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James Toback Talks ‘Seduced & Abandoned,’ Working With Robert Downey Jr. Fresh Out of Prison & More

Photo of Rodrigo Perez By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist November 14, 2013 at 4:30PM

It sounds like the makings of a bad joke. A renowned filmmaker (James Toback) and a famous actor (Alec Baldwin) walk into a film festival with an idea under their arm… In reality, it’s a film (though, it’s by all rights a documentary, just don’t tell this to the director). The HBO movie “Seduced & Abandoned” features James Toback – writer of “The Gambler” and “Bugsy” director of “Fingers,” “Two Girls & A Guy” and the doc “Tyson” – and Alec Baldwin, and follows them to the Cannes Film Festival (Baldwin’s first time ever) with the idea of pitching and selling their latest film ideas to financiers at the fest.
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James Toback Seduced and Abandoned

Right. Several times during the movie you’re seen pitching new more commercially viable leads, changing the plot and basically making any compromise to get the movie made.
Let me tell you a story. “Two Girls And A Guy” [Toback’s 1997 film starring starring Robert Downey Jr., Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner] grew out of very specific circumstances. I wanted to make a movie. I hadn't made a movie in a while and was getting restless. Downey [was just] getting out of prison and knowing most of those guys—it's true of Mike Tyson too—when they're getting out of prison is the best time to get them.

"But right after 11 months of prison with about 200 dicks sucked in return for a lot of crack, you know there's a totally different reality and that Downey is fascinating to watch."

In the case of someone like Downey, who was filled with these sort of precious cute fake mannerisms, they're purged of them. You know now Downey can't have an authentic moment if you fucking sit there for three weeks. He's not capable of it. He goes on Jimmy Kimmel, everything’s fucking air, it's all, “Yes maybe that could be. I was with the Mrs. the other day...” I mean everything is just completely phony bullshit from beginning to end. But right after 11 months of prison with about 200 dicks sucked in return for a lot of crack, you know there's a totally different reality and that Downey is fascinating to watch.

I thought, “I can't miss that, I'm going to get one of the great performances of all time if I can come up with an interesting role for him.” Then I did and then the problem was how do I get the money and that's where the adapting to circumstances come in. I thought if I can shoot this movie in one location I can make it in ten days. Same movie if you do it in 12 locations it's 22, 23 days. Shoot it in ten days I can make it for a million dollars. So I reconceived what I had as my first idea of the movie physically, geographically, kept the same substantial notion of the characters, him and the two girls and located it in one loft as a result was able to make it for a million dollars and was able to make it right away and make it work. Not have to wait, not have to delay and not have to let it fall apart. which it would have.

You’re constantly adapting.
Yes. It became a kind of model for that kind of thinking where you just say I want to make a movie with that character about this subject, take a compulsive liar, a charming entertaining narcissistic, self-delusional guy who ultimately cannot tell the truth even if it's in his benefit to do so. Why? Because he loves to lie and he then takes two girls who turn out also to be liars. Who at first seemed to be the victims of his lying which would be not as interesting as if they turn out to be actually shrewder in their duplicity than he is. That became a great idea for me so than the trick was stop worrying about, "Well should we shoot this scene in Central Park and then they're going to meet at a restaurant?" Why? By the way, it also helps the performances.

Because you're not moving from locations?
Exactly. It’s three people who are at a hotel three blocks away showing up at 7 in the morning, no pressure to leave, don't worry about what time do we break for lunch, eat when you feel like it, stop when you want. Just relax and take the day and as a result the last day we didn't know what to do. After nine days we were finished and the tenth day was sitting around thinking if there was anything else we could do that we haven’t thought of yet and that on some level will end up being the way we do “Last Tango in Tikrit.”

James Toback, Seduced and Abandoned,

So you like the energy of that kind of work?
Absolutely. I'm better in it, much better and I've always found that the actors I like working with are better in it. I'm not good with people who treat it as a business and am very clear about that. They'll show up, “I do this, I don't do that. I'm not available on weekends, that's my time to be with my family. When the day ends the day ends.” I would almost say that if I find that out beforehand, which I usually do, I just don’t' go ahead [with that actor] because it's so at odds with the way I feel I have to work.

So you're still planning on making “Last Tango In Tikrit” at some point?
We certainly are.

You had beef with Scorsese and Paramount over "The Gambler" remake (you can read more about Toback’s response here).
Yes, that contretemps resulted in me saying to [Scorsese], “Why don't you act in this movie?” He said, “Oh great I’d love to." You know they are going ahead with that movie in January and I am officially an executive producer. I don't know much about the director, do you know about his work at all? Rupert Wyatt?

Yeah, he's good.
I hear that. Barry Levinson told me that sequel to be “Planet Of The Apes” was good. He also apparently did a sort of British sci-fi crime movie [“The Escapist”] with the guy from “Homeland” and they were quite good actors. And [Mark] Wahlberg [the lead of the new ‘Gambler’] likes him.

What’s James Toback doing next? Well, he has several options, including a 35-years-in-the-making movie about Victoria Woodhull which you can read about here. “Seduced & Abandoned” is on HBO and HBO Go now.

This article is related to: Interviews, Interviews, James Toback, Seduced and Abandoned


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