Director Mitch Glazer talks Passion Play

Passion Play director Mitch Glazer discusses his project which has been in the works for 20 years, his new TV series Magic City, and much more

Screenwriter Mitch Glazer has forged an impressive career, with such diverse titles under his belt such as Scrooged, Great Expectations, and The Recruit. Like most writers, though, Mitch Glazer has also wanted to direct, and he finally makes his directorial debut with the drama Passion Play, a project which has been in the making for the past 20 years.

Mitch Glazer originally wanted his wife Kelly Lynch to star as Lily, a circus performer who has large bird wings growing out of her back, along with his lifelong friend Mickey Rourke. When the studios wanted a different take on the script, Mitch Glazer didn't give into their demands and stowed it away for years until the time was right for him to make his directorial debut. Mickey Rourke stars as Nate Poole, a jazz musician who flees from a mobster (Bill Murray) when he finds a traveling circus and the lovely winged woman Lily, portrayed by Megan Fox.

I recently had the chance to speak with writer-director Mitch Glazer over the phone about Passion Play, which hits the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD on May 31. Here's what he had to say below.

I talked to Kelly earlier and it was interesting hearing about the inception of this story, 20 years in the making.

Mitch Glazer: It went quickly. It didn't feel like this arduous thing. Everyone was doing other things, I was writing a lot of movies and every few years, I would always go back to it as this little jewel for me, a movie I always had near and dear to my heart. It evolved some, but it's generally the same movie I wrote that long ago. When I showed up on set with Megan Fox, I said 'I wrote this movie when you were three years old,' which freaked us both out, actually. Yeah, it was awhile in the making to get it made, but the story is still what it is.

I read through the production notes and it said that the first few times you pitched it, they wanted it to be more like Splash. Could you even fathom something like that, from this story? Could you even imagine turning it into a wacky comedy?

Mitch Glazer: No, but because I had come off of Scrooged, when I went in to pitch it, that was just the first thing I said. In those days, you could actually just go in and tell the idea. I wanted to be clear that I was not writing Splash. The second they got it, they said, 'We really loved it, but couldn't you make it more like Splash with wings?'

I also read that your relationship with Kelly largely inspired the movie, but I'm curious where the concept of the wings came from?

Mitch Glazer: As a kid, I used to be equal parts drawn to and horrified of the circus. They would have these beautiful canvas posters for Lobster Boy, bearded women, and this and that. Somewhere along the line, the notion of this woman with, not angelic or demonic wings, but practical, organic, funky bird wings, like real wings. That idea took hold in my head and I had a scene in the script, 20 years ago, which was a flashback and you saw the wings come out of her back. They were these wet, sticky things. I'm aware that Black Swan has that as well, but 20 years ago, I wrote that because I connected it to the girl's puberty. She's 12 or 13 years old and it's just this physical thing that happened to her at that point in her life. I always wanted the wings to be very bird-like and very organic. Most of them are CG in the movie, but we did have a few sets of practical wings that are made with swan feathers. There is an amazing guy up in Seattle, I believe, who would sit at home and sew the feathers on the wings. The wings are exactly as I wanted them to be. I wanted them to be connected by cartilage to her back, and very real and carny like. At the end, she's revealed to be something else, but the rest of the time, she's just this carny freak.

For the practical wings, was it an animatronic kind of thing?

Mitch Glazer: We tried that, and we ended up using puppeteers, guys who would be all in blue to blend in with the blue-screen. We only used it a couple of times, but they were really good. There were two of them and, the couple of times we actually used them, it was cool as hell. Like in the love scene between Mickey and Megan, he kind of folds them around her. I think it solves the illusion so well because he could touch them. I'd love to know where they are now. I'd love to have them for Halloween (Laughs).

You have been good friends with Mickey for years and your wife Kelly is in this as well. Can you talk about discovering Megan for this role and the things you brought out of her in this performance?

Mitch Glazer: Absolutely. I had never seen the Transformers films. When it first saw her pictures, I just went, 'My God. That's her!' The director of Jennifer's Body had shown me a few cut scenes together, because the movie hadn't come out yet, just so I could see what she looked like on screen. That was it, really. We had a lunch, she and I, and she read the script three or four times and was really connected to it already. There was a vulnerability to her aside from her beauty. It was a neighborhood restaurant that we eat at a lot and I've never seen paparazzi there. This poor woman, they followed her there, as a pack. We're eating and I look through the glass window and there are all these big guys out there taking photos of her. I realized that Megan's real life had prepared her for the role of a woman who is paid money for men to look at her in a glass box. She's already there, because of her beauty and celebrity, she was already an object, as Lily is. She was connected to the script in a lot of ways. She showed up, literally, fully formed. I don't even know if I know who Megan Fox is. I know Lily. She wrote me an email, days after leaving the set, saying, 'I miss Lily.' That's all she wrote, and I believed she did. It was a perfect fit between actress and part. I love her performance in it. I think it's really subtle and controlled and beautiful.

You shot this in New Mexico. Can you talk about what that atmosphere and landscape brought to a movie like this?

Mitch Glazer: Sure. We shot in Santa Fe and some in Albuquerque. I never realized, living in Miami, New York and L.A., how cold it gets. It was winter there in Santa Fe, but it was so beautiful. Obviously, it was always in the script desert scenes. We went to the Indian areas and these incredible expanses where they shot True Grit and a million other movies. It's just beautiful, poetic, Old West. And we had Christopher Doyle, this maniac visionary shooting the film, you let him loose and it was great. We were shooting the World of Wonders, the last traveling carnival based out of Coney Island. We found them in Arkansas and we shipped them to Santa Fe with their freaks. I think this thing has been touring since the late 40s. I think there was a moment when we were shooting them and somebody in the camera crew saw this incredible sunset. Chris turned the camera around and went running up this hill. We were really open to this insane moonscape that we were shooting in.

I obviously knew about the three primary actors in the movie, but as I watched it, I started seeing all these actors I love popping up like Rory Cochrane and Rhys Ifans.

Mitch Glazer: It's interesting. Rory I've known for awhile. We met at an airport years ago. I loved him in Dazed and Confused and I just think he's magic. The second I called and said, 'Would you be up for coming out here and doing this,' he flew himself in and was fantastic. Brian Doyle-Murray, Bill Murray's brother, I've known for most of my life and he came in and did a small part. Rhys I met with because I was looking for this dissolute Keith Richards guy in the desert, Sam. At the time, I hadn't cast the character that Bill Murray plays, Happy Shannon. We had lunch and he said, 'I'll play anything. I'll play Sam, I'll play Happy, I just really want to be a part of this.' It was really a gift because is just amazing and a joy to have on the set. There's a moment in the film where his character Sam breaks into Shakespeare, which I clearly didn't write. He just did it in character, and it was great.

Can you talk at all about the new TV series you wrote, Magic City? Do you have any updates on that?

Mitch Glazer: Yeah, yeah. I just came back from Miami to talk about Passion Play, but we start shooting July 6, 10 episodes. It's a dream. I was born and raised in Miami and my dad did the lighting for all those iconic 50s hotels. It basically takes place in one of the lobby's of those buildings. I've written six so far out of the 10. The cast is crazy. Jeffrey Dean Morgan plays the father, running this hotel. Olga Kurylenko, Danny Huston, Kelly Lynch, Steven Strait, it's really an amazing cast, also, Seymour Cassel. We're going to be there from July until November shooting this.

Have they decided on when they want to air this yet? The last I heard it was 2012, but do they have a more concrete time frame?

Mitch Glazer: There are times we have been hearing, but it all depends how we do in post-production. They are talking first or second quarter in 2012, January or March, one of those two. Starz has been incredible. There was no pilot. (Starz president and CEO) Chris Albrecht read the first three and said, 'Let's just make them all.' I'm going back home after years and years.

Is this completely set in the 1960s, or are there flashbacks?

Mitch Glazer: The first show is New Year's Eve 1958/1959 and I think the first season is pretty much 1959. Then we'll get into the 60s after that. Miami Beach was kind of like Casablanca, where you had JFK, Frank Sinatra, this Rat Pack, CIA, Cuba, this crossroads of the world, at that point. I think they had the second-largest CIA station in the world, next to Langley, during the Kennedy years. It's a real rich, cool time. The wardrobe and production design and so flashy and cool, and there is also this deeper stuff as well.

Finally, what would you like to say to anyone who is curious about Passion Play about why they should grab the Blu-ray or DVD?

Mitch Glazer: I think it's a beautiful, emotional, and original ride. And, really, its as romantic a movie I could make. My feeling always has been the personal becomes the universal. This is something that is a personal and truthful story to me, and my hope is it connects with people, with that part in all of us.

That's all I have for you, Mitch. Thanks so much for your time and best of luck with the new series.

Mitch Glazer: Absolutely, Brian. Thank you so much.

You can check out Mitch Glazer's directorial debut Passion Play when it hits the shelves on Blu-ray and DVD on May 31.