skit, not like that, but more real. Like, talking to you guys just like this, and if a guy walks by, I go, 'Oh.'

Do you like country?

Rock: Yeah, I love country. I love country, blues, hip-hop. I love old school country. I love old school movies, old school blues.

Have you been satisfied with the success of "Walking Tall"?

Rock: Yeah, absolutely. In the tracking process, it did somewhere in between 12 and 17 when the predictions, and [we did] 15 and a half, which I thought, 'Oh, that's great.' For a movie like that, a genre movie. I was happy. It worked out.

It's a crowded movie season...

Rock: Oh my God. Unbelievably crowded. Dare say, it might not even happen for the rest of this year where there's so many movies within a four week period of time, that's really incredible. But yeah, I was happy, everybody from Ben Affleck to Tom Hanks, everybody's out there. For me, I always just wanted to make a movie that delivered. People walked away and said, 'Ah, it was a good movie' and then, for me to, performance wise, I'm getting better.

Were you happy your revenge movie hit theaters before Bill and Punisher?

Rock: [Laughs] Well, you know, it's one of those things where we knew. So that's why we moved up a week earlier anyway. Because there was, I think five movies that opened last weekend, or maybe four. I'd rather compete with "Hellboy", yeah. It's interesting to see all these vengeance movies coming through.

Best wrestling video game?

Rock: I know that... Let me see, I haven't played...

It must be cool to play yourself in a video game.

Rock: Oh, it's awesome. When I continue to get the tattoos, it's really, really great.

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John, how's it going?

JT: It's going good. This is the first scene where we're all together in one scene. You've got Vince, Uma, Harvey, Duane and myself. Sort of the five leads of the movie are all together in the same scene. We didn't even have that in rehearsal, so this is the first time we're all together in the same space. It's awesome. It's fun.

How do you keep the character's energy level up?

JT: Well, it helps by having new situations with people that you have fun acting with. All these people are so great in their own right that for Chili Palmer to respond to each of them and whatever they give to him is kind of cool. It's new and fresh.

What's different for Chili this time in the movie?

JT: Well, he's a little more comfortable in the music industry because they are more gangster-like, which he's used to. The angle on this movie is they are artist/gangsters, so he can talk to them as musicians and artists, and then if they move over into the gangster world, he can talk to them that way too. So, he's a little more comfortable. In the movie industry, he probably had a little more difficultly figuring out, because he didn't know where they were coming from, but, in this world, he knows more about them.

How is working in LA for once?

JT: What's interesting is, this is the first movie I've done in Los Angeles in about five or six years. So all of mine have been either out of the country or in other states in this country. But, it's fun to be here and also the "Get Shorty" movies have to have LA as the atmosphere. It's part of the humor as well, you know?

This location tonight, what's going on here?

JT: This is the end of the movie where the girl I've managed to get and the gangster's want her back, basically. We're putting on her big video and then they basically want to bump Uma and I off, they want to kill us. [Laughs] So, after I give back the contract of the girl, they're going to take us off into the alley and off us. And I, The Rock, who's Duane, I promised an audition and I can kind of get his attention easily by telling him that he missed an opportunity. I figured that out right in the beginning, that if I could just tell him that he has a real audition, then that will distract him. He'll turn on Vince, Vince's character, and that's what's happening in this scene.

How do you entertain each other on these long overnight shoots?

JT: Well, Vince and I, we can't, I mean we can barely hold it together. If I look at him a certain way, he laughs and vice versa so, we're not good with each other as far as keeping our control. And we did another movie together, it was just as bad, trying to make each other laugh. And we don't even try, we just do. But everyone else, just good conversation. Harvey will talk about cigars and wine and our histories and people we knew. Uma, we have a lot of history, because of "Pulp". And, let's see, Duane is new, so that's kind of a discovery, and mostly Vince and I just try to laugh.

Is there any playful jesting between you and Uma with your movies opening opposite one another?

JT: No, because, we are so fond of each other, it was really more of the studios competing than us. We wouldn't put ourselves up against each other. I was really thrilled because we both did really well this night and both movies will do really well over the weekend. For us, for "The Punisher", it's nice, because, you know, Thomas Jane worked really hard, and now he's got a career. He's got a franchise and often that depends on opening weekend. And for "Kill Bill" it's nice, because they put a lot of work into their two year project. I was hoping we both would do well. It helps Uma and I because we're doing this together. If both do well, it would serve this project well too. And also Jonathan, on "The Punisher", the director, it would give him a career as well. You know, I move on. But when you're working with new people, it's fun that they get to have a career. And so, with "The Punisher", it was just such a relief because I knew they would have a good opportunity now to have other movies.

At "The Punisher" junket, I asked you about the Vega brothers. You said you might be talking with Quentin about it that day.

JT: Well, I never got to meet up with him that day, because they were so tied up with their promotion. But, you know, again, he'll let me know. And I bet that's probably next on his agenda. Who knows? I just trust him and he'll do it or not, but, if he mentions it, he usually comes through. He just has his own time.

Are you in sight unseen, if he called and just asked you to do it without a script?

JT: Oh, no, he wouldn't want that. To give you some history, when I was offered "Pulp", I was first offered the vampire movie, and I didn't respond to it. And he was really disappointed and he said to me, 'You didn't seem very excited about that.' I said, 'Well, I'm just not a vampire guy. The blood thing isn't that interesting to me.' He said, 'Oh, well thank you for being honest. But I have another script that maybe you'd like better.' And it was "Pulp Fiction" and I said, 'That one did sound more interesting to me.' So then six months later, he'd finished the script and sent it to me, so, by my responding honestly to "Dusk Till Dawn", I had the opportunity. He only wants to do things you are excited about. He wouldn't want you to do them [without seeing them].

Did you have trepidations about doing a sequel so long after the first film without all the principals?

JT: Well, I did a movie with every one of these people before, so I had no trepidations about working with the new people, because I love them. But, no, it was a really good script. I know they care about me, but I think they did it because the script was good and I was part of it, and I think they responded to the material even more than me.

What music are you listening to?

JT: What music? Well, Black Eyed Peas, lately, because they have a couple of songs in the movie and I'm dancing to one Jobim song that they've reinvented, which I'm very excited about, and Uma and I are going to dance to that.

Can you talk about that dance sequence?

JT: Well, it's going to be, like, early 60's cha-cha, samba, fox trot, bossa nova, it's that kind of feel. Because I think Chili would have that. But with the Black Eyed Peas rendition of that, it makes it more modern. So, we put a hipper edge to it, but the bass to it on the template is that early sixties jazzy stuff.

Were you familiar with the hip-hop artists in this film, like Andre 3000?

JT: Well, with Andre, I was, because I have nannies and kids and my family side, they listen to all that and so I was familiar via that route, you know. Nice talking to all of you.
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