As far as living legends go, Peter Bogdanovich is right up there. As one of the influential "New Hollywood" directors of the '70s, he reshaped stuffy Hollywood in part by paying homage to it, crafting deeply personal, beautifully photographed films that served as odes to other places and times (works like "The Last Picture Show" and "Paper Moon"). This month he returns to his first love, acting, for a new independent comedy called "Cold Turkey." In the film (which was originally entitled "Pasadena" and played recently at the Sarasota Film Festival), Bogdanovich plays a patriarch who is put to the test when family secrets are revealed, seemingly all at once, over a painfully honest Thanksgiving weekend. It's a subtle, nuanced performance, and proof positive that, at the tender age of 74, Bogdanovich has still got it.
We got a chance to chat with the director recently and discussed why he chose the role in "Cold Turkey," how low budget filmmaking has changed since the days when he made "The Last Picture Show," how his new film (next year's "Squirrel To The Nuts") is turning out, what is going on with his long gestating, attempted restoration of the Orson Welles film "The Other Side of the Wind," and much more (he also has his own Indiewire blog, fyi). Speaking with the director felt like having an audience with a king or other high-ranking royal family member; this is a man who was chummy with both Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock and who now mentors filmmakers like Noah Baumbach, Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino.
What encouraged you to sign on to "Cold Turkey?"
Well they offered me the part and nobody else had been cast. And I thought it was a very good script. It was intelligent and interesting and somewhat autobiographical. I like family dramas. It was a very good part, a sort of leading role, complicated and something that I thought I could do pretty well.
Do you still get as excited about acting as you did?
It's fun. I like acting. It's somewhat more relaxing than being a director. I prefer directing but I like acting; it's a different thing. I don't know how to describe it.
Did you get to veto the rest of the cast?
No, not at all. I didn't ask for it nor did they offer it. They did say that I was the first person cast, so once they cast me they would go to other actors and say, "Peter's in do you want to be a part of it?" But I thought all of the actors were really good.
Did they ever tap you for your amazing wealth of experience?
Well, we were shooting very quickly. There wasn't a whole lot of time for chitchat. We shot the whole picture in two weeks.
How does shooting an independent feature today compare to when you were doing it back in the day?
Well, it's totally different when you're directing. With "Last Picture Show," even though it was a low budget picture, we still had 60 days. We had a deal with the unions where we didn't have to carry as many people if it was a low budget picture; that was quite a great experience. But "Cold Turkey" was originally called "Pasadena," a title I actually prefer. We had two weeks to shoot the whole thing. I have no idea what it cost, but I'm sure it wasn't very much.
You just finished directing your first film in over a decade. How is that turning out and when can we expect to see it?
Well first of all, it's not my first movie in over a decade. I did two films for television in 2004 and two documentaries, including one that won a Grammy for Tom Petty that was four hours and took two years. But this is the first theatrical feature I've done since "The Cat's Meow" in 2002. It was fun to do it. It was a very good cast. We had to shoot it pretty quickly; we did it in 29 days. But the performances were great and the actors were so good that there were no problems. The script we originally wrote back in 1998 around a difficult time in our lives but it sort of kept us laughing. It was originally written for John Ritter and Cybil Shepherd and then John died and we put it on the backburner because we couldn't think who to cast in that part. Then I got to know Owen Wilson quite well and I thought he could pay the part, because he had to be likable and attractive and not threatening sexually, and Owen fit the bill. Then we sent it to Jennifer Aniston to play his wife and she preferred to play the therapist, which is a much showier part. And then we got the rest of the cast after that.
Do you know when it's coming out?
We're still cutting it now. I'm not sure. It depends on what the distributor wants to do and we haven't gotten a distributor yet because it was independently financed. The producers will sell it as soon as I'm finished cutting it.