James Gray writes and directs We Own the Night about Bobby (Joaquin Phoenix), a nightclub manager who becomes an undercover cop to save his brother (Mark Wahlberg) and father (Robert Duvall) from the Russian mob. Eva Mendes plays Bobby's girlfriend. James Gray has previously written and directed The Yards and Little Odessa. His next film will be Two Lover, which also stars Joaquin Phoenix. I had the privilege to interview James.
Columbia Pictures releases We Own the Night on October 12th, 2007.
NYC MOVIE GURU: What’s it like to make a movie set in the 80s?
JG: It’s very hard. You don’t think it would be, but it’s because very small things that you would never even contemplate have changed. New York is insanely different. I had insisted in an insane way of shooting a stash-house sequence in the closest that we could get to the actual thing. I said that it has to be in Brooklyn. We looked all around and finally found an abandoned building which was a kind of stash-house in Bed-Stuyvesant.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you team up Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix again?
JG: I don’t know because the only thing I care about is them as artists. So much emphasis is put on money in our society. I feel like that, in their own ways, they’re one of the better actors that are working today in America. So, if they’re willing to work with me, why wouldn’t I want to work with them again? Also, The Yards was a very strange experience because the picture premiered in Cannes, as did We Own the Night. There’s a very small, select group of journalists who go to Cannes and they have their own opinions. In The Yards’ case, they shaped the release pattern of the film, which was very little of a release pattern. I don’t think about how much money it makes or doesn’t make. I just think about whether those actors move me and if the answer is “yes,” then I have to go with that.
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you choose Eva Mendes to be in We Own the Night?
JG: It’s very difficult to put your finger on why a certain actor or actress will capture your attention and you will think they’re right for a role. There are certain people who don’t resonate on camera and certain people who do. I had seen Eva Mendes do a talk show, of all things. I sensed a wonderful intelligence, emotion [and] awareness. My wife was, like “You should meet her.” I met her and I thought what she would be able to bring to the role was a kind of humanity. Eva said, “No,” which made me want her even more. I begged her for over a year and she [still] said, “No.” I remember coming home from that first dinner and my wife asked, “How was it?” and I said, “She doesn’t want to do it.” My wife asked, “Does that mean you’re going to give up?” and I said, “No. That just means more work for me.”
NYC MOVIE GURU: Why did you not include a musical score in most scenes?
JG: I resist scoring a film where the audience is told what to think about the scene. There’s a tradition of scoring movies where, in essence, every beat of the scene is scored. That comes from the 1930s. Then in the late 60s and 70s, American cinema had a different mood about it. They started to score the moments after the dramatic scenes. Dog Day Afternoon actually has no music after Elton John music that opens the film.