John Turturro is recognizable in films by Spike Lee and Joel and Ethan Coen, not to mention his memorable lead role as Herbie Stempel in the Oscar-nominated “Quiz Show,” or his comic turns in the “Transformers” movies.
The great character actor, 57, is perhaps less known for his side career as a writer and director of independent films, such as “Illuminata,” “Romance & Cigarettes” and his newest, “Fading Gigolo.”
In other hands, “Fading Gigolo” may have been controversial, but Turturro makes the material, about a 50-something New York bachelor (Turturro) who goes into business with an older friend (Woody Allen) as a male gigolo, into something rather sweet and touching.
During a recent visit to The City, Turturro said he wanted, above all, to make a “human comedy.”
He says he was interested in the idea of a slightly older man taking on a role that might have been reserved for younger people.
“You could have called it ‘Budding Gigolo,’” he laughs, “but love affairs and our need for physical contact is unceasing. People are all of a sudden 50 years old and they have to date again. I think there’s something great about that.”
For his character, Turturro says he began with the idea of a solitary man, like a samurai or a cowboy.
“I wanted to put these characters with more life experience in new situations,” he continues. “You can get a lot of comedy out of that, and you can also get a lot of tenderness.”
Turturro credits Allen, whom he came to know well during the project, for his generosity in reading and critiquing the various drafts of the script.
“Woody encouraged me to go deeper,” he says, “and it turned out to be deeper than I ever imagined.”
In return, Turturro directed Allen in his best performance in years.
“People don’t realize how he can hold the screen. When you act with him, you realize, wow! He’s really good. I’m a bigger fan than I was before.”
Turturro says that Allen improvised a little, but mostly read his lines as Turturro wrote them. “He stayed on the script, though he likes to wiggle around to get to it. He’s like a musician. Every take he’d do a little differently.”
Though Turturro says their working relationship was an easy one, he laid down the law on one thing: “He couldn’t wear khaki pants,” he laughs. “I got him out of those pants.”
IF YOU GO
Starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone
Written and directed by John Turturro
Running time 1 hour, 30 minutes