Warner Bros. Pictures held a special screening of Danny De Vito’s brilliant black comedy, Death to Smoochy at the Warner lot, and followed the screening by a Q&A with De Vito, who is both director and co-star of this unique film, which features Robin Williams and Edward Norton.
DeVito was dressed in black and wearing his trademark Jersey Films hat. It was a good-natured DeVito who joked around with the audience before answering questions. Our LA correspondent Paul Fischer was there and here is a sample of what this college crowd asked of the diminutive DeVito.
Question: What do you think about product placement in movies?
DeVito: Well, I don’t usually think about it, but I think sometimes it’s really a good thing to get placement. If you’re producing the movie and you want people to help you advertise the movie, like if you’re going to read a paper or drink a soda or you’re going to drink wine or use a can opener, maybe you’ll get Black & Decker to advertise your movie down the line. I think that’s kind of an interesting thing to do, but I don’t think you should go overboard putting it in.
Question: What message were you trying to send, if any, with the sexual innuendo surrounding Rainbow Randolph?
DeVito: Well, there’s a place for everybody in the world. I don’t know. We were just having a lot of fun, so it was just one of those things. Robin [Williams] just goes off and is incredible to work with. They all are. Edward (Norton) and Catherine (Keener) and Robin and Harvey (Fierstein) and Jon (Stewart). Everybody was just a joy to work with. Robin just kept going farther and farther into certain…areas (laughs). We let him go! There are some things in the DVD that I’ve got saved that’ll be kind of interesting.
Question: What intrigued you most about the script and what made you decide to direct it?
DeVito: Well, I read the script…even though I wear the hat; this is not a Jersey Film. I’m a gun for hire and they sent me this script to direct. I read it and I thought, geez – and I called Rhea (Perlman) and I said, “You know, we’re always looking for movies to take our kids to. This ain’t it!” I thought it was really outrageous, far out, and fun and I just kept going farther and farther with it. There were a couple of things I had taken out of the movie. Then you look at it and you think, maybe I should rein it in. I don’t usually rein things in. I like to have fun.
Question: Was this movie inspired at all by “Meet John Doe” or “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”?
DeVito: You know, I wish (screenwriter Adam) Resnick was here. We were in Aspen last night and showed the movie and somebody asked a question about influences. I know that there are elements of the guy “being put upon” and I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not sure if that was the inspiration.
Question: Are you worried about the marketing and how some people might think it’s for kids?
DeVito: The thing is that we’re trying to get the message out that it’s absolutely not for kids. First of all, it’s R-rated, but I know my kids go to see…I remember when I was doing “Matilda” and my daughters, this is about five or six years ago, my kids are one of them’s 18 and one of them’s 16 and I have a 14 year-old son, but when I was in the middle of shooting “Matilda”, I came home one day and my oldest daughter said, “Dad! We just went to the movies and saw the greatest movie we ever saw” and I said, “wow, what is it?” And I’m in the middle of shooting, so I’m not in the current, looking at the papers, seeing what’s out there and this was “The Usual Suspects”. About a week later, they said, “we saw it again! It’s our favourite movie!” And these were my little girls! I said, “oh, I’m going to get time off pretty soon, honey, and I’ll get you to take me to the movies.” They saw it three times before I got to see it. You get to the first scene where the guys reading the paper and he’s like, “fuck you, you fucking cocksucker!” (laughs) I looked at my kids and went, “mm-hmm.” I don’t really want to market it (to kids), to answer your question, we’re doing everything we can to tell people, but it is bright and cheery and colourful and beautiful, but keep your kids away.
Question: Is it a lot tougher to direct scenes that you’re in yourself?
DeVito: Well, I love being in front of the camera and I really love being the director, sometimes the producer. I think of it as one thing. I work with the actors and set up my shots, which I work real hard on whatever I’m doing and I don’t really think about it. It’s not really hard to do to go in front of the camera, behind the camera. I mean, I do a lot of takes, I do a lot of shooting, so I try different levels, so I take it to the editing room and really make my movie, make my choices, especially for my stuff. I do less takes for me. It’s one thing I’ve noticed. It’s really interesting. I’ll shoot Edward and Catherine and Robin and try different things and I go up and do one or two takes and they get really pissed off at me since I move on. I don’t know what it is. It’s just one of those things. I enjoy it. I really enjoy doing that. The movie I’m doing now, I’m shooting a movie now, I started two weeks ago called “Duplex” with Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore and it’s the first movie in like seven movies that I’ve directed counting the one I did on television – “The Ratings Game” that I did for Showtime many years ago – that I’m not in. It’s so bizarre. I don’t have to think about fitting in to my costume. It’s scary because I think they’ll be pushing me around on the set in six weeks.
Question: How did you go about casting “Death to Smoochy”?
DeVito: When you get a project as a director, you make your list and you try to figure out whom you can get to be in the movie. First of all, Harvey I wanted right away, Harvey Fierstein. I wanted him to play Merv Green, but Catherine, Edward and Robin were always on the list. I was doing “Heist”, Mamet’s movie up in Montreal and Edward was up there doing a movie and I met with Edward and I had sent him the script. We talked about it and we went on and on about it and at one point during the dinner, he said something like, “this Rainbow Randolph has a lot of complex…” and I said, “whoa, whoa, whoa, man, you’re going to play the Smooch!” I mean, Edward is just so perfect for that part. He’s always doing “American History X” and “Fight Club”, stuff like that, he’s just so genuinely nice. He’s got that naivete and can play real committed things. And Robin, there are so many colours to Rainbow Randolph. He was all over the place. I was really happy to be with them. They were genuine team players on the set all the time.