Writer-director Paolo Sorrentino is known for creating highly stylized works of genius. THE GREAT BEAUTY earned him Oscar gold for it and now YOUTH might be poised to do the same. The surprisingly sentimental, visually pristine drama follows longtime pals composer Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) and filmmaker Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel) as they relax and rejuvenate at a luxurious artists retreat/ spa in Switzerland. There they meet an actor who’s grown weary and disillusioned with his craft at too young an age (Paul Dano). They also spend time with Fred’s daughter, Lena (Rachel Weisz) as she rehabs after her marriage ends in heartbreak. Get ready to magpie out on the beauty – and want to book your trip to this resort immediately after.
At the film’s recent Los Angeles press day, the stars and auteur dished about everything from their connections to each other, to improvising within the precise shoot, to whose role was written for her.
5. Paul Dano and Jane Fonda are separated by one degree. Fonda and Dano may not have shared any scenes together in YOUTH and had never worked together prior. However, they share a common bond with one person: Dano’s girlfriend Zoe Kazan. Fonda said, “I did a play with Zoe Kazan.” “I remember Zoe coming home and talking about Jane and getting to work with Jane. Jane is one of Zoe’s favorite actors,” Dano elaborated. Fonda reminisced further, “She was always very excited to go home, but she never told me who was home. It wasn’t until later that I discovered this is who she meant.”
4. Sir Michael Caine and Jane Fonda valued their director’s minimal style of direction. Caine stated, “Like all great directors, he’s not performing himself. He’s very, very quiet and knows exactly what he wants and knows exactly when he’s not getting it.” Fonda added, “He casts carefully because he’s deeply sensitive. He casts people that he knows he has a chemistry with and that have chemistry with the person that he’s written for them to play. Fred Zinnemann rarely said anything to his actors. Hal Ashby rarely said anything to his actors. I wasn’t un-use to directors who never said anything. But he would conduct us. He’d say, ‘Ratchet it up a little more. Sotto vocce.’ Caine then reminisced, “I was working with John Huston and he didn’t give me any directions. So I said, ‘John. You never give me any directions.’ He said, ‘You get paid a great deal of money. You don’t need me to tell you what to do.’ I said to him, ‘What’s the art of directing?’ He said, ‘Casting.’” Fonda countered, “That’s what Zinnemann thought too.”
3. A little bit of improv never hurt anybody. Just ask Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz and Sir Michael Caine. Sorrentino allowed his actors to feel out their roles, which often times meant stretching their boundaries. Keitel mentioned, “He’d allow me to improvise with other actors in order for me to find my way into the part. There was one moment I might have improvised some things. Jane helped me in one thing we did. There was a little but of that but his writing is so precise and vulnerable that it was easy to come to it.” Caine countered, “I never ad-libbed anything. I just did the words.” Weisz said to Caine, “There was one scene when I’m in the background and you’re talking to the Queen’s emissary and I was trying not to cry, but I was getting upset because you were talking about my dead mom – your ex-wife. I was sniveling as quiet as I could and you just went, ‘Lena!’ And I said, ‘Yes?’ And you said, ‘Stop crying!’ That wasn’t in the script. Michael’s so in the moment. There’s no difference between acting and not acting.”
2. Jane Fonda’s manager thought “Brenda” was having a baby during the airplane scene. She laughingly told us, “My manager who saw the film with me in Rome early on thought that Brenda was having a baby. It was weird. It was strange. That’s where technique comes in. We had a very limited amount of time and you just have to turn it on and get hysterical. It’s not the most fun kind of thing to do. I’d much rather have interactions than being hysterical. I was worried people wouldn’t know what I was being hysterical about. Then we have to put in words that I recorded here and sent over there that it was because of Mick.”
1. Paloma Faith’s role was re-written for her. Sorrentino said “Julian” was originally supposed to run off with an older woman – not younger. However, when he saw Faith, he was convinced to tailor the part to her. “At the beginning in script, it wasn’t Paloma Faith, but it was the character was the secretary of the husband of Rachel Weisz. It was a woman around 50-years-old. I looked for a long time for an actress to fit that character, but I didn’t find her. One day, my wife says to me to watch a video from Paloma Faith. I thought she was perfect for the role so I changed it for her. Then I found out she was a great fan of THE GREAT BEAUTY. She had done a video inspired by it. I understood it was the right choice.” He later added, “She was very open-minded to do whatever I asked of her. This is a paradise for the director.”
YOUTH opens in limited release on December 4.