Manhattan Night production notes
Manhattan Night, the thriller starring Adrien Brody, Jennifer Beals, Yvonne Strahovski and Campbell Scott, opens in selected theatres across the USA and video on demand on May 20th.
Here’s some interesting production notes about the film:
“I finished reading the book Manhattan Nocturne, I knew I had to make it into a movie,” says director, screenwriter and producer Brian DeCubellis. That was back in 1999.
Four years later DeCubellis secured the film rights of the book. DeCubellis had a vision for the movie from that initial reading. “I had made an outline for the movie while reading the book four years earlier. I just pulled that outline out and started writing it. The first draft came very quickly and was to be the main structure which got updated many times over the years.”
With a script in hand, DeCubellis was ready to go out and find his cast and funding. His close friend Dylan Kidd, who had been a film school classmate of Brian’s at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, had just finished his first feature film Roger Dodger with Campbell Scott. DeCubellis spent time on the set where he met Campbell and Jennifer Beals. Campbell took to the script and shared it with Jennifer and quickly the two were attached and onboard advocates.
Over the next 12 years, the film came close to being made with a range of various casts and scenarios. However, a critical piece or timing was always missing. But the dream of making the movie never disappeared.
The first major turning point toward the film’s completion came when Campbell Scott gave the script to Adrien Brody, who read it and wanted to play Porter. “When I first read the screenplay for MANHATTAN NIGHT, I knew I wanted to be a part of it” says Brody. “It’s extremely rare these days to find a script that has all the elements this film has. It reminds me of some of my favorite movies from the 70’s with characters that are flawed but very likeable.”
Importantly, along with his role as an actor, Adrien Brody also agreed to become a producer; MANHATTAN NIGHT became the first major project for Brody’s own film production company, Fable House. Brody adds, “I signed on as a producer to help bring the different elements together that was necessary to get this movie made. I was so impressed with the material. Independent film of this nature is hard to come by, so I felt it was my responsibility to help it come to life.”
“This cast is a dream come true in and of itself,” DeCubellis states. “People ask ‘what’s it like to work with an Academy Award® winner?’ and I answer it was simply the best experience ever. Adrien Brody is such an artist through and through. He brings so many great ideas to the table and like me is always striving to make every facet of the work better. We really connected over finding the magic in the details and getting to the truth.”
Brody adds, “When I read the script I was floored by the depth of the characters: their nuances and intelligence.” Brody continues, “My character delves into morally questionable areas, but yet you still root for him. Life is like that. We all make mistakes and have to persevere through them.”
The cast was drawn to the material and came on board with a passion to play their particular roles and tell this story.
One of the key roles is the female lead of Caroline Crowley played by Yvonne Strahovski. “The role of Caroline is critical to the film’s success and needs a special performer,” says DeCubellis. “You need someone who is not only gorgeous and sexy, but also a great dramatic actress with real intelligence, complexity and emotional depth. Yvonne has great beauty plus classical stage training and amazing acting chops, and she was the ideal player to fill the role.” Strahovski says, “My role of Caroline is unbelievably layered. I think so many people would say Caroline is a classic femme fatale. To me it seems a little more complicated than that,” says Strahovski. She also adds “the storylines are beautiful blend of sexiness and class all with an underlying darkness that keeps you wanting more.”
Campbell Scott remembers reading the script the very first time and how it stuck in his mind. “There’s a scene in the middle of the movie that’s one of the best I’ve ever read.” He relished the opportunity to play a kind of role he is not usually considered for. “Simon is very challenging, not entirely likable, manipulative, also pretty charming, and has a real sway over people that can be dangerous, which is a lot of fun to play. Of all the casting, I’m probably the biggest deviation from the novel,” continues DeCubellis. “Campbell is a perfect example of how a great actor makes the material better. The version of Simon in the book works great in the book, but Campbell being Campbell takes that role and makes it less familiar and more interesting by being a more believable form of lunatic that Caroline would more believably fall for.”
The final member of the quartet in the film is Jennifer Beals who plays Lisa Wren, the wife of Adrien Brody’s character.
“I think everyone can relate to the theme of temptation,” she says. “I like to think of Lisa as the moral center of the story. She is determined to protect her family as any she-wolf would from outside dangers,”
DeCubellis loved this idea. “Jennifer does an amazing job of being the character grounded in reality who represents everything that Porter has to lose. She’s so brilliant at being strong, good and vulnerable. We talked a lot about the importance of Lisa’s character being the gravitational force that the whole story is in opposition to.”
As is often the case with independent films, actors are making room for it among their busy schedules shooting other projects. Adrien Brody didn’t even have a day off in between films, flying straight from the Czech Republic to New York to begin shooting the next day as Porter Wren. DeCubellis explains, “We didn’t have a rehearsal period for this movie. Instead I spent one day with each of the leads in the months or weeks before shooting to go line by line through the script and talk about all the ideas and ways it could be played. We talked and talked until we had a solid game plan going into the shoot. Some great ideas came out of those days, like Adrien coming up with the idea that Porter reads the Bazooka bubble gum comic and is inspired to have the confidence to call Caroline. Then on the day it was just about blocking at the location.” The ambitious scheduling meant they had to hit the ground running every day, clear on what the targets were in order to keep on schedule.
“What’s exciting about this process is that the actors were doing the scenes for the first time in front of the camera. Neither knew how the other would play it and so they are reacting in real time as their characters. I think we caught some really special moments in every scene because of this approach,” DeCubellis concludes.
Brian DeCubellis couldn’t be happier to have the vision in his head now out in the world. “Every single day on the set I would look at the monitor and see a specific shot I had dreamed up years ago and would be like ‘there it is.’ It was like I was coming from the future back to visit the set I had already been on. I had deja vu every day from having imagined the experience so hard for so long,” says DeCubellis. “And in the end it was even better than I had thought it would be.”
Manhattan Night’s synopsis: The story of Porter Wren, a New York City tabloid writer with an appetite for scandal. On the beat he sells murder, tragedy and anything that passes for the truth. At home he is a model family man, devoted to his loving wife. But when a seductive stranger asks him to dig into the unsolved murder of her filmmaker husband Simon, he can’t resist. In this modern version of a classic film noir, we follow Porter as he is drawn into a very nasty case of sexual obsession and blackmail – one that threatens his job, his marriage and his life.
Brian DeCubellis, the making of Manhattan Night
Clip – Family Morning