Vimooz.com spoke one-on-one with both the talented director of “The Last Rites of Joe May,” and the film’s iconic American star, Dennis Farina.
The synopsis from the Tribeca Film Festival’s site : “Sixty-something Chicagoan Joe May—a short-money hustler of Rolex knockoffs and bootleg DVDs—returns home from a hospital stay to find out that his apartment has been rented to single mother Jenny (Jamie Anne Allman) and her young daughter Angelina (Meredith Droeger) because everyone thought he was dead. Begrudgingly, Joe accepts Jenny’s offer to share the apartment. Joe plots his comeback scheme, but instead a domino effect occurs with everything going against him.”
“The Last Rites of Joe May” plays this week at Tribeca at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas on Tuesday, April 26th and Friday, April 29th, both showtimes are at 4 pm. Arrive by 3:15 pm to wait for “Rush” tickets. Enjoy!
Vimooz.com: Tell us about the script, and how you developed it:
Joe Maggio: The core of this script is very much inspired by my grandfather, and the men of his generation and age, who had a certain code of conduct that they upheld. They were imperfect men, very often not great family men. They worked hard, they played hard…They smoked, they drank, they always had their hair impeccably groomed. No matter how down ob their luck they were, their shoes were shined, their pants were pressed. No matter what. They always believed that great things were in store for them, and very often, it didn’t pan out.
What we tried to do, and what Dennis brought to this, is that Joe May has very humble ambitions. He wasn’t trying to make a million dollars. He just wanted to keep a roof over his head, to get by. And that’s what makes it really heart-breaking. If he was reaching for the sky, and tried and fails, that’s one thing. But he’s Don Quixote. He keeps tilting at windmills, and believes that there’s greatness out there, and something noble in him. Ultimately, he proves that there does. He does sacrifice himself, and he does something great for someone else.
I’m a bit of an opera buff. I can go to the Met and see La Boheme, and cry, every time. I didn’t want to tell a clever, convoluted story. I wanted to tell a simple story. Maybe you see where it’s going, from the very beginning, but to have you still hope that things would change. And to do it with a real camera (the RED) and great, full set of lenses, it was such a joy on set. What lens are we going to throw on there! It was a bit intimidating on the first day- like, “Oh my God, what are all the people doing there?” Just the weight of the production. But after a day or so, I really got into the swing of things.
Vimooz.com: Tell us about Dennis Farina. What was he like to work with?. He’s such a legend in independent film.
JM: I think Dennis is a real, American icon. I think he proves in this film that he has so much more to offer as an actor. He’s funny, he’s tough, and we see a really vulnerable side, and it was hard, because he is of a generation were men do not come off as weak. Dennis himself is a very fastidious man. For him to be (portrayed as) somewhat weak, and somewhat vulnerable, and to be out there, with his hat in his hand. He’d kill himself before he’d ask anyone for anything. It was the biggest stretch for him. He set the tone, let me put it this way, on the set. He’s such a dignified, classy guy. Nothing threw him, not the cold, the wind, the hours, nothing. He took all those falls himself. No pads! I know actors who wouldn’t kneel down on grass! Tough, tough guy, Dennis! He was in those actual fight scenes, too. Take after take. He never once complained. Not once.
Vimooz.com: And the rest of the cast?
JM: Jamie Anne Allman, who plays the mom Jenny, is so amazing. We first thought she would be too pretty, but she’s so entirely believable in the role.
Vimooz.com: She’s so intense in the film!
JM: I know! And Jamie Anne Allman, the little girl who plays Angelina, was a joy to work. Just completely professional and so great. We all had so much fun working together.
Vimooz.com: How long did it take you to write the script?
JM: I wrote the script very quickly, but it took a couple of years to get the script made. Money fell in and out. Bill Straus brought it to Stephanie Striegel at Dennis’ production company, and I joke that once Dennis read it, and said he wanted to be a part of it, I had no say in the matter! It was a done deal. So, I flew to Chicago, and met with Dennis, and as soon as I met him, I knew he was going to be great. He was going to surprise people. And he lost weight, cut his hair. He was great. But it was a couple of years of slugging it out.
Vimooz.com: What films inspired “The Last Rites of Joe May?”
JM: I love the movies from the late sixties, early and mid-seventies. I love what’s happening at festivals, the DIY stuff, the mumble-core, but at a certain point, you know, I’m married, I have children. I’m not struggling post-college anymore. I’m thinking about other things…death…the future. And those 70s Hollywood films, movies like “Dog Day Afternoon,” its just crazy, when you think about it. They were so, so good. I wanted “Joe may” to really resonate like that. To tell a simple, beautiful story.
Vimooz.com also got the chance to speak with the incomparable Dennis Farina, the star of “The Last Rites of Joe May.”
Vimooz.com: How was it shooting in Chicago, were you’re from?
Dennis Farina: Oh, it was great! I hadn’t done it for quite awhile. It was wonderful, to go home and sleep in your own bed. I didn’t get lost, going to any locations, or anything!
Vimooz.com: How did you prepare for the role of Joe May?
DF: Joe Maggio has been living with it for about 3 or 4 years, or more. So, it was a very big advantage to have the writer-director right there. You don’t have to make phone calls. You don’t have to make indiscriminate decisions. So we had a lot of discussions about where I was in the story, and where my mind should be at this particular time. It was all there. It was written beautifully. Joe May is one of those guys who hasn’t realized his time has come and gone. But I kind empathize with him, because some times I feel like that! I’m not a computer guy, or any of that stuff, like a fish out of water. (with technology.)
Vimooz.com: This why by far one of the most amazing roles we’ve ever seen you in. Did you feel that way when filming?
DF: We had so many things that were working fir us. The weather was perfect, (for the script) it was cold, rainy, sunshine when we needed it. It was just a really wonderful time. It was one of those movies you get involved with, and everything just kind of clicked. The right director with the right script. We felt it was the right city to do it in. It just all worked.
Vimooz.com: How about those pigeons?
DF: You know, the movie was originally set in NY. And I had never seen an actual pigeon coop in Chicago. So, I told our producers, “I don’t know that there are any pigeon coops here in Chicago!” so, they did the research, and it runs out there are hundreds of pigeon coops in Chicago.
Vimooz.com: The cast was really terrific!
DF: Meredith was a sweetheart of a little girl. And a real pro. Always ready to work. And Jaime was wonderful. I think that was a really good casting- they got the right girl for the right role.
Vimooz.com: What actors did you enjoy watching growing up?
DF: I always loved Bogart, Spencer Tracey, as a kid. Richard Conte. I’m a big Gene Hackman fan. Robert De Niro’s not too bad, either! I was always a movie fan. For us, it was cheap entertainment, for ten cents you could be at the movies all day.
Vimooz.com: What’s up next for you, Dennis?
DF: There’s a wonderful book called “My Friend Leonard,” and I love that book, and I’d love to play that character. And for some treason, I’ve always wanted to play a priest, I don’t know why.
I also have a new HBO series coming out, produced by David Milch and Michael Mann, with Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, and Joan Allen, and it takes place at a racetrack.
Vimooz.com: Wow! Congratulations, Dennis. You really deserve it. You were wonderful in “The Last Rites of Joe May.”
DF: Thank you!