Exclusive Interview With Dito Montiel On Empire State

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The Rock on the cover of the movie is front and center, and that makes perfect sense since he’s a big star. In terms of characters in the film, though, I actually enjoyed Liam Hemsworth’s performance the most. In terms of him playing Chris, what is it that he was able to bring to the character that you either didn’t see coming or wasn’t pre-written, but ended up working out well?

Yeah I mean, I really really like Liam, and it’s kind of funny because I didn’t really know him all that much, although I did see The Hunger Games, and I did like that. I thought it was good. I was a little concerned about Liam at first, I mean he’s an Australian guy and this guy Chris is a whacked-out Greek guy from New York who lives in Queens. And of course that’s where I’m from, so I’m skeptical about people playing New Yorkers. So in my opinion, I didn’t want him to try and do too much of a New York thing, you know? Without being corny and stuff, he’s just got a leading-man thing, you know? I love that old movie The Pope of Greenwich Village. I just love it, with Mickey Rourke and Eric Roberts, they’re just so frickin’ great, you know? I told Liam and Michael Angarano, just watch that movie! Mickey Rourke was like the ultimate leading man, and Eric Roberts was like this insane brat just running around and trying to ruin things. So in some ways, for me I sort of thought of those as the characters, and I thought Liam really pulled it off. There’s sort of a straight-man quality to it – that you would believe he’d still be friends with this guy who keeps fucking things up, you know? So I thought that was pretty exciting what he did with it. Instead of trying to match the comedy, he sort of just did the straight-man thing that made some of what Michael was doing that much more exciting or funny. Liam had to say what I think the audience was thinking, and I thought he did a great job of that.

And I think with Chris, even if he’s making a bad decision or something else that would make the audience uneasy, you always understand why he’s doing what he’s doing.

Yeah, I thought he did a great job with that, and that was not easy when you’re talking about such ridiculous circumstances. It’s like, “Really? You’re gonna let this guy take the money? He just blew a fucking hole in the roof.” Which is actually true! Which is so insane. When Chris told me that fucking story, I was like, “what!?”

Yeah! I saw at the end, with that footage of the landlord I think it was, and he said they supposedly designed it specifically to prevent that.

And the best part is, in the real story the guy was trying to break through the roof, and first Eddie broke into the air conditioning vent. And then he went through the air conditioning vent. And I thought that would just take too much time.

It’s funny you said how you didn’t want it to be corny or forced doing the New York thing – I’m from Boston, so I pick up really easily in movies when they’re faking the Boston thing.

Oh yea, the “I’m from Bahston.” [Laughs].

Yeah! Like in The Departed, if 90% of the characters do a good job and one person is obviously faking it, it sticks out like a sore thumb.

It really is painful when that happens, I agree.

This movie reminded me of a few other films. The ending was similar to The Town – in that movie the money is hidden in his backyard or something, but here it’s hidden in the statue at his parents house. Was the statue just an idea you and Adam Mazer had, or was that born out of anything specific?

Well, I kept asking Chris, well what happened to the money? And all he would do is smile. And the only thing he ever said to me was “I had a nice statue.” And I said “What does that mean?” And then I would try to get him to answer, I’d say “Well how do you fit all that money into a statue?” And then he would just laugh and not answer. So he never particularly answered where the money was hidden, or if he even took it, but we can all speculate. He never came out and told me. When I first met him, he said “Listen, if this movie ever gets made, I will tell you at the end.” And finally at the end we were in that room, and he just sat there smiling.

That’s wild!

And he’s married to the girl, so you know, it all turned out OK for him I guess.

So you have another film coming out, called Boulevard.

Yeah, it’s Robin Williams, Kathy Baker, and Bob Odenkirk from Breaking Bad.

So there’s a question, Robin Williams in that one – is that also a situation where you envision him for the film and you just try and get in contact?

Yeah, well this movie Boulevard is a really special film, it’s a really small tiny little movie about a man who’s been married for 40 years, and how do you start a new life without the woman that you’ve loved? And so it’s a very drama, very heartbreaking film. And that was like the dream, you know, “Oh my god if Robin Williams could do it, it would be so perfect.” And he was interested in it, and he read the script and luckily he did it, and he’s insanely good in it, like holy cow. So we’re just editing it now. But these things, I never know how you get people, you just put it out there and hope by some miracle it finds it’s way into the right hands. And believe me, I understand how nuts it is, because a million people are writing things and you’re like “Well wait a second, how exactly does Robin Williams get it?” It is kind of crazy. I mean me and him are at the same agency, so of course that helps a bit, but it’s always a tricky thing. I wish I entirely understood how it works, but I still don’t [Laughs]. You just sort of hope that someone trusts that you’ll make something they’re not going to be embarrassed by. People don’t particularly come to me to make a blockbuster, I think they come to me if they feel like “OK, I’m here to be a really great actor, and I’m not gonna be embarrassed, and it’s gonna be a really special film whether it makes $100 million or not.” Because no one’s getting paid in my films, you know? You’re not getting paid the big bucks to be in my movies. You’re hopefully doing it because you think there’s something to get out of it.

Yeah, I mean if there was just a formulaic way to go about it then I’m sure everyone would be doing it, so it kind of just makes sense that you can’t fully explain it.

Yeah, absolutely.

And you have to wonder sometimes if just having the courage to go after certain actors can be the difference sometimes, for people in this business.

Yeah, and I definitely understand that a lot of times it’s tough, you know? Because there is a big wall that blocks a lot of regular guys who are out there like I was, and I still am. I mean I get to make movies now, but I don’t come from this world. If your father is Spielberg then maybe it’s a little bit easier, you know? But the good thing is I think the walls are getting broken down a little bit, I mean celebrities aren’t so impossible to get in touch with now as they used to be, if you just figure it out. And it doesn’t have to be a celebrity either, if you’re a writer just try and find somebody that you think is good, and just do it. I mean you don’t need– what, do you need a hundred million dollars for a studio? You don’t need that crap anymore. You shoot it on a 5D and cut it on fucking Final Cut, and make your own movie. And if a good actor lives down your block, I’d knock on the fuckin’ guy’s door. “Hey man, here’s a script, we’re gonna shoot on the corner next Thursday, free pizza.” You’d be surprised! Some guys will come and do it, I’ve been very lucky like that. And I’ve gotten ten thousand no’s, trust me, it’s not like I call up Robin Williams and he’s like “Yeah, I’m in!” You get about 4000 no’s, but some will say yes.

Definitely. Well anyways, thanks a lot for talking!

Yeah, not at all! Good luck man.

Thanks again to Dito for the engaging chat! Empire State is out on DVD and Blu-ray now, so if you see it on shelves be sure make a grab at it. Or if you’re like Chris, you could steal 15 million copies. No promises you won’t get caught, though.

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