Commentary: Perils of director-actors acting for other directors <br />

Peter Bogdanovich explains how to make it work

Directing discussion: Although we talk about movies as being a collaborative art, it's directors who ultimately have the greatest impact on the final product.

When directors who also are actors wind up acting in their own films they typically wind up making an even greater impact. It gets more complicated, however, when director-actors take acting assignments for other directors and then find themselves taking rather than giving direction. And even more interesting is how it all plays out when the director-actor in question isn't just a director, but a celebrated filmmaker with a string of Oscar, Golden Globe, DGA and WGA nominations like Peter Bogdanovich.

I had the opportunity recently to kick around some thoughts on the subject of directors acting for other directors with Bogdanovich, whose IMDb profile includes some 30 directing credits (like "The Last Picture Show," "What's Up, Doc" and "The Cat's Meow," one of my most favorite films about the movie business and well worth catching up with if you haven't already seen it) and some 32 acting credits (such as his own "Saint Jack," Henry Jaglom's wonderful "Festival in Cannes" and 15 episodes of "The Sopranos").

Bogdanovich is one of the stars of the new heist comedy "The Dukes," directed very capably by first-time director and veteran actor Robert Davi, opening Friday (14) in New York and Nov. 21 in Los Angeles via CAVU Pictures. The Sun Lion Films and Doo Wop Productions film, which I enjoyed very much, is also slated to arrive Nov. 26 in Las Vegas and Seattle, Nov. 28 in Austin and Dec. 5 in Portland, Syracuse, Albany and Orchard Park, New York. I focused in detail on the making of "Dukes" with Davi in a column here Oct. 8, which if you missed you can read now by clicking here

In "Dukes" Bogdanovich plays the manager of a doo wop group, The Dukes, who were big stars in the '60s but are now down on their luck and ready to do anything to get back on their feet -- including cracking open a safe in which they're certain there's a fortune in gold. When I asked Bogdanovich about working as an actor and not having his usual director's control he replied, "When I work as an actor I really try very hard not to think about anything to do with directing or to think 'What lens is he using?' or 'How is this being staged?' or 'Where is the camera?' I just try to pretend like I don't know anything about it."

But that, of course, must be hard to do since Bogdanovich clearly knows a few things about directing. "Well, I just shift into another gear," he said modestly.

Thinking about it, he added, "One time I was doing a movie for Noah Baumbach, 'Mr. Jealousy' back in '97, and I said to the director of photography casually, 'What lens have you got on there?' He said, 'Oh, it's a 35' and I said, 'I don't like that lens.' There was an absolute hush on the set. It was like a pall fell over the set and I thought, 'Oh, Christ! I can't say that.' And he started to get very defensive about the lens and (how), 'It's a good lens and I like it' and I thought, 'Oh, what did I do?' So consequently I've never ever made that mistake again. It's intimidating enough for me to be around. They know I've made a few pictures. They either like them or they don't like 'em, but whatever it is I bring a lot of baggage to the set."

With Robert Davi, of course, Bogdanovich was acting for a first-time director. "He occasionally would ask me what do I think of this or that or the other thing," he recalled. "If he asked me, I would say it. Or if another actor had a problem with something (I'd give my opinion). I remember one time Chazz (Palminteri, who plays a member of The Dukes) said, 'You know, I don't know if I like that' and I said, 'No, I think it's good' because that's how I felt. So it's not that I don't give an opinion, but I usually (do it after being asked). So the idea is to make it easier for the director. I mean, I know when I'm directing I don't really want to have it made more difficult by actors giving you a hard time. As I say, I try to leave that (director) hat at home and just wear the actor hat."

Working on "Dukes," he explained, "was fun. It was done in the usual guerilla-style low budget filmmaking (approach), which I enjoy. It was how I started and I enjoy doing that -- doing it fast and quick and (with the actors pitching in to help as necessary during shooting)."

I told Bogdanovich that I've talked to some director-actors who've told me they're actually happier when they're just acting and don't have the responsibilities of directing. "Well, it's easier than directing in a sense that you don't have all the pressures," he agreed. "You just have to worry about one thing, which is acting the part. You don't have to worry about any of the other things (like) budget, time, other actors (or the) script. You do your job and that's it."

Looking back at his own acting experiences for others, Bogdanovich told me, "I remember on 'The Sopranos' on the last episode (that) David Chase directed. Actually, my little scene was cut out of that episode, which irritated me. But anyway it was a very short scene. David yelled out from offstage, 'Ask her a question.' I said, 'Oh my God!' We never adlibbed on 'The Sopranos.' So I asked her a question and then he yelled out, 'Ask her a better question.' I said, 'Fuck you! You tell me the question and I'll ask her.'"

Asked how he came to be in "Dukes," he explained, "Robert had the idea (of casting me). He went to whoever my agent was at the time and asked if I was available. They sent me the script. I read the script and I thought it was charming and I said okay and that was it. I think he got the idea (of casting me) from 'The Sopranos.' He was very good at working with the actors and had a good sense of what he wanted the picture to be and was very certain about it so it was easy to act for him. The dialogue was quite good and it was really painless."

It looked, I said, like there was very good chemistry between the cast members:
"Yeah, we all had a good time. I liked working with Chazz. It was fun. I hadn't worked with anybody (in the cast before)."

Is there a difference in how a director-actor approaches acting than the way an actor who isn't also a director does? "I don't know," he answered. "I started out as an actor professionally when I was 15 and non-professionally when I was 12. By the time I was 15 I was already acting professionally. And I studied acting from the time I was 16 until I was 19 with Stella Adler. The only thing in show business I actually studied formally was acting. So I approach directing more as an actor. In a funny way, I've always approached directing from the point of view of an actor. So when I act for somebody else, I just approach it as an actor. Of course, I know what the camera is doing, but I try to ignore all that."

It's sometimes said that directors who are also actors have an advantage in dealing with their actors when they direct. "That's true," he observed. "And I think Robert (who's acted in some 70 films over the years, including playing the villain in the 1989 James Bond adventure "License to Kill" opposite Timothy Dalton as 007) has that because you can speak their language. There's a certain way of talking to an actor. You talk about the motivation or the justification for what you're doing or various terms of the trade or things that you deal with as an actor. If you're an actor, you can talk to the actors on a one-to-one level much easier than if you're just a director and you don't know about acting.

"And you really don't know about acting unless you've done it in some way or other. That doesn't mean that when I'm directing I don't often do things that some actors don't like -- like giving you a 'result' (such as), 'Just do it faster,' which is what they call a 'result.' It doesn't help them to find it, but I don't necessarily always help the actors find the role because it's up to them to do that. But if I'm called upon to help them find it, so to speak, I'm there and I know what they need."

Besides helping to promote "Dukes" as it heads into theaters, Bogdanovich is busy with a few other projects of his own. "I have a script that I've just done a rewrite on for Gigi Pritzker's company Odd Lot Entertainment. We expect to shoot it shortly. It's called 'I'll Remember April.' It's a family drama about a couple that have been married for many years and the wife develops Alzheimer's. It's sad, but sort of has a lot of amusing things in it."

Bogdanovich is also going to be working once again as an actor for Henry Jaglom, for whom he acted in the 2001 comedy "Festival in Cannes," which takes place during the Cannes Film Festival and revolves around the backstabbing, treachery and deviousness that dealmakers in Cannes routinely fall back on as they desperately try to get their projects financed or cast. "I enjoyed doing it. It was fun," he told me. "I'm doing another film with Henry (that) he's making in December called 'Queen of the Lot' and I'm playing a director in that."

Meanwhile, a new edition has recently been released by Warner Records of the DVD of Bogdanovich's documentary "Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Runnin' Down a Dream" with appearances by such rock stars as Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr and Stevie Nicks and archival footage of artists like Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. When the critically acclaimed four hour long film was released theatrically in March 2007 it received a 100% fresh rating on's Tomatometer.

"For a year you could only get it through Best Buy," Bogdanovich noted. "Now you can get it anywhere. That's the big difference. There are three complete performances that are terrific (on the new DVD) that are only partially in the movie."

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