Spacey plays Jack Abramoff---a famed Washington lobbyist who uses his clout to influence many of the world's most powerful men to satiate his lust for excess and influence. Casino Jack opens in select theaters in NY and LA on December 17, before a wider release.
While he was filming Casino Jack, Hickenlooper kept a photo diary of the shoot. Below are ten exclusive images taken from the set and Hickenlooper's accompanying captions - poignant, funny and often heartbreaking.
Before his death, Hickenlooper wrote a director's statement about the creative process behind Casino Jack, from his and Spacey's interviews with Abramoff in prison to adding his first-hand accounts to writer Norman Snider's script. Excerpts are below:
As we walked into a large gymnasium-like auditorium I spotted Abramoff in the flesh, sitting by himself in the corner, on a metal folding chair. My first visual impression of him was that of a humbled, beaten man who was slouched in defeat, wrapped in a green prison jumpsuit, incongruously donning a yarmulke. It wasn’t until my first ten minutes of conversation that I realized what his friends, colleagues, and former associates had claimed -- despite being portrayed in the media as being the Don Corleone of D.C., he actually had an extremely charismatic, hilarious, and animated personality. In fact, he seemed so polished and charming one might suggest, like Eliot Spitzer, he should be deemed suitable to host his own cable television show.
As the two spoke, I watched Kevin listen to Jack for hours, absorbing his mannerisms, his intonations, his persona, like a sponge absorbs liquid. I mostly just listened and watched as the two seemed to get along like a house on fire. It was my view at that very moment that both Spacey and Abramoff could have had successful careers as stand-up comics. And in fact, the meeting culminated with Kevin doing impersonations of Bill Clinton and speaking to Jack as the President, and Abramoff speaking back to Spacey as Ronald Reagan. For a moment, it became a kind of hilarious, surreal presidential summit with these two iconic personalities from opposite worlds finding a kind of affable synchronicity – at least enough of one for Spacey to leave the meeting feeling as though he might have struck an emotional chord within himself and within Jack – a similar enough note that might make this vilified, Washington bad guy a palatable figure to portray as a kind of empathetic anti-hero.
During each prison visit, I felt the story we wanted to tell was transforming a serious subject from a third-person narrative into a kind of comical, first-person opera (only without the score). From Abramoff’s opening monologue (aria) in Casino Jack, to his character’s purchase of Zamboni machines, to his ultimate fantasy about impersonating Al Pacino in …And Justice For All while telling Senator John McCain and his senate colleagues that they are all a bunch of hypocrites – these were all stories humorously told to me by Jack himself, from his point of view, coming from the emotional core of who he was. As these new yarns began filling out new draft after new draft, it was during these visits that Kevin, Norman and I realized exactly what the tone of the picture would be -- dramatically comic with a touch of satire. Why? Because the Abramoff story itself was so Gothic that at times, if it were fiction, you would never believe it really happened.