Director Andrew Dominik discusses his critically-acclaimed drama Killing Them Softly, currently available on Blu-ray and DVD
Although it didn't take off at the box office like I had hoped it would, director Andrew Dominik's brilliant Killing Them Softly was one of my Top 10 movies of 2012. Chocked full of brilliant performances from Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and Scoot McNairy, this adaptation of George V. Higgins centers on the fallout from a high stakes poker game robbery, set against the backdrop of the 2008 Presidential elections. I recently had the chance to speak with Andrew Dominik about his fascinating drama, which debuts on Blu-ray and DVD March 26. Here's what he had to say.
I'm not normally a huge fan of deleted scenes, even in movies I love, but I really enjoyed these deleted scenes. Are these the ones you were trying to fit in and you just didn't have room for?
Andrew Dominik: Well, there's a lot of stuff that was cut out of the movie, and those were the ones I thought were pretty good.
I thought those added a lot to those scenes, but I could understand why they were cut if you had a runtime to hit, and things like that. I also watched the featurette and Scoot (McNairy) was talking about how he didn't want to meet Brad (Pitt) before their scene. That really made sense and added to the chemistry they had. Is that an ideal kind of scenario for a director, to have the actors not meet at all before their scenes?
Andrew Dominik: You often do stuff like that. That was a really good idea of his. I'm not sure if I've ever done it that way before, but it worked out really good. It was his idea. He was just saying, 'Look, I want to meet Jackie (Brad Pitt's character) and I want to feel intimidated by him. I told Brad, and Brad thought it was a really good idea. Brad, actually, really gave Scoot a hard time, just gave him nothing, to keep him feeling intimidated and on the back foot all day long. Actors often do that sort of stuff naturally. If they're supposed to know each other in the story, they'll spend time together. If they're supposed to be stand-off-ish, or not know each other, they'll avoid each other. Actors will do anything they can, to make their performances work. In that case, it was really interesting because they literally didn't meet until we started rolling the cameras. Scoot was just sitting there in the bar, and we turned the camera on and Brad walked in. We didn't even call "action," he was just sitting there, and he didn't know that the scene was starting until it started.
Oh, wow. That's interesting.
Andrew Dominik: You know what, the first time, it didn't work. The two of them were so nervous, I think, they weren't even in the scene together. They were both in their own scene by themselves, but, very, very quickly, within two takes, it was really working.
There was also some really cool material with Ray Liotta talking about how he is normally the guy that gives the punch, instead of the guy taking it. Did he really relish that different side?
Andrew Dominik: I think he did. Not knowing Ray before he started working on the movie, and not knowing what his ego was like, I was sort of concerned that he would pussy out, to the extent that I wanted the character to. But, Ray really understood that, in order to make that work, he was really going to have to be like a little girl, almost. He really went for it. I was really blown away by him. He's a great actor, and he's someone who really wants to work in service of the character, and in service of the story, like all great actors do.
James Gandolfini has such a presence on screen and he was great as Mickey. You talked about how much you admired him on the featurette, so was he always your first choice to play this character?
Andrew Dominik: Yeah, it was kind of written with him in mind. I was very glad that he did it.
You shot this in New Orleans, but when we spoke before, you said you wanted to make it feel like Anytown U.S.A., in the midst of this economic downturn. Can you talk about finding the locations and what really stood out for you?
Andrew Dominik: You just always try to make it live, those weeks you are shooting the film, you kind of live inside it. It was a weird movie, because, you know, most of it takes place in cars, and there is an awful amount of talking, you know. We were very, very focused, and it was hard and grueling work, when you're shooting 10-minute scenes. Every little piece has to work, or it's not going to work.
It's interesting that you have that approach, to shooting these really long scenes. Is that something you're more comfortable with, getting as much in camera without so many edits?
Andrew Dominik: It's much more difficult to make a 10-minute scene work. It's much, much, much more difficult. I'd like to make a film with a lot of short scenes. I think that would feel like a breeze.
The last time we spoke, we talked about your next project Blonde. Are you still working on writing that?
Andrew Dominik: I am, yeah. I'm trying to squeeze some money out of it, at the moment.
Do you hope to shoot that this year then?
Andrew Dominik: I'd love to.
What would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see Killing Them Softly in theaters about why they should pick up the Blu-ray or DVD?
Andrew Dominik: Good movies are few and far between. Go see one with this. I feel like a fool stumping for my own film. I'm glad you'll do it for me.
I definitely will. Thank you so much. It was great talking to you again.
Andrew Dominik: OK. Thanks.