Playwright/screenwriter Robert Glaudini discusses Jack Goes Boating, Philip Seymour Hoffman making his directing debut, his HBO series and much more.
In 2007, Robert Glaudini wrote an off-Broadway play entitled Jack Goes Boating with a talented cast of four actors: Philip Seymour Hoffman, John Ortiz, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Beth Cole. Just three years later, Robert Glaudini adapted his own play into a screenplay with three of those four cast members returning (Amy Ryan stepped in for Beth Cole) for the feature version of Jack Goes Boating, which also marked the directorial debut of Philip Seymour Hoffman. Jack Goes Boating will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on January 18 and I recently had the opportunity to speak with playwright/screenwriter Robert Glaudini over the phone, to discuss the experience of turning his stage play into a wonderful indie movie. Here's what he had to say:
I was curious where the initial concept came for the play and at what time you discovered the feature possibilities for Jack Goes Boating?
Robert Glaudini: It came out of a personal kind of thing I went through which was like the darker side of the story. That happened at the same time when I was thinking about the observation of people who help others. This is a long way of explaining it, but not that long. I went to this theater company, where you can read your plays, and I went there without anything but I thought of maybe shooting some digital stuff. There was a lake there and I just thought I'd shoot one guy teaching another guy how to swim. At the same time, when I started fooling around with trying to write this personal horror story I went through, this other thing about people helping each other kind of crossed over. As much as I wanted to write a really scathing, cynical and bitter play, the characters wouldn't let me. This thing about people helping other people kept coming in and eventually one or two other characters appeared and I realized that there's as much anxiety in one trying to form a new relationship as the horror of one ending. They both have their share of anxiety. That's it, in an incoherent way, but I write with kind of an open ending. I don't know where it's going. I sort of get the feelings and the characters start defining themselves.
Jack is certainly an intriguing character with the whole rasta element and the dreadlocks. I also thought it was interesting that he's a limo driver but he has this desire to work for the MTA, which seems like a downgrade from being a limo driver. Is that just because he wants to be out on his own and away from his uncle?
Robert Glaudini: Yeah. The thing with him is he's trying to get on his own and be independent. The MTA job is actually more secure, in the sense that there's a pension, there's benfits, overtime. It's a more secure job and less funky. I don't think it's a downgrade. It's actually a job with some career traction, and he had an in through his uncle, so it seemed like a start.
You hear all these horror stories about adapting a novel because you have to take all these things out. Is adapting a play easier, since you already have the visual medium of the play to build off of and expand from?
Robert Glaudini: Yeah, and also, what made it a joy to work on in so many ways is that Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was in the play, directed the movie. The play itself had a cinematic style to it and that drew the attention of Big Beach and (producers) Beth O'Neil and Emily Ziff. They were trying to make this into a film. The joy of working on it is that I did a first pass before any of this happened, in terms of the screenplay. In going over it with Phil, his desire was to keep it closer to the play, in terms of the characters, and not worry about making a big deal of trying to change the whole thing. Since he was the director, my job, as I saw it, and which I loved, was to hear how he wanted to do it and try to serve that purpose in the writing of the script.
I remember thinking at one point that it really reminded me of a Thomas McCarthy movie. Then I realized that he is actually in the movie as Dr. Bob.
Robert Glaudini: (Laughs) Yeah. I love his films and he responded really well to the script and wanted to do his bit to help it. I was really pleased that he came aboard.
Did he see the play before he read the script?
Robert Glaudini: No, when we went into the film, we were thinking, 'Who could play that?' We wondered if he would be interested so we sent him the script to read and he said yes.
Robert Glaudini: I think part of it was experience level. We were going to do things so fast and when Beth did the play, it was her first part. It was kind of a producer decision. We needed someone with the experience to do this because we're going to move so fast, and unfortunately, it didn't work out for Beth, but she did a smaller part in it. She understood and it was just a question of finding someone who had experience of moving fast and doing the film. There's probably more to it than that, but that's the best I can put it.
When you did get Amy, what kinds of things really stood out for you in her performance?
Robert Glaudini: Well, just because of her experience, she can show the internalizing of certain feelings in the movie. I think that may have been one of the big things.
On the Jack's New York featurette on the DVD, there is a part where the production designer was talking about finding places in New York that no one has ever filmed at before and also the realistic apartments for the characters, which I thought was interesting. While the realistic apartments probably weren't too hard to find, were there challenges in finding these other New York locations that hadn't been captured on film before?
Robert Glaudini: I don't know about that. There were locations that were in my head when I was writing the play and some of them didn't work out like I imagined them. It was a different swimming pool location, but I loved the change. Those apartments in the mid-50s are pretty much all like that. The difficulty with that was Phil wanted them to be in these apartments that were appropriate to their wages. You know when you see a film with a waitress and you go home with her and it's this huge loft in Williamsburg. It doesn't make sense. So that caused some filming difficulties, because of the tightness of the space, but it was nothing that couldn't be solved by the great crew that worked on it.
I really enjoyed Phil's work both in front of and behind the camera in this. I remember when George Clooney directed his first movie, he said that would be the only one... and now he has directed four movies. Do you think Phil has caught the directing bug and can you talk about working with him as the director?
Robert Glaudini: I think so. I think Phil definitely wants to direct more films. He just doesn't want to direct and act in them. His process of acting is different than, let's say, Clooney's. Phil really does a whole internalizing, all the details and living with the character. It's tough to do that if you then have to jump behind the camera. I think he did a great job. He really loved directing. He has said that acting is much more painful for him to do, in terms of the process he goes through as an actor. Directing is just more liberating. In fact, he might even say it is more fun. He knows his way around the set and everyone has great respect for him. He kept things moving, he didn't get crazy about takes and all of that stuff. He liked it a lot. He liked having the overall large responsibility and be able to trust other professionals. It was just hard, for his first film, acting in it and directing it, as you can imagine it might be, just on the anxiety level.'
Are there any other new film or stage projects that you're working on, that you can talk about?
Robert Glaudini: I just closed a play in Boston called Vengeance Is the Lord's. There is interest in that maybe moving into filmdom. More concretely than that, with Brett C. Leonard, we're developing a series for HBO called Upstate. We're just at the beginning stages. We've made an agreement with HBO, but we're just now meeting with them to tell them the idea and all that stuff. We're at the beginning stages of doing the outline, and working with them a little bit on that, and then writing the pilot script. That's the next immediate project.
Is there anything you can say at all about the story for that?
Robert Glaudini: Yeah. Upstate is the story of the community that develops around a private prison, which is run for profit. In other words, the prison is built and as people work there and as the economy improves in that immediate area, a suburban community develops around this industry. It will not be an upstairs-downstairs story. The main characters are a correctional officer, his wife and his two kids. It will be about how the job impacts his family and other families in the community. We're kind of excited about it. We think it could make a great story.
I know it's early, but is there anyone you have in mind for casting or were you writing this with anyone in mind?
Robert Glaudini: No. Writers might say that, but you kind of learn to put that aside. Once it goes to pilot, HBO is the big decision-maker in that regard, so you have to be careful about who you start mentioning. There have been a couple of agents who have reached out and said, 'This certain client is willing to do an HBO thing now,' stuff like that. That's all such a song-and-dance to begin with. You just have to wait until things are concrete, until we write a really great pilot script and when HBO, in fact, decides to shoot it. Those are the stages. You have to write the pilot, they have to like it, then they shoot it. We're a ways away from that.
Just to wrap up, what would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see Jack Goes Boating in theaters about why they should see this awesome story on Blu-ray or DVD?
Robert Glaudini: I think it's terrificly personal, in certain ways, and has an intimate story to it. I think that, in the quiet of one's home, you'll be able to greatly appreciate those aspects of it.
Excellent. Well, that's about all I have for you, Robert. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with Upstate and anything else you are working on.
Robert Glaudini: OK. Thank you very much.
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