Written by: Julia Siegel
One of the staples of the Montclair Film Festival is the In Conversation Series, which teams up late night comedian and festival Advisory Board member Stephen Colbert with celebrities to discuss their lives in the entertainment industry. This year, Colbert sat down with actor/writer/director John Turturro and discussed everything from Turturro’s life growing up in Queens, New York to working with famous directors Woody Allen, Spike Lee, the Coen Brothers, Robert De Niro, and Michael Bay. No matter what the topic was, Turturro managed to crack up Colbert and the entire audience with his kooky storytelling.
Colbert started off the conversation by asking Turturro about his childhood and what made him want to become an actor. Interestingly, Turturro didn’t always want to be a showman on stage. He aspired to be a professional basketball player, but after breaking his hand in a high school game, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life. Turturro said that it was a depressing time in his life, but he came to realize that he could hold his family and friends’ attention when telling stories. He said storytelling came naturally to him, which was something he enjoyed. The epiphany led Turturro to get involved with theater, which led him to fall in love with acting.
Turturro went off on a tangent to describe how interacting with his parents actually trained him to be an actor. He compared his parents to The Honeymooners, who continually argued over their native Italian and Sicilian cultures in a weird, loving way. Turturro said, “[Mom] always encouraged me.” She never judged him and supported his decision to go into the arts, even though his father always wanted him to be a professional man. Turturro studied theater and English at the State University of New York at New Paltz. Colbert ended the discussion of Turturro’s childhood by saying, “You stampeded into your childhood. I’m glad you did!”
Colbert continued the discussion by saying Turturro has always been one of his favorite actors and remembers seeing him the first time in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. Colbert summed up Turturro’s success as an actor by saying that he always remembers Turturro’s characters and performances even if he is not the lead. They went on to discuss one of Turturro’s cult classic roles in The Big Lebowski. The character of Jesus Quintana made an impact for only being in the film for about five minutes, according to Turturro. Nearly twenty years later, Turturro is revisiting the role by directing and starring in Going Places, the unofficial spinoff of The Big Lebowski.
The new film will center on what happens after Jesus gets out of jail for a crime he says he was framed for. Jesus goes on a road trip with a friend played by Bobby Cannavale, who is a close personal friend of Turturro. Going Places is based on a French film with the same translated name, which Turturro felt Jesus would be a perfect fit for. The inspiration for Jesus came from the director’s father of a play Turturro was in called Picture of a Life. The director’s father had a very high-pitched voice, which Turturro thought would work for his character. The Coen Brothers saw his performances, and their long time collaboration began.
The rest of the conversation focused on the famous directors that Turturro has worked with. Colbert brought up that Turturro directed famous director Woody Allen for a small role and wanted to know what it is like to direct him. Using his uncanny Allen impression, Turturro went into a long monologue of how Allen ripped apart the script and all the ways he would change it. He said that Allen has no mercy, but is very easy to direct and fun to work with.
Turturro said that every director has their particular quirks and does the job differently. He said that Robert De Niro loves to do lots of takes of the same exact scene, no matter how minor, because he enjoys watching the live scenes. Turturro discussed how Michael Bay is all over the place on the Transformers sets and said, “I get a kick out of him.” He likes to torture Bay by improvising during scenes and basing his Agent Simmons character on Bay, which explains why Simmons is completely crazy. Through his laughter, Colbert asked, “Does Michael Bay know you base your character off him?” Turturro laughed and replied with, “He doesn’t care!”
It was a highly entertaining conversation between two comedic giants. Turturro closed the talk by saying how he loves acting and directing, but doesn’t like to do either for hire. He enjoys picking projects that he is passionate about or creates himself. The In Conversation Series never disappoints, as the celebrities always bring great stories to Montclair.