Scott Frank, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Goode Keep their Eyes Peeled

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Interview By Jeffrey M. Anderson

As all screenwriters eventually must, the talented Scott Frank makes his directorial debut with the dramatic thriller The Lookout. Aside from his talent, Frank has enjoyed a very lucky career, seeing his screenplays for the most part produced by the right people at the right time, resulting in films like Kenneth Branagh's Dead Again (1991), Jodie Foster's Little Man Tate (1991), Barry Sonnenfeld's Get Shorty (1995), Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight (1998) and Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002).

In the new movie, a kind of dramatic thriller, Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as Chris Pratt, a former high school hockey star that suffers a terrible car crash. Four years later, he attempts to re-organize his life despite the debilitating after-effects of brain damage. He works as a janitor in a bank, where Ms. Lange (Alex Borstein) tries to help him advance to the level of teller. He lives with the blind Lewis (Jeff Daniels), whose attempts to help Chris sometimes come across as hindrance. One night Chris meets Gary Spargo (Matthew Goode), who may or may not have gone to Chris' school, and who has big plans. Apparently, once a year, Kansas banks are full of farmer subsidy money, and the time to strike is now. Isla Fisher, Carla Gugino, Bruce McGill and Sergio Di Zio are among the terrific co-stars.

Frank, Gordon-Levitt (Mysterious Skin, Brick) and the British-born Goode (Match Point, Imagine Me & You) recently came to San Francisco to speak about the film.

 


 

To start, I was thinking about the "Goldilocks" scene, in which Lewis tries to get Chris to remember the fairy tale by starting at the end and working backward. Scott, does that bear any relation to the way you work?

Scott Frank: I'm aware of the end. I have an ending in mind. I don't start there. When it's more about engineering and being editorial, you think about it from the end to make sure it works right, but I don't think I conceptualize it from the end, the way he's talking about. He's giving it to him as a way to stay organized and to stay focused. But I do think we organize our lives around stories. Everything he says about stories and storytelling, I completely agree with.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I'm not a writer, but it appealed to me a lot too, because we do make sense of the world with stories. I think when you use the word 'story,' people tend to trivialize it, or think that you're making something up. But to me the word story doesn't mean that. It's a way of making sense of the world. The news is a story. History is stories.

What about that hockey sequence? It only appears in the film for a few moments, but how was that done?

Scott Frank: We shot it in four hours. It was day zero. It was the Friday before the Monday that production officially began. It was about a six-hour day, is all we had the rink for. We rehearsed it and rehearsed it. I did very little directing that day. I just sat back and watched it happen; it was so organized. There was no room to go: 'Oh! You know what we could do?' We had to get on the ice, film it and get off.

Matthew Goode: It was by far the most rehearsed thing.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: The funny thing about the hockey sequence was that even though it's one scene in the movie and we only shot for four hours, it was actually a big part of getting ready to do the movie for me. I realized as I was training, it became about more than just the hockey scene that was going to be in the movie. Suiting up with all that gear, and getting on the ice and playing, and playing hockey is really hard. It's probably the most physically demanding sport I've ever tried to play -- by the time you're done you're soaking wet with sweat -- and getting into that mentality of the jock, of the guy that plays hard, of the guy that won't quit, of the guy that'll take the pain, 'cause hockey hurts. The exhilaration of that, the whole thing became a really big part of it for me, even though it's only in the movie for a minute.

One of the best things about this movie is the fact that you have these almost random moments that are not explained, like the wheelchair in the corner of Chris' room, or the guy in the walker who barges into one scene.

Matthew Goode: That's one of the things I love about the script. As far as my character, there's no exposition as to where he comes from, what his background is, why he's doing this, and what he hopes to achieve. He's just doing it. Which gives you a huge amount to play around with.

This is not a criticism, but it occurred to me that Chris shouldn't be driving in this movie.

Scott Frank: Someone else brought that up. There are different stages of recovery and kinds of injuries. I interviewed many people with head injuries and some of them drove and some of them couldn't. It depends on the seizure issue, really, and whether or not the seizures were being managed. If you're on seizure meds and you're not having seizures frequently, there's no reason why you can't drive. That kind of motor skill is probably as least as good as a sixty-year old driver. It's very hard to take someone off the road.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: It has to do with the time I think. When Chris first came out of the coma, he probably couldn't drive, but it's been four years.

Joseph, playing a character like this must require a lot of checking and balancing. How did you do it?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I don't know how I did it, but I think the mind is a powerful thing, and if you focus enough on trying to change it, you can. When I really noticed how much I had gotten in there, was once we had finished. I realized I couldn't really put two sentences together very well and I really was kind of depressed. It too me a while; it actually took me starting another job to wake the hell up and get out of it. Stop Loss, the Kimberly Peirce soldier movie.

Joseph, I have a theory that of all your scenes, the most difficult to play was the one in which you ask the bank manager for a job as a teller. Your character recites a memorized speech, which is actually the opposite of acting. How did you handle that scene?

Joseph Gordon-Levitt: I actually probably learned those lines less well than other lines in the movie, so that I'd have to struggle with them a little bit. Of course, by the end of the night I'd said them so many times, it wasn't a struggle anymore.

So we know that you shot in Winnipeg, doubling for Kansas, but how cold was it? The film takes place in winter, but was it really cold, or did you have to make snow?

Matthew Goode: It was definitely winter.

Scott Frank: We had plenty of snow. We had snow and freezing cold weather. It was really, really, really cold. We'd get memos: "Do not lock your car. If your tires appear square, that's normal." It was 20-30 below.

Matthew Goode: The cameras didn't pick up a lot of the cold, when you're breathing out. It doesn't seem as cold as it actually was.

Scott Frank: I was more worried about, at night, when we were doing those summer scenes when they're driving in the car for the accident. It was freezing and I was hoping we wouldn't see anyone's breath.

Matthew, your character spends a good part of the movie with a bullet in his gut. Most moviegoers know all about the gut shot from Reservoir Dogs, but how did you go about modulating the pain from scene to scene?

Matthew Goode: I did look up on the internet a little bit about injuries that you can get from firearms. There's actually quite a lot on there, what to do. To stem the blood, apparently, one of the best things to use is a credit card. 'Cause it really seals, it can actually seal a wound. I knew it was fucking painful, but I really honestly didn't know how I was going to do it until we were in there with makeup. And suddenly you become aware however you're standing or sitting that there's going to be the throbbing pain, and your body's going to go into a bit of shock and adrenaline. It's not until you move in a certain way that you're aware of the pain. It's sort of latex, so you can feel it move on the skin, and you can react to that, to a certain extent.

Scott Frank: That scene on the ice when he's got the gun in Joe's face when they're all standing on the ice rink, that was the first day of shooting for him. He had to play gut shot, and so it was out of order for him, and it's amazing how well he did it. We didn't shoot it sequentially, so some days he was gut shot and some days he wasn't. It's very tricky keeping track of that.

Matthew Goode: I was scared shitless that first day. A) we're on the ice, slipping around. B) I'm doing an American accent, and I'm not sure what's going on there. And then you've got a gun, so you've got all the blocking and it's cold and you're out of sequence. Scott was brilliant, making sure you knew where you were on the arc of your character.

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