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Freddie Prinze, Jr. & Mena Suvari – Living By Brooklyn Rules

Mena Suvari and Freddie Prinze, Jr. in "Brooklyn Rules."

Mena Suvari and Freddie Prinze, Jr. in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Freddie Prinze, Jr. & Mena Suvari

Living By Brooklyn Rules

by Jay S. Jacobs

Brooklyn Rules has been a long time coming. The script is a labor of love by Terrence Winter, one of the main writers on The Sopranos. The story was based on his own youth, where he and his best friends grow up in the New York boroughs in the middle of the mob wars.

Unlike most films about gangsters, Brooklyn Rules does not glamorize the lifestyle. It just shows three young kids trying to find their place in the world – with two of them desperately trying to avoid the mobsters around them. Though one of the guys fall in with the wise guys, the other two use education and religion to find their sense of self.

The script has been making the rounds for years, catching the eyes of directors and stars before Michael Corrente came into the picture. A producer and director (Outside Providence), Corrente and Winter combined their passion to get their film made.

Finally, the film is ready to go, with a stellar cast including Freddie Prinze, Jr., Scott Caan, Mena Suvari, Jerry Ferrara (best known as Turtle from Entourage) and Alec Baldwin.

Even after the film was made it was still fated to take the hard road – with Corrente fighting to keep control of the release. After an original deal fell through, he resisted several overtures to release the film straight to video because he believed so strongly in the film. He believed strongly that it had to be released in theaters. Now it is – starting with limited releases in New York, Los Angeles and Boston. Eventually, if all goes well, it will get a much wider release.

“It’s very satisfying. When we made it nobody wanted this movie,” Corrente said.  “In a sense it makes me a little crazy. Every piece of shit movie out there that gets released and a real movie comes along with a great cast, a fantastic writer, a really wonderful story and the current state of the movie business today is we have to pass on movies like this… If not for City Lights, honestly, we were a hair’s breadth away from having to release this on DVD. It’s mind boggling.”

The son of the famous but ultimately tragic 70s comedian/sitcom star for whom he was named, Freddie Prinze, Jr. has been working in show biz since he was a kid. Over the years he has made many films including the Scooby-Doo films, I Know What You Did Last Summer, She’s All That, Boys and Girls and Down To You. He also had his own sitcom called Freddie.

Mena Suvari first caught our eyes in 1999 with the one-two punch of American Pie and American Beauty. Since then she has done a dizzyingly eclectic range of styles and genres. She has worked on big bucks action pictures like Domino and The Musketeer as well as comedies such Rumor Has It, Loser and Beauty Shop. She is also in more intimate films like Stuck, Caffeine, Spun and the upcoming Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

Freddie Prinze in "Brooklyn Rules."

Freddie Prinze in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Prinze and Suvari met with us at the Regency Hotel in New York, shortly before the Brooklyn Rules release to discuss the project and their careers.

What did it take for you all to connect like you did?

Mena Suvari: A lot of late nights. A lot of drinking binges. (laughs) I don’t know.

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: It was twofold.  Michael was very smart – the director, Michael – in the regard that, during the rehearsal process, he’d start a conversation casually. He’d start a conversation casually, and be like … this is the way Michael talks not me … “Who’s the first broad you nailed?” So I would begin to discuss the first woman that I slept with, and you’d start talking about how horrible you were, and it was like ten seconds long and she was like ‘what?’ and it was really embarrassing … and then the other guys would start to chime in, and they’d crack jokes on you. Then you’d find out that it was even less with them, and ha ha ha, and then Michael would say “Now read the scene right now!” and we’d just go right into the scene with that same type of energy and that same type of vibe. That really developed a lot of the dialogue and the pace that was required for the scenes that we were going to do.

Well, did you rehearse and talk about the characters?

Mena Suvari: (laughs) It just worked out very well. We did the film three… several years ago. But it worked out where I loved the script and I’m just a fan of Michael Corrente’s and the characters. I was here just for a couple of days and I got the opportunity to meet with him and I told him that I loved it and I wanted to be a part of it. It just worked out. I’d worked with Scott before. Everybody – Freddie and Michael had been working together for a long time and finally got this made. I’m just really happy about it and really happy to come together and make it work with no, NO drama whatsoever. Easy.

No drunken nights?

Mena Suvari: No. (laughs)

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: As far as chemistry, we just lucked out. Scott and I were confined to a trailer – I kid you not – that was smaller than this table. He would just chain-smoke and I had a really bad habit of chewing tobacco.

Chewing tobacco?

Freddie Prinze Jr., Jerry Ferrara and Scott Caan in "Brooklyn Rules."

Freddie Prinze Jr., Jerry Ferrara and Scott Caan in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: Yeah, I used to. I played baseball grew up in New Mexico and that was just what you did. I quit. Thanks for your concern. So this inner door had to be closed because it was cold and so the smoke’s in there. We’d watch that one scene in True Romance with Christopher Walken, and we’d do our Walken impressions. His was much better, but my Roger Rabbit was better. We would watch movies, and Scott and I, we just got along. I guess some of it was maybe that we both had father’s in this… well, he still has a father in this business, I had a father in this… We both were sort of at the same age, emotionally, so it was very easy for the two of us to bond. Jerry and Mena had the nicer half of the trailer, where they had their own rooms. It’s just hard not to get along with Jerry. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him.  Kathleen Turner said, “A movie is a marriage with a guaranteed divorce.” I’ve really fought against that for the thirteen years that I’ve been doing this, and she was right as rain. It was so rejected, the amount of love I would put out there. This is the first film ever that we’re still friends. Jerry and I just played golf. I shot like a 122 and he shot like a 126. I beat his ass, as bad as I am. We were drunk by the twelfth hole, but we just had a good time. I speak with Michael all the time. Terry sent me a picture of his baby. Like, I’ve never had that. I had it on my show, but that’s TV and film is very different. It’s never worked, ever, and it’s not from a lack of effort, it’s just never worked. I don’t know why.

Mena, your character and Freddie’s character came from such different worlds. How do you think that drew them together?

Mena Suvari: With Ellen, she’s somewhat well off and goes to Columbia. She catches onto Freddie’s character Michael very quickly, but she admires him. She falls for him, you know, starts to like him. I think it’s just that. The opposites attract kind of thing. She’s on to him and she sees through that. She sees him for who he really is and I think she also sees a lot of potential in him and believes in him. I think it’s really just that kind of opposites attract. And I think Ellen – it was exciting to her. She knows that he’s a little bit more mysterious and possibly dangerous than the other guys she’s around all the time.

Mena Suvari in "Brooklyn Rules."

Mena Suvari in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: It was funny. Mena and I had a different kind of chemistry than I’ve ever had with anyone else. There was something comfortable right away. Usually when I step forward to a girl, they step backwards. That’s just kind of the natural ebb and flow to a scene. I stepped forward to Mena and she stepped forward to me and I was kind of like stepping backwards. There was just this comfort level. The first scene we had to do together was a scene in bed. She just nuzzled right in and fit perfectly right into my chest. We just looked at each other and did the scene and the scene became much quieter than it was in rehearsals. She looked like Brigitte Bardot. It was like possessing her. It was really weird. We had this wonderful chemistry. Then the last scene we did together was on the roof, and so we already had this comfort and protection and all you want to do is hold her and keep her warm, because she’s this little thing. Even though she’s strong, but you want to protect her. She doesn’t need help from anybody. She’s just this firecracker. But I can’t help it. It’s me. My wife is this big, too. It’s how I am. So, when we did that scene, even though it was in the rain, a couple of lines changed and some of the attitudes changed, but there was just this comfort level that I haven’t ever had. And I’ve had chemistry with other actresses before. I’ve only not had chemistry once, (chuckles) and it was zero chemistry. But other than that, I’ve always had it. I don’t want to say it was better, but it was. It was just better. There was just a comfort level that’s never really existed before.

Mena Suvari: Oh, it was different. I mean with Freddie… They are all so amazing, all the guys in this. Freddie was such a gentleman. Very, very polite and very considerate. Those are the things you want in any kind of scene you have with somebody. It’s intimate. So, I was very lucky. It was great. It’s a great movie and fun. That’s how I like to approach the scenes that I work on. I’ve been really lucky with that. They’re all just very, very sweet.

Have you had actors that weren’t polite?

Mena Suvari: You know, everybody’s different. Yeah, there are some times when… you know, people either connect or they don’t. I feel like I’ve been really lucky with that. I feel like I’ve always kind of gotten along with the people I work with. That’s my goal.

I love that your character is upwardly mobile and able to reach out to his friends. Was that something that interested you about this character?

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: The main thing was I could just relate to him. I tell people I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico and most people go, “Oh, that sounds so quaint.”  They don’t realize that in the 80s it was the number one city in the country for gang related murder, per capita. There was a group of four of us, and the best one of us was taken away thirteen days before we graduated high school. It shouldn’t have been him. His name was Berto and he was by far the best. He had this girlfriend. It was heartbreaking. So I could relate to that.

Scott Caan, Freddie Prinze,Jr. and Jerry Ferrara in "Brooklyn Rules."

Scott Caan, Freddie Prinze,Jr. and Jerry Ferrara in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Do people still relate to you as this young kid?

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: It depends on the audience, you know? It depends on who I’m with. When you have as much success as I did doing that thing – playing that guy that every mother wishes their daughter would date, and she’s busy dating a guy who rides a motorcycle – it’s hard for them to invest in anything else. It’s funny. I pitched myself for this movie years ago, when Griffin Dunne was attached to direct, and he just wasn’t having it. He was the audience that wasn’t hearing how I grew up. I couldn’t even get a meeting with this guy. Fortunately, they got rid of that guy. (laughs and shakes his head.) I think the real reason was their movie fell apart. It had nothing to do with it. Their financing fell through. Years later, when Michael (Corrente) was involved, I did get to meet and I remember sitting in that room. It was him and (screenwriter) Terry (Winter) and Rachel Rothman who produced it, and I’m making this passion play and I’m telling them “I can relate to this guy.” I don’t trust them enough to tell them all the reasons why, but I’m saying it was much as I can so they know I’m reaching out. I said if you let me read scenes… I’m not afraid of auditions. If you put my work up against every other guy that comes in here and read, I’m gonna beat them. It wasn’t me being arrogant. I just knew I was supposed to play this part.

I was telling (wife) Sarah (Michelle Gellar) this when I read the script. My wife believes in destiny and fate, and I don’t. She was like “It’s destiny! You’re meant to play this role!” I was like, I don’t know about that, but I’m fucking getting this part. (laughs) So I went in and I read and I was fortunate enough that I communicated what Terry was wanting to see and what Michael and Rachel were wanting to see and I got the part. Because they took that chance on me, I was willing to do things that many a therapist has tried to pull out of me and failed. I beat them all. That my wife has tried to pull out of me. I got her too. I relived some of that here. It was awful and horrible and I didn’t feel good – which is why I keep so much bottled in, why I’m so private in the first place – but Michael created the safest environment possible to go through something like that again. For Scott too. People think Scott’s had this sheltered life because he’s James Caan’s kid. No. No. It’s just perspective. His environment was different, but it’s all about perspective.

Mena Suvari in "Brooklyn Rules."

Mena Suvari in “Brooklyn Rules.”

Mena Suvari: He’s the man that made it go, man. Michael’s awesome. That’s what you want. You want somebody who is passionate. Vivacious. When I worked with Tony Scott, come on, he’s got a megaphone and he’s on set yelling at everybody. But I loved that, because Tony would come up to me when I was working on Domino and he would literally jump and down. He would like yell at me, trying to get me into this zone. My God! But that’s great. You want somebody who is really in it with you. Michael was really there and passionate about it and he wants it. You want to feel like you’re in good hands.

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: So it was difficult, but I saw it on the screen and I realized that I had never been proud of a movie before, like I thought that I had been. I’ve said that I’ve been proud of movies, and I wasn’t lying, I was just wrong. I realized what pride was when I left that. I was quiet walking home. We saw it in Tribeca and Sarah and I were walking home. She was kind of choked up and wasn’t ready for that scene with Jerry. And just really loved it and she was like “I’ve never loved you more in a movie” and I said I’ve never been proud. I guess. All of a sudden all these things started coming. The feeling was so good. With a film like this, you don’t know if it’s going to get distribution. You don’t know if anyone is ever going to see it. It’s a small movie, and I didn’t care. I didn’t care. Everything since that screening with like ten people has been gravy. Everything’s been gravy.

Michael was telling us about some of the interesting things that happened in filming as an indie – for example that roof scene it wasn’t supposed to rain, but you couldn’t wait around so you improvised. Is that an interesting way to work compared to a film that may have a little more budget and leeway like Domino or American Beauty or something?

Mena Suvari: Those are things that I don’t think about and I can’t really. It’s just relative. I never know what I’m going to get into, so the only thing I can do is just make it start from the work and whether I’m interested in it or not. You can’t control any of this. So, it’s just kind of the process. I don’t know if… in that specific example… things would have changed that night if it were a studio. We could have gone to a cover. I don’t know. That’s just what you do. I don’t expect to live a completely pampered lifestyle. (laughs) You know, in my everyday work it’s a challenge and it can be grueling on some days.

Freddie, you and Sarah both worked with Alec Baldwin recently. Did you compare notes?

Freddie Prinze, Jr.: I loved him to death. I’m not shying away from questions about Alec but I will say that I love him to death. I know a lot of actors that aren’t as good as Alec and that aren’t at the stature that Alec is at that have never bothered to come to rehearsal – ever – because they got better shit to do. The ball game is on. Alec was there every day. I’m a big believer in rehearsal. I give all my rehearsals for free. Always have. Always will. I try to give two weeks, most people, I’m surprised are happy with one. I’m always the first guy on set and the last guy to leave, and this guy beat me there every day. I would strategically leave early, but he’s just been there. He was me, and he knows all my tricks and how I’m going to get there early. He’s just schooling me. But I loved him.

Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Mena Suvari in "Brooklyn Rules."