Robert Downey Jr., Channing Tatum, and Chazz Palminteri on Dito Montiel's life story
When you grow up, there are times when you hurt your parents and when you love your parents. There are times when you want to kill them and times when you want to hug them.
In Dito Montiel's life, those times happened all at the same time, and during him most important years - when he was a teenager. Dito grew up in New York in the 1980's; it was not the best environment to be living in - but add on top of that, the fact that his father was hardly ever around, and was certainly not that guiding figure.
Dito got most of his education in the streets, from his friends, and his enemies. After all the abuse he suffered, he decided to move to Los Angeles to find a better life. In 2005, he wrote a book about his childhood and his experiences; shortly after that, he started writing the film version as well called A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints.
That film stars a cavalcade of stars from Shia LaBeouf as himself as a child, Robert Downey Jr. playing Dito as an adult. Chazz Palminteri and Dianne Wiest play his parents, Channing Tatum is his best friend and brother figure, Antonio, and Rosario Dawson is his older version of his first girlfriend.
Dito also took the helm as director, which was an equally daunting task. "Yeah, I mean it was very weird as you can imagine; the book I wrote was about other people, not me, my impressions of them, certainly not who they are. Making the film, we went back and forth 50 different ways thinking how to make this film and we just took one really major moment out of the book and started building around it and combined different stories into. We gave the story of probably twelve kids to four, so it was always a bit. You're always close to something you write; I'm a little closer probably to this than normal, but at the same time it always felt like slightly someone else's story in a way - it was weird."
Robert also served as producer for the film; it was really his push that got this story moving and expose the world to Dito's world. "You want to establish some ground rule but what I am is just part of sitting here today and I've put in some and I've taken some out. And there's a new American writer/director who actually has something to say and someone who's exciting to me. You know, personally I vacillate between wanting to call him every night and check in or just get back to the silly old days where we were fucking around and neither one of us was doing anything important. Or perhaps strangle him and tell him, 'Why, you know, me and my f*cking experience. You should have listened to what I had to say.' I became like some shaming f*cking grandfather a couple weeks ago or months ago on something, and it was like 'Oh, my g-d; it's so ridiculous.' So in a way there's just been almost this re-creation of a familial feeling, but it just means there's no disconnect. I'm sure that this experience has brought me to another level and brought you the recognition that you didn't seek but deserved."
Bringing Chazz in as the father was more than just a coincidence; it was Chazz's job to not only act as the dad, but be the head figure on set. And he took it as serious as he could have with the whole cast. "Well, I like to embrace that; I saw [Channing] was very receptive and he wanted to learn; he wanted to hear things that I had to say and when I see that, I give more. First of all, I could see that he was extremely talented and I say that very honestly because I would say something to him and he would do it immediately. And then I would forget about it and he would do it again later; I knew right away, he really, truly understands and he gets it."
And Channing saw that Chazz wanted to teach him. "He definitely took me under his wing; I think you're an idiot if you're an actor and you don't take the opportunity to learn something from someone that has had the experience and the talent that he has done through the years and people that he's gotten to learn from. I'm a moron if I don't take that opportunity and I think anybody that works with him is a moron if they don't try to just listen to him and just listen to what anybody has to say for that matter. I can probably learn something from somebody who just had a job yesterday. They might not be as experienced. I think you learn something from anybody but especially from someone that has such a deep level of experience."
A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints has the music, the atmosphere, and the grit of 1986 New York. Dito said he wants audiences to feel what it was like for him, as well as put themselves in the film. "The most important thing is I hope they like it; the most important thing about making the film and I don't mean why we made the film. In the directing and making the story work, making a villain is very easy; making a human being is tough. This is a movie filled with love, so much love I'm going to break your neck with it; it's obsessive love, it's crazy. There's a scene at the end where Robert and Chazz are together and Chazz says, 'You know, I told you I loved you the last time I saw you;' he means it, he really means it. So it was important you pick a perspective when you make a film; the perspective of this film is slightly my answer to your question as far as what I cared about making the film. To make the film successfully for me was you pick a perspective; the perspective was Monty and Antonio telling the story - it's a beautiful place, why would you leave? It doesn't make sense; it really doesn't. I hope they like the action; that's what I like."
You can see the star-studded cast of A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints in select theaters now; it's rated R.