Don’t know who Israeli director Ariel Vromen is? It’s OK, he’s only done two low-budget features and a video short starring Gerard Butler up to this point, there wasn’t much talk about him – until now. Why? Because his new film The Iceman, starring Michael Shannon as famed contract kill Richard Kuklinski, is gaining quite the buzz, being one of my favorite films of the year thus far. Trust me, I’m a doctor.
While everyone is praising the acting of Shannon and other cast members, we can’t forget those performances would not have been possible without a director holding everything together. Vromen was the ringleader of this murderous circus, and deserves his own praise for re-creating a period docu-drama with suspense, emotion, and full-blown entertainment.
While in New York City promoting The Iceman, I had the chance to sit down for a roundtable interview with Ariel and a few other journalists. Read on as we discuss the process that goes into putting together a film with so much research, the tough job he had of selecting what material made the film, and his take on his colorful cast of characters.
First off we asked Ariel what drew him to the project, and if he’d had an interest in Kuklinski before starting the film:
Ariel Vromen: No, I didn’t know anything actually. I think my first interaction was the HBO documentary that I saw on TV, and after that, I became obsessed I guess. I was reading all the material I could find, the books, the court manuscripts, I even went to New Jersey and read the case files, and that was it. It was a long research period, but eventually you try to find out the truth about the whole story because there was a lot of contradiction with what [Kuklinski] was saying between different time periods – what actually existed?
Playing off Ariel’s answer, we asked what the biggest contradiction Ariel found between Kuklinski’s interviews was:
Ariel Vromen: I think in the 90s when he did the first HBO documentary, he was more honest, he was more scared, and even more humble if you can say that about him. But then he became “The Iceman” in his own mind, and as a classic sociopath Type-A, he started to build a new reality around himself, like he built the reality of his family and his killings in the first part. In the second part he was starting to build the reality of being “The Iceman” in jail. I think he was well read, he read every assassination possible, and in the second interview he took credit for Jimmy Hoffa, Kennedy, literally any murder. I think in the second part he was more of “The Iceman” sociopath talking instead of the real Kuklinski.
From here we asked how both Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder became attached to the film:
Ariel Vromen: Michael Shannon I love, and I’ve loved him for a long time. I tried to get him interested but he was honest and saying there was no chance we could finance the film casting him, and maybe he could just do a supporting part, but I knew he was the right guy for the role. It’s a long journey trying to get Michael Shannon to lead a movie like this, so we did a test scene, and then we convinced some of the financiers to back us, and we obviously had to cast a lot of actors around him.
Originally [Winona’s character] was Maggie Gyllenhaal, but she got pregnant, almost in a great karmatic way, because Winona was perfect. She’s so fragile compared to him, so the chemistry was really working between the two of them. She’s a great actress, she was hiding for a while, and I think this movie can bring her back into the spotlight.
Ratting off other names like James Franco, Chris Evans, and Stephen Dorff [to name a few], we asked Ariel how he was able to build such an all-star cast:
Ariel Vromen: I guess it was just a lot of perseverance, I annoyed everyone. [Laughs] You call them, you try to convince them to come, but once Michael Shannon was on board it was a lot easier – he’s like an actor’s magnet. Everybody wants to be around him.
With James, he was supposed to be Chris Evan’s role, but his father passed away while he was filming Oz The Great And Powerful, so they pushed that production, and he couldn’t make The Iceman. Then Chris saved us, Captain America came down and supported the film, but then James felt guilty so he came to do a scene too.
Getting into Ariel’s directing, we asked which character was harder to work with between Michael’s and Winona’s. People can oddly enough believe a person can become a contract killer, but believing his wife didn’t know we saw as more of a challenge. This was Ariel’s take:
Ariel Vromen: You’re right. Winona is very methodical so she didn’t even want to know certain details. One time I saw her script and it was all black because she was deleting all the other scenes except hers. In the beginning I’d be saying “Well we just came from that scene,” and she’d go “No, no, no, no, I don’t want to know anything.” I never really understood how she was doing it.
Whether the real wife knew or not, she claims she didn’t, it’s questionable obviously. I think she knew to some extent about Kuklinski and his involvement in the mob, and she for sure knew there was some kind of dirty business going on, but I don’t think she knew she was sleeping with a murderer. That’s how I took it. If she knew, then good for her I guess. [Laughs]
David Schwimmer dons a fantastically period ponytail for his character Josh, so we asked Ariel how he reacted upon finding out his new hairstyle:
Ariel Vromen: He brought it on himself. I was adverse casting Schwimmer, I didn’t see it at all. He had a relationship with Avi Lerner, the producer, because they did a movie called Trust before, and Avi said “You’ve got to meet David.” I like him, he’s a good theater actor, I saw him on a play in Chicago, I’m a huge fan of Friends, but in a mafia movie David Schwimmer didn’t really work out for me.
So what he did was go back to New York and call a friend of his, and they created that look. The character is based on a real person named Chris Rosenberg, and we found maybe one or two pictures on the Internet with the ponytail and the mustache. Then David sent me an audition tape with that look, and I was like “OK, I’ll take the chance.”
He actually perfected the role because the original guy was so vulnerable, he was outsider, like a New Yorker Jew trying to be involved in the mafia, so I think Schwimmer did OK.
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