x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

ADFF 2013: a chat with Life of Crime director Daniel Schechter

One day after Life of Crime opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Jessica Hill sits down with the Hollywood director Daniel Schechter.

Daniel Schechter, director of the Elmore Leonard film 'Life of Crime'. Jeff Topping for The National
Daniel Schechter, director of the Elmore Leonard film 'Life of Crime'. Jeff Topping for The National

A day after Life of Crime opened the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Jessica Hill sits down with the Hollywood director Daniel Schechter before he goes sight seeing

Can you describe what the film is about?

It’s a dark comedy. Jennifer Aniston is a woman who gets kidnapped and her husband doesn’t seem to want her back, because he’s met someone else.

What inspired you to make an adaptation of the Elmore Leonard book The Switch?

I never used to read books as a kid, but my brother had a copy of Get Shorty, which I borrowed one day and I couldn’t put it down. So then I read everything he wrote. His stories were like music I thought I could play. I wrote the script for free and mailed it to Elmore Leonard’s people, and luckily they enjoyed it.

How does your adaptation differ from the book?

It’s one of the loyal adaptations of his books, which wasn’t difficult because it’s a pretty lean book. Tim Robbins used to be reading the book onsite and stealing lines from it as we were working. All of the cast would read the book. Sometimes Jennifer Aniston would find a bit of the book she liked and asked if she could add it back in too. The only character I embellished was Will Forte’s character, who tries to have an affair with Aniston’s character. I added more to his storyline to make it more interesting. And Boone, who plays a Nazi fantasist, changed his character by making him more intelligent in the film.

Did Elmore Leonard get to see the film before he died?

Elmore had heard that we were going to be screening on the closing night of the Toronto Film Festival, and he was very excited about it because our adaptation was especially loyal to the original book. He wanted to watch it straight away but I said no, because I wanted to give him the final, polished product. Sadly, in the meantime he had a stroke and passed away two weeks later so he never got to see the film. We had a very difficult time finding a name because Jennifer Aniston had already been in a film called The Switch, so we couldn’t call it that, even though that’s the name of the Elmore Leonard book. It wasn’t until the day before Toronto announced we were going to be doing the closing night, that I came up with the name Life of Crime.

Aniston plays a different role to anything she’s done before. She seems more mature and also more vulnerable in this film. What made you decide to cast her in the role?

I always want to give actors something different to what they have done before and I thought it was a good next step for her. She was looking to do something different and claims she doesn’t usually get given the opportunity to play different roles. All the actors I used have background in comedy.

How did you come to get funding from the Abu Dhabi-based Image Nation (owned by Abu Dhabi Media, parent company of The National)?

I had Jennifer Aniston and a best-selling book so I thought it would be easy to get it funded, but it was extremely difficult. Image Nation were my heroes. I didn’t want to do an arthouse film, I wanted it to be mainstream.

Parts of the film are set in a room filled with Nazi memorabilia. Is that real?

Yes, we found a collector in Michigan, so all the Nazi stuff in the film are real historic items. We had a lot more Nazi memorabilia that I wish we could have shown in the film.

If you could work with any actors in the future, who would they be?

If I could work with all these actors in Life of Crime again, as an ensemble, that would be great. I would also love to work with Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Lawrence.

How do you think Life of Crime played to an Arabic audience?

I was worried about the more explicit scenes. Also, there’s something so authentic about the dialogue but I don’t know exactly how that comes across in the subtitle translation. A slight difference in translation can change the feeling of what was being conveyed.

What was it like working with Aniston?

Jennifer Aniston was so generous and sweet to me. She’s an actor’s actor. It’s a lovely reminder that an actor is just an actor, and she gets insecure sometimes, like everyone. She exceeded our expectations. I hope I can work with her again. And John Hawkes, he’s magnetic, you can’t take your eyes off him. He’s not stereotypically handsome but people respond to him, the charisma oozing under the surface.

* Life of Crime has yet to receive a general UAE release date

artslife@thenational.ae