ARTICLE IN DECEMBER ISSUE OF 'PLAYBOY' COVERS THE MAKING OF DE PALMA CLASSIC
Run out and get the December issue of Playboy while it's still on sale-- there's a very good article about the making of Brian De Palma's Scarface. Written by Stephen Rebello, the article features new interviews with Oliver Stone, Al Pacino, Martin Bregman, Steven Bauer, F. Murray Abraham, Robert Loggia, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Miriam Colon, and even Armond White. While the article unfortunately lacks the input of De Palma himself, it provides a solid look at the battles that went into the making of Scarface. Here are some of the things touched on in Rebello's article:
BREGMAN, STONE, & PACINO DIFFER ON WHY LUMET WAS LET GO
De Palma and David Rabe took a stab at writing a period Scarface remake before giving up, after which the project went to Sydney Lumet. Stone, who had been working with Bregman for some time trying to get Platoon and Born On The Fourth Of July off the ground (with an eye toward Pacino to star in both), was hired for the job. "I passed on it when it was originally offered to me as a straight remake," Stone is quoted, "but I was intrigued when Sidney suggested we do it Marielito style. I was bored with all that Italian gangster stuff. It was never going to be a Godfather kind of movie; it was always going to be a street movie."
Bregman and Stone eventually had a falling while making the movie, and it still shows today in the Playboy article. Bregman tells how he brought the project to Universal president Ned Tanner. "Within three minutes Ned said, 'Go make it.' That was the easy part. The hard part was Sidney Lumet. Sidney's take on the material was totally political, incorrect and unfair to the president. He felt there was something sinister happening. I said, 'Sidney, you want to make a different kind of film. I suggest you go make it.' We came to a parting of the ways, which I don't think he ever forgave me for."
Stone provides a different viewpoint, telling Rebello, "I was given to understand that Sidney thought the script was too rough for him. If politics was the reason Sidney Lumet got fired, then I disagree with Bregman, because the government was up to no good, as had been documented since the 1970s, and the whole Iran-Contragate was starting to build. When Reagan came to power, word went out not only in Latin America but the whole world that the U.S. was open again for the old dirty business. Bregman is typically running away from the truth."
Meanwhile, Pacino offers yet another possible reason Lumet was let go: "Sidney wanted final cut, but I never talked any of this over with Sidney, even years later when I wanted him to do Carlito's Way." (Interestingly, De Palma has said that the reason Universal was never able to re-release Scarface with a new hip hop soundtrack was because De Palma had final cut, and would not give them permission to change it up.)
BAUER TOLD DE PALMA, "I SHOULD PLAY JIM MORRISON" INSTEAD OF TRAVOLTA
The article mentions how De Palma wanted John Travolta to play the part of Manny Ribera, a part which ultimately wound up going to Bauer. Bauer recalls to Rebello, "Everyone knew Brian wanted his pal John Travolta, but the casting director called Brian and said, 'This boy is Manolo,' and sent me immediately to One Fifth Avenue to see Brian, who told me, ' You're really right for the part.' On his desk was Danny Sugerman's stupid book about Jim Morrison, No One Gets Out Of Here Alive, and everyone knew he wanted Travolta for that project, too. I said, 'I should play Jim Morrison,' and Brian said, 'Let's do one thing at a time.'" The article mentions that screen tests were also done for the role by Eric Roberts, A Martinez, and Erik Estrada, among others.
COURTENEY COX & SHARON STONE, AMONG OTHERS, TESTED FOR ELVIRA
Pacino's top choice to play Elvira, according to the article, was Glenn Close, and he also bounced around the names Meryl Streep and Jodie Foster for the role. Seeing the film now, these choices may seem odd, but Stone explains why to Rebello: "My original concept of that role was that she was a rich New York girl who was slumming." Bregman adds a list of names who screen-tested for the Elvira role: Courteney Cox (?!?), Jamie Lee Curtis, Isabelle Adjani, Marg Helgenberger, Camryn Manheim, Sharon Stone, Debra Winger, and Stephanie Zimbalist.
Michelle Pfeiffer, another key figure who was not interviewed for the article, went through months of auditions with Pacino (who thought she was too inexperienced) before finally landing the part when she played, according to Rebello, "a volatile confrontation scene that sent glassware and china flying, hitting Pacino and drawing blood." Pacino tells Rebello, "I was up in the air about the casting. Michelle Pfeiffer, well, I didn't understand who she was or what she was doing, but Marty wanted her. In the end I just deferred to him and Brian, and they were right."
Stone had to rewrite the role for Pfeiffer. "I dumbed down the dialogue, which worked," he tells Rebello. "Michelle Pfeiffer definitely does not seem like a rich New York girl, so she had to be rewritten as more of a typical American girl from Miami with good looks."
ABRAHAM: "NOTHING WENT FORWARD WITHOUT BRIAN AND AL HAMMERING THINGS OUT IN THE TRAILER"
There is so much more in the article, including:
-Abraham talking about the rehearsal process: "They don't like to spend that kind of money when you're making movies, but we rehearsed pretty intensely, and when we later came to shoot our scenes, that gave everything such a sense of urgency."
-Stone discussing why the production was falling behind schedule: "Brian moves at his pace, which is a sluggish one. There was tension. There wasn't the communication between Al and Brian that one would expect. Al likes being talked to, but Brian is from the Spielberg school, where it's all about the setup and getting the shot-- and the shot takes fucking forever. Making the movie became painful..." Loggia adds, "It's fair to say that, with the powerful personalities involved, De Palma was in way over his head. Pacino and some of the other actors had to steer the ship." However, Abraham offers a different viewpoint: "I got along with Brian very well. Who doesn't? Mr. De Palma was the boss, but nothing went forward without he and Al hammering things out in the trailer, sometimes for quite a while. But when they came out of that trailer, they really came out with something."
-The article also delves into the screenplay cuts that drove Stone to drive the crew mad before being banned from the set. "Universal was putting enormous pressure to cut things out, to get the movie finished," Stone tells Rebello. "They were banging on De Palma's door, but the energy on the set was slowing all the time. There wasn't the energy to complete the movie. It was horrible." Rebello then describes an early scene that was cut from the film and never shot:
Some on the crew believe that Stone's conflicts with the production began when he learned early in the filming that Universal had cut from his screenplay a lengthy opening sequence that took Scarface and Manny from the docks of Mariel on a storm-tossed raft trip to the U.S. Recalls Bauer, "Once Oliver learned that whole scene had been cut, he was always crazy and mad on the set. He finally got in Brian's way and became a pain in the ass. But he was right. The sequence had a semi-retarded kid falling overboard, and Tony Montana jumps in and saves his life. It established he's not just a monster. We never shot any of it. Right away they cut at the heart of the movie." Recalls Bregman, "Anything that was cut was because we didn't want to make a four-hour movie." Today Stone agrees that economics dictated the cuts, but adds, "My problems were with Bregman, a forceful individual and tough man to get along with. Our relationship ended badly. We had other things we were developing but never worked together again."
PACINO ON TONY & GINA: "I DIDN'T SEE IT AS INCESTUOUS AT ALL"
Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is the discussion of Pacino's refusal to accept any kind of incestuous angle between his characterization of Tony Montana and Tony's sister, Gina. Bauer recalls Pacino calling De Palma "a pervert" as he told Bauer about a heated meeting he'd had with De Palma and Stone. According to Bauer, as Pacino relayed it to him, "Oliver kept going, 'Al, I wrote it that way because I feel your love for her is unhealthy,' and Brian said that he thought it made the story more sick and complicated. Al said, 'It's not already sick and complicated enough that this guy wants everything? He wants to protect and control his sister. Look, I'm playing a monster, but not that kind of monster.'" And Pacino today tells Rebello, "I didn't see it as incestuous at all. How Tony felt for her was coming from a need to preserve something separate and pure in his life." And watching the scene near the end, where Gina enters Tony's office and begins teasing him, saying, "You can't stand for any other man to have me, Tony-- You want me for yourself," Pacino, the method actor, plays him as a man in shock. He (Tony) truly never consciously realized the incestuous core of his obsession with her, and now it is perhaps driving him insane, seeing and hearing her tease him in this manner.
A WOMAN ALONE, AND 100 FEMALE EXTRAS
The Rebello article curiously quotes only one unnamed actor in the following paragraph about De Palma's work with Pfeiffer on the set:
De Palma's work method was tougher on certain actors than others. Says one of the film's stars, "Brian wasn't there for Michelle Pfeiffer and manipulated her brutally. He's obsessed with women but in a very creepy way." During two days of filming the explosive scene with Pacino and Pfeiffer at the old-school Italian restaurant Marino on Melrose Avenue, Bauer says, De Palma "made Michelle feel like a scared, lonely little girl in a world of men. He did the right thing, but it was hard to watch. That poor girl was always alone, always on edge, very vulnerable, brave but alone in her performance. She lived on the phone with her acting coach Peggy Feury. She needed some kind of lifeline."
During the two weeks of filming the Babylon Club sequence, the article states, hundreds of female extras were brought in. Bauer tells Rebello, "Three hundred extras-- 100 of whom were great-looking girls-- and I had a little dressing room rendezvous once a week, at least. I've never been a dog or a misogynist. I'm obsessed with feminine beauty. With these women wanting to, why would I be aloof when there's a naked woman around?"