John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” is about the never-ending quest to feel connected to someone, to find satisfying sex, and a belief that both will lead to happiness. Turturro wrote, directed and stars in the comedy drama. The film has a clever setup: Fioravante (Turturro), a quiet florist, is talked into prostitution by his friend Murray (Woody Allen), a senior citizen closing up his bookstore who needs cash and is presented with an unusual opportunity. Murray’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), tells him she’s looking for a ménage à trois with her friend Selima (Sofia Vergara).
Fioravante resists by telling Murray, “I’m not a beautiful man.” But Murray insists that his friend is big enough for the task and convinces him to come, er, on board. Hence, Fioravante becomes Murray’s “ho.” Woody doesn’t find it hard out there for a pimp because he quickly finds another “john” in the form of an Orthodox Hasidic widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who is raising six children by herself and yearning for something more than her strict religion’s rules.
The first half of the film is hilarious. The second half is more serious and presents a moving drama between Fioravante and Avigal. Much appreciated levity is provided by Liev Schreiber, who looks like he had the time of his life playing Dovi, a Hasidic cop who has been in love with Avigal since boyhood.
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On Friday, April 11, TheBlot’s Dorri Olds caught up with Turturro, Paradis and Vergara in SoHo.
Q: Vanessa, what helped you bring your character to life?
Paradis: I met this young woman who escaped her Hasidic community when she was about 22. She was beautiful and so generous sharing her life story. I had no clue about this community and she told me about her everyday life and the rules. It was a tremendous help.
John, what made you focus on this group?
Turturro: The more you research, the more interesting that community becomes. There are some people who are happy in that life and others who aren’t. The women that left usually didn’t have children; they knew they wanted to leave so they’d prepared for that.
Sofia, you always play a funny, sexy role as you did in this film. Do you ever feel boxed in by type casting?
Vergara: [Smiles] Oh, I don’t know. With these [runs her hands over her breasts] I can’t play a scientist! I think you have to know your limitations, so I’m not going to tell my agent to cast me in “Schindler’s List II.” I know where I can have fun and do a good job. You have to be grateful. I don’t think I should complain, “Oh, they don’t let me cry or be raped in a movie.” And I saw a side of John that others didn’t see [laughs] and it’s OK! [Turturro’s face turns red] Maybe one day he’ll do another movie and let you see that side of him.
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Vanessa, had you worked with Woody Allen before?
Paradis: No, I met Woody on the set, in my turban, and there was this little boy with big afro hair and I had a tiny little comb and I think that was brilliant of John because I was so nervous to hurt the kid’s hair that I was really focused on that and forgetting, “Wow! There is Woody Allen!” Woody was so sweet and really nice with me. The only hard part was when he would improvise all these lines and they were really funny, one after another and I couldn’t laugh or smile.
Turturro: You never know with Woody because he knows the lines but kind of massages them and he adds something — which could be good, but I’m thinking, “Should I say anything?” He’s a very good actor and he was great with those kids. They didn’t know who he was and thought he was just an old man. [Laughs] One of the kids was with Vanessa and he would always step on Woody’s foot whenever he forgot his lines. We have all these outtakes of Woody saying, “Why do you keep stepping on my foot?” And the kid would say, “Because you’re not saying the line.”
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How did you feel about balancing drama and comedy?
Turturro: What we were going for was a lot of laughing, but you can slip things in sometimes that are moving and really tender without hitting you over the head. Some of the greatest literature and greatest films have those elements in them so that is something to aspire towards.
If “Fading Gigolo” were played as a double feature, which film would you want it paired with?
Turturro: “Shampoo” would be perfect. [Smiles]
“Fading Gigolo” is a fun comedy. It opens April 18, 2014. Rated R. 90 minutes.
Watch John Turturro imitate Woody Allen!