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John Turturro, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis Don’t Want To Fade Away

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Sofia Vergara, John Turturro and Vanessa Paradis at the "Fading Gigolo" press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, April 11, 2014.  Photo copyright 2014 Jay S. Jacobs

Sofia Vergara, John Turturro and Vanessa Paradis at the “Fading Gigolo” press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, April 11, 2014. Photo copyright 2014 Jay S. Jacobs

John Turturro, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis

Don’t Want To Fade Away

by Jay S. Jacobs

You can thank John Turturro’s barber for connecting him with Woody Allen.

Turturro is a well-known character actor, who in a career that runs for well over 30 years has been in such varied projects as Do The Right Thing, Barton Fink, Quiz Show, the Transformer movies, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3 and Anger Management.  In the past decade, Turturro has been making more of a name for himself behind the camera, directing five movies including the surreal musical Romance & Cigarettes and the lovely documentary Passione.

He had come up with an interesting idea about a film revolving around the Brooklyn Hassidic Jewish community and a quiet, courtly male escort.  He discussed the idea with a few friends, including his barber.  The barber mentioned that one of his other clients was Woody Allen, and this sounded like something right up Woody’s alley.  Later, when Allen was visiting the barber, he told the filmmaker about Turturro’s film idea.  Allen agreed to meet with him.

Allen is a legendary writer, director and actor, but he does not often work on other directors’ films.  However, occasionally he will, if he is really intrigued by the role.  In the 70s, he won critical accolades in Martin Ritt’s The Front, and in the 80s he starred in Paul Mazursky’s Scenes From a Mall.  Still, the most recent work he did which was not his own was providing a lead voice in the 1998 animated film Antz. 

When he came on to work with Turturro in Fading Gigolo, he did not take a hands-off approach to the project.  He contributed to the writing and determined to help make the film the best that they could.  Allen and Turturro worked hard together to make the film an off-beat, but sweet and strangely perfect view of the culturally-diverse New York area.

“Off-beat, but strangely perfect” is a term which could also be used on the casting of the film.  Beyond the obvious against-type casting of Turturro as the soulful sex worker and Allen as his befuddled pimp, Turturro put together an impressive and unpredictable cast.  Tough guy actor Liev Schreiber (Ray Donovan) gets to play a love-sick Hassidic cop.  Sharon Stone (Fatal Attraction) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) get to play some of his bored rich clientele.  Perhaps most surprising of all, French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis (Heartbreaker) took on the role of a repressed Hassidic widow who is searching for more in her life.

About a week before Fading Gigolo was released, we were one of the outlets who were able to talk to Turturro, Paradis and Vergara about the film at a press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York.

How did you get into the Hassidic community?

John Turturro: I did a lot of research on my own first.  Then we found this organization called… I think you say it Chulent, which is [named after] a dish.  There’s a lot of different elements in the dish.  It’s an organization that people who have left the community go to.  To gather, so they have some kind of community, because they have been raised in a very strict environment.  We met different people there.  I introduced them to Vanessa, and then we went to a… what was that?

Vanessa Paradis: Sukkot.

John Turturro: Sukkot dinner together.  Then she met someone and she was very helpful.

Vanessa Paradis: Oh, yeah.  I met this young woman who escaped a Hassidic community when she was about 22.  She was beautiful and so generous in sharing her life story.  I had no clue.  [I] did not know much about this community and the religion. She told me about her life, the rules, the everyday life.  It was a tremendous help.

John Turturro: The more research you do about something, the more interesting it becomes.  There are people who are happy in that world and there are [those] who aren’t.  The women who usually have left, they don’t have children.  They knew they wanted to leave, so they’d prepared for that.

Sofia, you always do so well playing a funny, sexy role. But, do you ever feel type-casted?  Would you like to try a more dramatic role?

Vanessa Paradis: That’s not bad, though…

Sofia Vergara(laughs) Oh, I don’t know, I don’t think looking like this I can play a scientist.  (She runs her hands over her breasts.  They all laugh.)  Or an astronaut.

John Turturro: Maybe an astronaut.

Sofia Vergara: [Maybe] an astronaut.  I think you have to know your limitations.  Of course I’m not going to tell my agent, “You have to let them see me.  They’re casting Schindler’s List II.  I want to be in that movie.”  I know where I can have fun and do a good job.  I met John.  I’m very insecure about the acting, because I’ve never done it until recently.  I knew I like to be directed.  He told me exactly what he wanted from me, and it was a lot of fun.  It was.  I don’t care.  I think you have to be grateful.  I don’t think after all the opportunities like this movie that I have gotten [it would be right] to be complaining, “Oh, they don’t let me cry or be raped in a movie.”  (Turturro laughs.)  It would be ungrateful.  I take it and maybe someday he’s decides he’s doing another movie and he calls me and gives me the opportunity.  Maybe I can do it very well.

John Turturro: Okay.  I don’t doubt you.  I didn’t doubt you.  That’s a good answer.

What’s great about John as a director, actor and scriptwriter?

Sofia Vergara: Well, I saw a side of John that Vanessa didn’t see.  (They all laugh.)

Vanessa Paradis: Oh?  What’s that?

Sofia Vergara: It’s okay, Vanessa.  Maybe one day he’ll do another movie and let you see that side of him.

Vanessa Paradis: Well, it’s amazing to be directed by John Turturro.  He just makes us do what he wants us to do, but in such an easy way and such a fun way.  There’s his energy and he is brilliant with words.  And he’s an actor.  He’s a damned good actor.  (She turns to Turturro.)  So it just happened so easily, with your words, your energy, your body language.  (Turns back to us.)  You just want to make him happy, too.

John Turturro: I like to treat people the way I would like to be treated.  I’ve been mistreated on many movies.  Sometimes people kind of objectify you, in whatever way.  So you try to create an atmosphere where people can be relaxed and have some fun at the same time.  Even if it is a serious situation.  Not to put too much pressure on them.

Sofia Vergara: I loved it.  I was worried.  I had this worry about the scene I had to do with him and Sharon [Stone].  I’ve never done anything like that.  So, I was becoming a little bit nervous, but he made it seem so easy.  I think he was more nervous than I.  When I saw him nervous, I got relaxed.  (laughs)

I really loved how you shot a lot of the Brooklyn scenes.  What motivated you to choose the communities and shoot them so lovingly?

John Turturro: First of all, we chose to shoot the movie on film.  We tested a few different ways and standards.  We saw that film was a softer medium on everybody’s skin.  I think that really helps, in a way.  I used different photographs, different paintings, as inspiration.  I looked at a lot of Saul Leiter photographs.  He was a fashion photographer, who also took a lot of street photographs in the 30s and 40s.  Then I looked at these [Giorgio] Morandi paintings, these still life paintings.  They were just helpful for the visual palette of the film.  We tried to have all of the characters balance each other; lots of reds and blacks in it.  So, inch by inch, that’s how you create a visual palette.  Then we all work together on that to you have something cohesive and almost like a storybook that you go into.

Vanessa, were you nervous to work with a legend like Woody Allen?

Vanessa Paradis: Oh, boy.  The first day was the lice scene.  I actually met Woody on the set, in my turban, and everything.  There was this little boy with the big afro hair and my tiny little lice comb.  I think that was brilliant, John, because I was so nervous to hurt the kid’s hair that I was really focused on that and forgetting, “Okay, there is Woody Allen!  I’ve got to act.”  Of course, he was very impressive, but everything I had to do made me feel a little bit better, if possible, on the first day.  Woody was so sweet and really nice with me.  The hard part was he improvised all these lines and they were really funny.  They’d be more funny one after another.  I had to play with that super [serious character].  I didn’t know how, because I had to smile or laugh.

John Turturro: You don’t know sometimes, because he does the lines but he kind of massages them.  (He imitates Allen ad-libbing sounds.)  He adds something.  It could be good.  You’re like, well, should I say?  Should I tell him?  I’m just sorry he wasn’t available that day, I would have liked to have a scene with him with Sofia.  That would have been very good.  Talking her into it, I’m telling you about this guy…  (laughs)  He’s a very good actor with everybody.  He was great with those kids.  They treated him like they didn’t know who he was.  They were like: you’re was just an old man.  (laughs again)  One of the kids was with Vanessa, he would step on his foot.  His name was Isaiah [Clifton].  Whenever Woody would forgot any lines he would step on his feet.  We have all these outtakes of Woody saying, (imitates him again) “Why are you stepping on my foot?”  [The kid would go] “Because you’re not saying the line.”  That really helped, too, having kids sometimes is a common denominator.

I love the fact that the idea came together after a lunch.

John Turturro: I have a strong dream life.

And that your barber hooked you and Woody up. How did your writing time with Woody Allen affect the final outcome of the film?

John Turturro: He just told me to write the draft and then he would give me his feedback. I didn’t know what that meant, exactly. Then when I received it, I was like, “Whoa! Wow! This is feedback!” It was brutal basically, but it was a first stab at something. I hadn’t really kind of gotten into the world personally yet. I hadn’t done a lot of research. So, there were a lot of ideas and it was quite broad. Then, right after that he said, “Don’t you want to do something more sophisticated?” I said yeah, but he didn’t tell me how to do that. So, I had to find my own way. Basically, I would do another draft and he would say, “This works, and you should develop that more.” Whatever. He made some very good comments, without telling me what to do. I’ll give you one example. I spoke to this guy who was a prostitute. He goes with men; he goes with women. He was telling me that he dresses up sometimes. So originally in this scene with Sofia in one of the first drafts, he has basketball shorts on. Woody said, “I don’t think you need to do that. That’s too much.” I was explaining it to him what the guy told me. He said, “Yeah, but you could do the same thing and imply it, in a way.” He didn’t tell me what to do, but that was a helpful hint. So, it became more nuanced as it went along. Then we worked in a theater in the middle of this writing process. We did these plays off-Broadway. I got to know him quite well, and that helped. He always liked his character. He always though his character was pretty good, that I had a good ear for him or something. But he encouraged me to be as nuanced as possible. That’s really what it was, basically.

How long did it take?

John Turturro: About two years. About two years, on and off, with the plays in the middle. But that really helped when I came to work with him. I think you see some of our relationship in the movie, in imaginary circumstances. That wouldn’t have been if we didn’t get to know each other that way.

Woody very rarely works on other directors’ films – I think the last time was Antz in the 90s. What was it like to get him to work on your film? And as a director, was it a little intimidating having to direct such a well-respected filmmaker?

John Turturro: Well, the first day, he wasn’t getting his lines right away. I was thinking, “Oh my God!” He skipped like three paragraphs. My first note to him was: I said, “Woody. Cut. I think you jumped from here to here.” He was like, “Oh God!” I was looking a him thinking, I have to actually tell him what to do now. (laughs) But, once he [got settled in], about after about 30 minutes, it was easy. We would do his scenes and I was like, “Hmm, that wasn’t bad. Let’s try it again. Maybe a little...” He would always try it differently. So, I never watched playback. I just kept doing the scenes. Within like two hours we were off to the races. It was going well. I gave him some notes with Vanessa in the beginning because I thought maybe he needs to be more delicate here or there. And he was a prince. He hardly ever questioned me. Once or twice. He said well he felt maybe uncomfortable or something. He was really easy to work with and he was good with everyone. And he was good off camera. Very good off camera.

Sofia, you are well known for your comedic role in Modern Family. This role is much more serious, sexy and had a little dark element to it. Was it a hard transition to do?

Sofia Vergara: Well, we talked about it at the beginning, because of course I am who I am. There’s a lot of Gloria [her Modern Family character] in me. There is so much I can tone down. So, I trusted him. I’ll do whatever he wants me to do. I don’t see it on myself, so if he was happy, then I was happy. But it is hard because I am loud. I’m very active. I cannot fix it. The energy. But when I saw the movie, I was like, “Oh, I can actually sound more normal.”

John Turturro: I think I encouraged everybody to just be a little bit easier. I think Sofia can do that very easily. It was a pleasure working with her. Now, when we do our tragedy after this... One more thing. Her character is really inspired by my friend called Salima.

Sofia Vergara: I met her.

John Turturro: Salima designed my glasses. She has very... she’s very well-endowed. She has sold me many glasses over the years by going like this all the time (holds glasses in front of his chest), like “John, what do you think about these glasses?” (They all laugh.) I have bought so many pairs of terrible glasses from her over the years. But she is a great lady, and she has a kind of spirit that is similar to hers. (Points to Sofia.) So, it was like a perfect match.

How did you find the right balance between comedy and drama?

John Turturro: The balance was something we achieved with editing. It was not easy to do. When you’re laughing and when you’re having a good time, sometimes you can actually slip things in that can be really moving, or really delicate, or really tender, without really hitting you over the head. It doesn’t have to be a greeting card sentimentality with that. Life is like that. If you think of a person like [novelist Anton] Chekhov, a lot of those characters are ridiculous, but they are moving. Usually some of the greatest literature and some of the greatest films have those elements in them. So that is something to aspire towards, whether you reach it or not.

If you could bring back the golden days of double features, what are some films you think Fading Gigolo would work with?

John Turturro: I’ll give that to the ladies.

Vanessa Paradis: I don’t know what that is.

Sofia Vergara: I don’t know what he is talking about.

Vanessa Paradis: Me either.

John Turturro: A double feature. Two movies shown together.

Sofia Vergara: Oh, yeah. I was too young for that.

John Turturro: They never saw one.

Vanessa Paradis: What is a double feature?

John Turturro: It’s two movies in a row. This movie with Shampoo would be good. Shampoo. That’s perfect. That’s a nice double feature.

This not being your first time behind the camera, what have you learned over the years that you’ve been able to bring to this film?

John Turturro: Casting is a big help. If you cast the right people. Also, sometimes less can be more. To not be afraid to not push it. I have to do that. Sofia was talking about it, saying like, “I can do this really well.” Sometimes there is somebody else saying, “Don’t do that anymore. Don’t do anything.” Sometimes that’s really helpful. You can do something really small and it can be really incisive. This is the most delicate film I think I’ve made of my five films.

Who are your favorite directors – other than of course Woody Allen – and what influence did they have on your film?

John Turturro: My favorite directors as an audience member? I like [Federico] Fellini. I like [Luis] Buñuel. I like Jean Renoir. I like [Akira] Kurosawa. I like Michael Curtiz. Billy Wilder. The list goes on and on. Tons of directors. [Francois] Truffaut. [Luchino] Visconti. It goes on and on and on, all the way up to today. John Ford. [Robert] Bresson. They all had an influence on you because they affect you. If you retain stuff, and you look at it, it becomes part of your unconscious. Nights of Cabiria was one of my favorite movies, so I always refer to that.

Your characters are women looking for the perfect man. How did you get into character as far as looking for the right man?

Sofia Vergara: I don’t think we were looking for the right man. (Paradis shakes her head in agreement.) We were paying for the right man. (Everyone laughs.) I don’t think they were putting too much thought into it. It was handed to them. Personally, of course, for me it’s chemistry. I think these women needed to do this in their lives because they had a little bit of emptiness, even though you see they are powerful, beautiful, successful, and worldly. When you need to do something like this it’s because you’re lacking something. I don’t want to judge them. If this was what they needed at this moment in their lives, and they had the money and they could afford it, why not?

John Turturro: That’s a good answer.

Vanessa Paradis: Yes. My [character], she’s not looking for it. But Woody Allen’s character starts to inform her that there’s something else than her Hassidic community. The character that I play does have the curiosity, even though she knows it is forbidden. She’s really interested of knowing what’s right there, five miles away in Manhattan. Curiosity and wanting to be happy [motivate her].

John, how did you go about casting? Vanessa seems like such an odd and wonderful choice for that role. And everybody else as well.

John Turturro: Well, for Vanessa, I have to credit the lady in the back, Christina Bazdekas [Turturro’s agent]. She’s the one who recommended her for another project I was going to do.

Vanessa Paradis: (whispers to the back of the room) Thanks, Christina.

John Turturro: We met, and I saw some of her work and we really got along. I really liked her. Then, when this came up, Christina again mentioned her. I said, “Wow, I don’t see it right away.” She said, “No, there is all kinds of different looking women in the Orthodox Hassidic community.” I thought about it and then sent her the script. I can’t think of anyone else now doing that role. I think what she brought to it was... forget about the cultural background, but her own sense of intimacy and privacy. She’s very graceful and delicate. I wanted to have all kinds of women. Within it also showed that aspect in all the women in different ways. You need balance in a movie. Sofia’s character is the one character who is the freest. She’s like, “Okay, I’m going to do this. I’m not really depressed, but my friend wants to do it.” I was thinking about friendships. Sometimes when people have sex, the best part is sharing it with your friends. (laughs) It’s better than what happens. “You know what happened to me?” Then you see your friend live vicariously through you and you’re like, “Oh my God. This is better than what happened!” This is really true in life, I think, many times. If you have one of those friends. (The women laugh.) I thought of that. And also, maybe she has certain kinky things she wants that she can’t do with her husband. We all have other aspects of our personality. So... But you want to have people who have something in common, but who are different enough so there’s a big variety. I tried to have a variety in a multi-cultural city, that represents any city.

Your character was pretty quiet onscreen, which is quite different than some roles you’ve played in the past. Was a quieter role more difficult than one with more dialogue?

John Turturro: Yes. In some ways. In some ways it can be just as difficult. I’ve done other quiet roles, too. I’ve been in The Truce, in which I didn’t really talk almost at all. Box of Moon Light. Every role has its own challenges. Sometimes people who are quiet, they are more of a listener. The one thing I was worried about doing it was having a man who is confident, but who is not cocky. Not looking for the result. Not looking for home base, but he could actually enjoy the moment. That's a fine line between those two different things. There are people you see right away you know where they want to go. That's all they have on their mind. I didn’t want the character to be that. He’s quiet but he’s not shy. That can be very true for many people. I thought of it that way.

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: April 18, 2014.

Photo Credit: © 2014 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.



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