Mick Rossi explains how he made a big movie with name actors and no money

Mick Rossi has got a lot of moxie. How else do you explain writing a script, creating a starring role for yourself, packing it with stars like Vinnie Jones, Val Kilmer, Gabriel Byrne, etc. and also doing it for very little money?

Well, Rossi did just that with Played, a heist film that he co-wrote with Sean Stanek. In the film Rossi plays Ray, a man who's just finished an eight year prison sentence after getting set up. Now he's back on the streets to settle the score.

Rossi recently took time out to talk about how the whole Played experience played itself out.

How did you come up with the idea for Played?

Mick Rossi: The honest answer is I'd already written screenplays and I was very close to getting one done, doing it the standard way. Writing the script, getting some names attached, trying to raise the money... I was very close to the financing and it fell through on the 11th hour after a years work. I was really depressed and disappointed and I just wanted to do something that was containable and you didn't have to go and chase big money to do. I came up with the idea of doing Played on a very guerilla style, raw, low budget movie where we could pretty much jump into action right away.

In crafting this script did you do a lot of research into London's underworld?

Mick Rossi: Well, I used to live in London for 10 years. My father's Italian and my mother's English. I knew the London streets very well and I know a lot of shady characters there. When I go back to visit most of them are in prison and some of them are still doing what they're doing, etc. I didn't really have to research a lot. One takes a little bit of artistic license but always tries to keep it rooted in reality.

You had mentioned making Played more of a contained film, but at the same time you have a lot of name actors in the film. How did that come about?

Mick Rossi: You know what, Evan, there was a great guardian angel on my shoulder. I've known Gabriel Byrne for many years, he's probably one of my best friends. Gabriel's always been very supportive of what I've been doing over the years, or trying to do. When I told him I was going to do this and just go against the grain and just start shooting and not worry about getting big financing, he was just so great and said, "Well, I'll just jump in." Once that happened, I know all of the cast and I was very lucky because once Gabriel was in it gave it such credibility, I think it made it easier for the other actors to say Yes.

Had you always planned to play Ray in the film?

Mick Rossi: Yeah. I created a play, also, to create a vehicle for myself. It's very hard to get jobs in L.A. as a struggling actor. Really, Evan, the reality for me was if I really applied myself I'd get a couple of days on Nash Bridges or something. All the good stuff you can't get to without a really good agent. It's a Catch 22. Unless you backdoor your own vehicle. I always intended to play Ray regardless of who jumps in.

When I sat down with Val for the first time, I told him how we were going to do this, it was going to be very raw and very rock and roll and he goes, "Do I get a trailer?" And I said, "No." He goes, "What about makeup artists?" "No, we're not going to have any makeup artists." He goes, "What about wardrobe?" I said, "No." He does, "Do I get an assistant?" I said, "No." He goes, "Have you got lights?" I said, "No." He goes, "I love it, I'm in." Right then and there that told me everything about Val. He was just willing to jump in. I think people responded to the sheer ballsyness of trying to undertake this. Again, it was going against the grain of what normally they were doing in Hollywood.

One sits in a trailer for hours to come out on a big budget movie and say half a page of dialogue. We were shooting 3 to 4 a day on the fly, so I think it was very exciting and liberating for the names to go back to doing... acting.

As one of the writers on the project were you very precious that the actors say the words exactly as written? Did the subject matter of the movie call for that?

Mick Rossi: That's a great question, Evan. It was totally open. Everyone brought so much to the table and, of course, with the names we had they're bringing a wealth of experience with them. Any suggestions they had it was like free reign. The gloves were off. If you wanted to go this way we could. If you wanted to try that way... totally not precious at all. Certainly the scene with myself and Val in the car that's all improvised; Val's just spewing it out. There's a lot of stuff that didn't make the movie which is just terrific stuff too.

Also, the interrogation scene with Bruno Kirby, God bless his soul, because he's not with us any longer, that was all improvised, too. How we did that is we sat down with Bruno and said, "This is really the set up, eventually you have to let me go. This is my criminal record, this is what you've got on me." Doing it that way, for me and for Bruno, it kept it so real because it was a sense of discovery by elimination in those scenes. For me, that whole scene was alive for me.

What do you think is the biggest thing you've learned from this whole experience? The one thing you keep coming back to?

Mick Rossi: (Laughs) How lucky I was! Just to get one of those names, I would have been blessed. You know what it tells me, Evan? It tells me that with belief and a great deal of tenacity and passion and faith, you can get it done. I think it's inspirational to anybody who wants to go out and pick up a camera and just start doing it on the streets. It tells me if I can do it once I can do it again. That's really what it tells me. It was very hard, a lot of blood sweat and tears at times. Scheduling the big names was a minor miracle getting them all in the same place at the same time, because all of their schedules were so busy. All of that aside I think it tells me that with extreme belief and tenacity, I think everyone has a shot.

What are you working on next?

Mick Rossi: I'm going to be a doing a movie with Val Kilmer called, I didn't write this but I'm in it, Cannes Job. It's about an out of work writer in Cannes, Val is gonna play that role. I play a sleazy producer who has warrants out for his arrest and he's still trying to finance movies. The next one I'm doing, which is a similar animal to Played, is a heist movie set in Toronto on New Years Eve.

Played is currently available on DVD from Lionsgate Home Entertainment.

Evan Jacobs