By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood June 12, 2013 at 4:08PM
Transplanted Brit writer-director Bernard Rose and Hollywood scion Danny Huston have enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship. Casting Huston in "IVANSXTC," a little-seen 2002 success d'estime that in many ways presaged the indie digital age, jump-started the would-be director's career as an actor. Huston keeps coming back for more, because with Rose he winds up doing his best acting. (Trailer below.)
So far the two men have collaborated on four unfettered, unsupervised collaborations of micro-budget Leo Tolstoy adaptations, updated to modern LA. "IVANSXTC" was the first ("The Death of Ivan Ilitch"), followed by relationship drama "The Kreutzer Sonata," about a wealthy man who falls for a concert pianist, and the upcoming "Boxing Day" ("Master and Man"), produced by Luc Roeg’s Independent and the BFI, which world premiered in Venice last year in advance of a UK late December opening. The well-reviewed film, which seeks U.S. distribution, will make its North American debut on June 20 at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
There's a fourth Tolstoy film in the can, "Two Jacks" ("Two Hussars"), which has played a couple of second-tier festivals (trailer below). "It's very different, light-hearted and nostalgic and sweet," says Rose, who toys with the Huston legend in this one, casting Danny as womanizing film director and gambler Jack Hussar, who comes to LA to raise financing for his next film, seduces Diana (Sienna Miller) and plays a high-stakes poker game. Years later, Hussar Jr. (Danny's nephew Jack, "Boardwalk Empire") arrives in Hollywood to make his directorial debut, while the older Diana (Jacqueline Bisset) realizes that her daughter is falling for her former lover's son.
Rose, who scores his films with his own classical piano interpretations, also has a penchant for music movies, from biopic "Immortal Beloved," starring Gary Oldman as Ludwig von Beethoven, to the upcoming production of "Paganini - The Devil's Violinist," which stars violinist David Garrett and filmed last year in Germany, Italy and Austria, which is screening for the first time in L.A. Thursday; a Venice Fest debut seems likely as the film is set for German release in November.
"Boxing Day," a two-hander about a wealthy real estate speculator and his driver, is close to the Tolstoy original about an entitled man making property deals in turn-of-the-19th century Russia accompanied by his resentful serf. This movie features yet another powerful man in the throes of anxiety. "Tolstoy's work is always kind of autobiographical," says Rose. "All the central characters of his books are versions of Tolstoy: Levin, Pierre, Anna Karenina and Ivan share a common thread, they go through violent emotions. Tolstoy had all these emotions in him. There's a similarity to his lead characters because they're all versions of him. In that sense, across these films, casting Danny in that role emphasizes that they're all aspects of the same person."
Rose has watched Huston mature as an actor over the four films. At the start, he wasn't a working actor, he says: "Danny was a close personal friend I'd hang out with. He always seemed to behave like a movie star, whether or not he was one. He had presence in the room, he was larger than life, had an actor's charisma. Acting has a skill and talent element to it, but there's also a strong personality component. You like actors who are compelling as human beings. Brando was a brilliant actor, but that's not why he was compelling. You had no idea what was going to come out of his mouth next, he was fascinating to watch."
Huston has something beyond personality: "He has a way of engaging you so when he tells a story, you listen to what he says." When they were planning "IVANSXTC," Huston was eager to make his mark as a film director, but wasn't getting anywhere. Rose had been wanting to update the Tolstoy story ever since he directed 1997's "Anna Karenina," he says: "It struck me powerfully as a potent encapsulation and parable of the central existential problem of human beings."