robert deniro & paul weitz

Robert DeNiro and Director Paul Weitz

*It’s ironic that “Being Flynn,” starring Robert DeNiro, Julianne Moore, Paul Dano, and Kelly McCreary {this is her first role in a movie and although a cameo, it’s at a poignant point in the picture) and based on a 2004 memoir, is so apropos when looking at current headlines about drugs, alcoholism, suicide, self-hatred and homelessness. Director Paul Weitz (“About A Boy,” “Good Company”) told The Film Strip he sees the film a bit differently.

“First of all,” he says, “I think it’s remarkable how many people have some connection to each of those issues. But to me it boiled down to the central question of how much you’re fated to become your dad in this case. Are you able to recreate yourself in order to become your own person? Do you have to own the flaws that you inherited? I think everybody sort of mythologizes their parents in a certain way. You’re always wondering, “am I going to become that, so that’s to me was the universal thing that attached to [this story].

“My own dad was a fashion designer who was pretty successful but he always dreamed of being a writer and he would write until late at night. He actually did manage to have a couple of novels published but he looked at his job as a fashion designer as being a pretty silly way to make a living [laughs] and he essentially wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.”

Was this the longest it took you to bring a project to fruition and why did it take so long?

It’s definitely the longest it’s taken me. It took that long because initially it was in a more mainstream studio with a bigger budget and as much as they might have wanted to see the movie, they didn’t want to make the movie because it’s not the kind of movie that is a guaranteed sell internationally; the kind of things that reassures a studio that they’re still going to have their jobs [laughs] next year.

 

Did DeNiro seal the deal when he became attached to it?

He sealed the deal when he stayed attached to it because really the bar that we had to limbo under kept getting lowered and it was his dedication that got us through. A month before the shoot, I had to have him walking around in the snow and you never know when it’s gonna snow. The weather report said there was going to be a blizzard the next day.  I called DeNiro and said, ‘where are you?’ and he said, New York. I said would you please throw on some costume and come out with me and shoot in the snow? So he came out with a cameraman and without permits as if it were a student film and walked around. We were in the financial district and I went there during rush hour because I knew no one would pay attention to anything; they just wanted to get to work. And so, there I was doing guerrilla filmmaking with Bob.

 

Why Paul Dano as the son?

I knew he had acted opposite Daniel Day Lewis a couple of times and Daniel Day Lewis is supposed to be extremely intimidating. So I knew that he would be comfortable challenging Bob during the scenes. At the same time I had the side benefit of Paul being smart and he’s respectful. So he wasn’t going to be challenging Bob when the cameras weren’t rolling because that would make my life hell. So it was a really good combination for me.

 

Is it true writers are prone to madness as mentioned in the movie?

Yes, but I think people misinterpret that. I think that there is a myth in art in general that you either have to be a van Gogh, or utterly unsuccessful and tortured by some sense of your own lack of self worth…I think there’s an utter detachment between how good you are and how nice you are, and how mean you are. And, given that, I prefer to work with people who are nice. And it’s almost never worth it working with people who are awful to other people on set. And there certainly are a large number of those actors [laughs] and I also have an index of people I want to work with and don’t want to work with [laughs].

 

PAUL WEITZ’S PROGENY

Oscar nominated Paul Weitz and his brother, Chris Weitz, mother is the beautiful and talented Oscar nominated actress Susan Kohner. Kohner was nominated for the 1959 tearjerker “Imitation of Life.” Her mother is Mexican and her father was born in the Czech Republic. Kohner played Sarah Jane, the Black daughter of the equally beautiful and talented Juanita Moore (Annie Johnson), who was also nominated for an Oscar her role in “Imitation of Life.”

Johnson and Sara Jane were homeless and was taken in by Lora Meredith (Lana Turner), a struggling actress. Sara Jane’s denial of her heritage—passing for White—caused Johnson a great deal of pain. It was only at seeing her mother’s coffin, that Sarah Jane broke down, realizing what a treasure she had lost. In addition to that iconic moment, Mahalia Jackson’s singing of “Trouble of the World” at the funeral stands as a benchmark in heart wrenching scenes.

Kohner and Moore became great friends after that film. When I met Kohner at a book signing at Barnes & Nobles for a book on the making of “Imitation of Life,” she told me, “Juanita is not here because she is isn’t feeling well. I just spoke to her a while ago.”

imitation of life

Susan Kohner and Juanita Moore in 'Imitation of Life'