Most might remember Fisher Stevens from his role in his classic films Short Circuit or My Science Project or possible his run on Early Edition, but make no mistake he has been knocking it out in the industry for a long time. As successful as he has been in front of the camera, he has also been taking charge behind the camera as director. His latest film Stand Up Guys brings together Academy Award winners Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Alan Arkin together as aging gangsters hoping to recapture the old days. I was able to attend a special screening and had the chance to speak with him about bringing these icons together for this film.
Bobby: How did you get involved with this script?
Fisher: The script came about because the writer Noah Haidle was riding his bike in Coney Island one day and saw three old gangster-type looking guys sitting on a park bench drinking coffee out of paper cups. He was imaging what their lives were like and this is what he came up with. I was sent the script years later, made a bunch of tweaks and changes with Noah and with the producer Tom Rosenberg, and that is the film you’re seeing. And the actors of course chimed in. One scene was completely improvised — the scene in the whore house where Al and Chris talk about penis enhancement. I overheard them having this discussion about mutual friends and then said, “We have to get this on film.” So we did.
Bobby: How did you go about getting Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, and Allen Arkin for this film?
Fisher: When I started the movie, Al and Chris told me that they had done a reading a few years earlier of a different version of the script. Al played Doc, Chris Played Val. So when I called Chris to say I was directing the film, he asked who was going to play Doc and expressed interest in playing Doc himself. He said he really enjoys that role because as he is getting older, he enjoys playing grandfathers. So I went in a roundabout way to try and get someone else to play opposite Chris, not going to my friend Al Pacino, because I was told he wasn’t interested. I kept sort of striking out until my phone rang one day and it was Al calling me after he had seen a Woody Allen documentary I had executive produced and asked me to work on the doc with him. And I said, “No, I don’t want to work on a documentary with you. I want you to read Stand Up Guys again and consider being in it with me directing.” There was a long pause and Al said, “You’re directing?” And I said, “Yeah,” and he read it and said, “Of course.” 4 weeks later we were in pre-production with Al and Chris. The first person I thought of for Hirsch was Alan Arkin. I had worked with him as an actor in the film ‘Four Days in September’ 20 years ago. I guess because Chris and Al were already attached to the film, it peaked Arkin’s interest and thank God he said yes. It was like a dream come true.
Bobby: How you approach directing these guys?
Fisher: I have directed Chris and Al in different ways. Before we started shooting, I knew Al much better than Chris and I spent a bit more time going over the script at the beginning with Al. So I felt a bit more at ease directing Al at first. With Chris, I had to feel my way around at the beginning but they both welcomed direction. However, sometimes they would disagree with me. But ultimately, they would always try one the way I wanted it, the way I liked it. They ultimately gave me many different varieties of takes.
Bobby: There are some really funny moments in this film, but are more due to circumstances as opposed to straight forward comedy. Was this planned?
Fisher: Yeah, it was important to ground this entire script in reality. That was the only way for it to work. We rehearsed and had long discussions about keeping everything real, even when it comes to these hyper-blown situations. Fortunately, I had the greatest actors in the world to work with and they only know how to do things real. When it felt false, we did another take.
Bobby: What were your inspirations behind this film?
Fisher: I was inspired by many films from the 1970s including Dog Day Afternoon, Five Easy Pieces, Straight Time, and The Dirty Dozen. I loved the films from the 70s because they were about characters and not so much about big plot points and big set pieces. I made sure there were no cell phones, no computers, nothing very modern in Stand Up Guys except for the car they steal. Most of the clothes were vintage that the actors wore. The colors were muted. It was like time had forgotten this town and these people.
Bobby: Does your experiences as an actor help with your directing?
Fisher: Yes, being an actor absolutely helped me direct — especially directing actors of this caliber. I think they had an inherent trust in me that saved me a lot of steps in earning it. The other thing about Alan Arkin, Chris Walken, and Al Pacino is that they all come from the theatre, as do I, so we shared a common language.
Bobby: Thanks for taking time out to do this and really dug the film.
Stand Up Guys hits theaters on February 1st from Lionsgate.