Chicago cop Dennis Farina still lives on the Windy City's North Side,
because, he says, there's no
other place like it. It's clear, though, from his relaxed posture in a sitting room at the Beverly Hills
Four Seasons, that he also doesn't mind traveling, especially when it has to
do with movies, the career
he didn't even consider until age thirty-seven, when director
Michael Mann tapped him to appear in Thief, with
James Caan and Willie Nelson. From there, Farina picked up more tough-guy parts, and then, in 1986,
Mann made him the cop-star of the critically acclaimed TV series, Crime Story.
Since then, Farina has
worked steadily, as the title character in TV's Buddy
Faro, and in films as different from one another as Barry Sonnenfeld's Get
Shorty, Steven Spielberg's
Saving Private Ryan, John Frankenheimer's Reindeer
Games, and Ed Burns' Sidewalks of New York (opening later this year).
now, Farina is talking about his latest film,
Guy Ritchie's Snatch, currently being advertised as
"the coolest movie" of the year. Depending on how you
define "cool," there may be something to this description, given that Snatch not only features
cool returnees from Ritchie's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (including Jason Statham and Vinnie
Jones), but also cool U.S. actors (Benicio del Toro
and Brad Pitt), a loony-tunes editing rhythm, and a
completely insane pit bull, who, Farina says, "went
nuts" in one scene and attacked everyone while Ritchie
let the camera roll, resulting in one of the funniest scenes in the film. And of course, it features the
fifty-six-year-old Farina as Cousin Avi, a Manhattan gangster
(he keeps an "I [HEART] NY" coffee cup on his desk)
who deals in stolen "ice." When he hears that an
eighty-six-carat diamond he has commissioned to have stolen
has ended up somewhere other than his hands, he hops a plane to London to get back what he feels is
"rightfully" his. Echoing the style and themes of
Lock, Stock, Ritchie's new film focuses on the sundry blunders committed by separate groups of London
thieves and thugs, as they all try to get hold of this diamond.
is at that point in his career when cool
directors like Ritchie and Soderbergh ask him to be in their movies. I
asked him how he responded to the Snatch script when Ritchie sent it to
I had seen Lock, Stock and Two Smoking
Barrels and I thought that was a different kind of
film than I'd seen before, with that kind of editing and slick camera movements. So when they sent me the
script and asked me to do it, I looked at Lock,
Stock again and said, yeah I think I'd like to do this. I think he's a good
director. I think [my
character, Avi] is very funny. I think he takes himself very seriously but I think everyone else is
laughing behind his back. I think he was in a way the most honest guy in the
movie, because he just wanted
that diamond and that's all he wanted. And when he sent other people to get it and they didn't get it, he
got his hump up a little and decided to go get it himself.
is it like to act for that kind of rhythm in a film?
You can't act for the editing. You have to leave that to him. So you just go in and do the scene the
way you think is right or whatever you're directed to do, and leave the rest of
that technical stuff up to
the director. I saw a version of this, and I've never been in a movie that quite looked like this, you know.
Usually you're in movies with a lot of dissolves and things but this was kind
of quick, more jarring than
usual. That's what I thought about Lock, Stock, and I thought it would be fun to be in a movie that's
unconventional. And then I talked to [producer]
Matthew Vaughan on the phone, and met Guy and I liked him. I think he's a good man.
there generational differences between filmmakers you've worked with?
You know, I'm guilty sometimes, of thinking, "Oh this young director, oh my god." But so many of these
guys -- Guy Ritchie, Soderbergh, Sonnenfeld, Eddie Burns -- they know what
they're doing. So I'm not
afraid anymore, if someone says to me, "This is a young director and this is his first film," because of
the track record of the people I've been fortunate enough to work with.
These guys have already made
their bones. Now that probably happened in the 'twenties and
the 'thirties and throughout time, too, but this generation
of filmmakers is very good. They're seasoned, for some reason.
happy with your work in the Burns movie?
I don't know.
don't like to watch yourself?
I really don't. I'm more comfortable now with it
than I was for years, but I still don't like it. And sometimes you're forced to do it, for sound or
editing, but I'm not comfortable with it. I know
people who can go back and check themselves, but it drives me crazy. You looks in a mirror and sees one
thing, but reality is looking back at you. Everybody wants to look in the
mirror and see Cary Grant looking
back at them, but that's just not the case.
you think that you bring a kind of "copness"
and that's why you keep getting these roles?
No, I think that's a dangerous thing to do. Michael Mann a long, long time ago told me, this is
reality and this is the movie business, and don't
confuse the two. What you might do as a policeman might be the right thing to do but it's not
entertaining. So I left that behind me. Maybe it's
because I was too much reality, but I'm not interested in seeing too much reality anymore. I'd rather watch a
Dean Martin concert and let the world go by.
for real are those ridiculous criminals in Snatch?
You see it all the time. When you read about someone who does something, for instance, a jewelry
robbery or a fine art robbery that goes off
successfully, you have to remember there are many more that don't go off. But these guys, they think they're
good. Avi thinks that this is life: "That's my diamond, I'm going to go
over there and get it and
come back." The thought process of a thief or a bank
robber is pretty much the same everywhere -- those guys are a certain breed.
you come up with a technique for acting, in speech or behaviors?
I've learned that it's a pretty collaborative thing. I read the script and try not to bring anything
personal into it. I make notes, and I talk to the
director and we decide what kinds of shades should be in the character. I don't know if I have a technique.
I'm just trying to remember the words, mostly. I don't get up and say, "I'm
going to live in the other room
for a day and discover myself." I've worked with
people who are very process-oriented, and sometimes I
think it works and sometimes I don't. And it's the same thing with me -- what I do works sometimes and
sometimes it doesn't. I don't think there's a formula
to do it. If there was, everybody would be real good all the time, but it's a hit-and-miss process.
script choices, you've had more hits than misses. Do you look for anything particular?
If I read it and I like it, I want to do it. I don't like to be talked into anything. Sometimes a
manager or an agent will say, "You should do this," but I don't want to be
cajoled. If I like it and think
I can have some fun with it and there's nice people involved and there's not going to be a lot of angst
for three months, dealing with all kinds of
personalities, I'll do it. I think first impressions are important when you pick up a script.
hard was it to adjust to the slang used on the set?
I had no idea what they were saying. I'd just go, "Yeah, okay." I think it was George Bernard Shaw who
said that the British and the Americans are two people separated by a common
language. I had sometimes a very
difficult time understanding what was going on, and the first AD [assistant director] would explain it to
me, speaking very slowly: "We. Want. You. To. Stand. Over. There." And
they have slang words, as we do, for
different kinds of people and like that, but it was fun. I had a hard time crossing the street and getting
into cars. So I didn't do any driving. And I hardly did any walking. I
remember one day running for a cab
and almost got killed, because the traffic was coming from the other way. I was all screwed up. They
provided a driver for me.
Ritchie's regular crew were welcoming to you?
They were very welcoming. I think he's got a nice stock company, Jason Statham and Vinnie Jones, that he
can call on and say, "This is what we're doing," and they can fit right in.
did you like working overseas?
This is my first experience working in a foreign movie, but the mechanics, I think, are pretty much the
same all over; you still have to wait in the trailer and that kind of stuff.
The trick is deciding where
you're going to put the camera, and that's Guy's difference, not the fact that he's British.
do you think of Ritchie casting first-time actors?
I think that's great because that's what happened to me. Bring 'em in! It's great, you can change a
person's life in an instant; he taps someone and puts him in a movie, and you
start thinking differently,
you want to be in another movie. It's like an addiction almost.
how was it working with that crazy dog?
That dog was nuts, I'm telling you! He had a mind, he wasn't listening to anyone. That scene where he
attacks everyone, Guy just said, "Keep rolling, keep rolling." I know
there's more footage of that scene
and it's going to pop up somewhere. I was afraid to be around that dog.
Click here to read Gregory Avery's review.