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I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS - Interview with filmmakers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra

From: Andrea Chase
Series: Behind the Scenes
Length: 15:00

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Filmmakers John Requa and Glenn Ficarra on truth, lies, and the color orange.

Default-piece-image-0 John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have been writing partners for a decade or so, but when they got the call to adapt the true story of master can artist Steven Jay Russell, they decided that this might be the perfect vehicle for their directorial debut. In a conversation that touched on censorship, the Puritans, artistic control, and the real reason the film's release was delayed for over a year, Requa and Ficarra were sharp, witty, and boundlessly delighted with having made their film the way they wanted to.

Piece Description

John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have been writing partners for a decade or so, but when they got the call to adapt the true story of master can artist Steven Jay Russell, they decided that this might be the perfect vehicle for their directorial debut. In a conversation that touched on censorship, the Puritans, artistic control, and the real reason the film's release was delayed for over a year, Requa and Ficarra were sharp, witty, and boundlessly delighted with having made their film the way they wanted to.

Timing and Cues

00:00 - 00:41 Intro and having Requa and Ficarra introduce themselves separately so we can tell one voice from another.

01:02 - 01:23 What it was about Jim Carrey that made them think of him for this role. Few actors of his stature can do both comedy and drama. Plus Carrey has a fascination for with identity and a search for self, and he really responded to that about the character.

01:25 - 01:43 How they got the script to Carrey, and how surprised they were with how quickly he signed on, despite the edgy material and the low paycheck.

01:50 - 02:39 Getting the right blend for a con man who is also a hopeless romantic. The book doesn’t talk too much about the love story, but they saw that amid the cons and the escapes, there is the most amazing love story, if they did it right. It was also that they didn’t want to make another con man movie, it’s been done. The issue of finding identity through love also appealed to them greatly.

02:57 - 03:20 Carrey loved the fact that he didn’t know whether to love or hate his character. They wrote the character so that no matter what he did, his heart is always in the right place. They wanted to play up that he was a fool for love.

03:32 - 04:02 Reaction to the film is interesting to them. Audiences don’t buy into it until they find out it’s all true. If they had made this up, they would have been drubbed out of the business because it’s so unbelievable.

04:06 - 04:25 Steven’s genius is his ability to see the world as less intelligent than the rest of us. It’s easy to manipulate and he’s smart enough to do it. He never thought he’d get caught because of that and it was his undoing.

04:33 - 04:55 They talk about their visit with Steven early in the process to find a way into the story and ended up using Phillip as more of a resource and as a consultant.

04:57 - 05:02 Phillip’s cameo in the film at Steven’s attorney.

05:06 - 05:38 When visiting Steven in prison, did they get a sense that he was “playing” them. The immediate reaction to him was that he looked so ordinary that it was obvious how he got away with so much. They didn’t feel “played”, but he did tell things from his point of view, and they decided that that was how they were going to tell it. No cold objective truth, but as the greatest love story ever told.

05:44 - 05:53 Phillip is not as bitter as he sounded in his first interviews. He still loves him, but the feelings are complex because Steven did get him sent to prison.

06:21 - 07:53 They discuss the irony that the crime that sent Steven to prison for the rest of his life was one that actually made a profit for the company he is convicted of defrauding. Not a crime of violence, but one that made the company look foolish, plus the politics of the District Attorney being an in-law of a company executive, and the state was embarrassed that Steven had escaped from prison. Steven was under the impression that if he got caught, all he would have to do is return the money. The root of his trouble is that he embarrasses people. In the grand scheme of things, what he has done doesn’t compare to something like the Enron meltdown.

08:08 - 08:39 How to work with the impossible colors worn by Carrey and McGregor, including orange. McGregor looks great in everything, they note, and in nothing. The rest is art direction to make sure that nothing looks too garish.

08:44 - 09:11 Discuss the minutiae of filmmaking, for example the conversation they had with theie post-production editor for their new movie and the use of the word “V-jay-jah” in a PG-13 film. Show business takes the most absurd things for granted.

09:19 - 09:55 The influence of the Puritan founders in the north and businessmen in the south on American culture. They don’t’ think that we’ve come that far since then. They go on to rhapsodize about New Orleans, where much of the film was made, and not wryly that they live in a town that prides itself for its grilled chicken Caesar salad.

10:08 - 10:59 How to have complete artistic control of your first film. First, a French film financier and Jim Carrey working for little money. The less you spend, the more freedom you have. If you are not making any money and are still not getting to do what you want to do, you are doing something wrong. Plus you get Luc Besson, the financier, only wanted to see the final cut and then gave them three notes. And they wrote the script for free, that helps.

11:04 - 11:16 How getting a note from filmmaker Luc Besson is different (and better but sometimes embarrassing) from getting a note from a studio executive.

11:20 - 11:30 An example of a studio note. Could they make Phillip a girl? That’s when they decided they needed to write the script for free.

11:35 - 12:35 The rocky road to distribution. Their first company wasn’t able to meet their obligations and they spent a year in litigation to get the rights back, and once that happened, distribution happened quickly with Roadside. There has been talk that the reason it took so long was the gay subject matter, and while that’s not true, they do feel that the gay subject matter kept them from getting a deal with a major distributor.

12:45 - 15:32 Discuss their next film, which has a PG-13 rating. They leave it to the audience to decide if it’s amazing, though they think it is. It’s about the complex effect love has on us, making us happy and sad, which I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS had made them think about. It’s the only script not written by them that they would have considered directing. After that, they got Julianne Moore, Ryan Gosling. A commercial film, but not a superficial one called CRAZY STUPID LOVE.

13:59 -14:36 How Ryan Gosling is completely different in each of his two current film, and how different he is in CRAZY STUPID LOVE. He plays a lothario and has comic timing that no one who has seen his dramatic roles would have suspected he has. He’s hysterical. He also improvises some and it makes you just want to hate him he’s so good.

14:39 -14:48 Entire cast one of the best they’ve worked with and so pleasant.

14:50 - 14:52 They’re spoiled now and should just throw in the towel (laughs).

14:53 - 15:00 Thank you and outro.

Intro and Outro

INTRO:

Andrea Chase takes you Behind the Scenes of I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS with co-directors and co-writers Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. The film is a tale of boundless love, thrilling subterfuge, and why how you say something is more important that the actual truth of what is said. Based on the true story of Steven Jay Russell as summed up by writer Steve McVicker in his book of a similar title, I Love You Phillip Morris: A True Story of Life, Love, and Prison Breaks. Jim Carrey plays the con artist who finds his soul mate, the eponymous Phillip Morris, in prison and then goes to astonishing lengths to pamper his lover, and, when sent to back prison for some of those lengths, goes to even more astonishing lengths to escape. The film co-stars Ewan McGregor as Philip Morris.

OUTRO:

Andrea Chase and taken you Behind the Scenes of I LOVE YOU, PHILLIP MORRIS with co-directors and co-writers Glenn Ficarra, John Requa.