Q and A with ... John Turturro

Q and A with ...

FYI: pop culture news

April 14, 2005|By Newsday

Among the most memorable of a new generation of actors to emerge in the 1980s, John Turturro is probably best loved by frequent viewers of Coen brothers comedies and Spike Lee's films, which always seem to conjure up the native New Yorker in the unlikeliest ways (as the voice of the serial killer's dog in Summer of Sam, as a mob kingpin in the recent She Hate Me). But lately, the actor has had other things on his mind. Last year, Turturro, 48, took a break to helm the musical Romance and Cigarettes (his third as a director) with James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon. And now he takes the stage in Souls of Naples, a somewhat fantastical adaptation of a drama by Italian playwright Eduardo De Filippo. The production by Theater for a New Audience is previewing at the Duke on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Turturro talked before a recent rehearsal about his love of great scripts and the music he hears in his head.

Earlier in your career you spent time in the theater, but not so much any more. What made you pick this play?

[De Filippo is] an interesting writer, and you don't get a chance to do work like that. The whole play is really different, and the struggle is getting a translation that's free and easy. It takes place in a particular place after World War II, and it's got fantasy elements and vaudeville elements and very human elements. He deals with people who don't have a lot. How that can affect a marriage. And how you can choose to believe in something that is beyond your power. There's a lot of people from certain traditions who are very superstitious. Everyone kind of makes up their own reality in the play, and there's a duplicity there.

You've wrapped Romance and Cigarettes?

I just finished editing it at the end of November. It will probably come out at the end of the summer.

How did the movie come together?

It was something I began jotting down when I was doing Barton Fink [the 1991 Coen brothers movie about a blocked screenwriter]. I had a song I was going to use for the credits. And then later on I kept putting material around it. I did this little musical fantasy sequence for my film Illuminata, and then people told me I should look at [British playwright and postmodern musical maven] Dennis Potter, who I had only read about and never really seen. And I looked at a little bit of [his work], and I thought, yeah, that's kind of what I had in mind.

But not set in one period. It's interesting. [Potter] came from a poor family. He loved music. He was onto something. The idea I had was a real story with real feeling, like an opera. Music is their escape. A pop song becomes your song, the expression of how you feel, how you remember, the way you articulate. I grew up in small houses filled with music.

Where was that?

In Queens, near the airport. There was a very eclectic choice of music. In a small house, if you're playing Jimi Hendrix and someone else is playing Frank Sinatra and someone else is playing James Brown ... that kind of filtered through. I think the movie is the prettiest thing I've ever done, in many ways. We'll see how it goes.

Tony Soprano singing and dancing? That I've got to see!

He sings along. He has a nice voice! ... I use all older songs except one or two. Songs that are lodged in your subconscious. It's kind of a Bruce Springsteen world. It's a movie about the people he writes songs about. We shot it in Rosedale, where I grew up. ... All these planes are going over the house. But people aren't going anywhere.

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