John Turturro directs, writes, stars in 'Fading Gigolo'

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In the mid-1980s, Kelly LeBrock did a Pantene shampoo commercial in which she purred, "Don't hate me because I'm beautiful."

Actor John Turturro, 57, knows he might never be asked to repeat those words. In fact, he directed, wrote and cast himself in "Fading Gigolo" as a character who acknowledges, "I am not a beautiful man."

Turns out, that can be an asset for an actor.

"People who are just so innately beautiful, they're given attention immediately whether they deserve it or not, versus a person who can be nice looking but they have to earn, they have to hold someone's attention.

"I've always been aware of that. I've studied acting, I've been in acting classes with models who were on the covers of all these magazines. So that can be a blessing and a curse to be beautiful."

The same holds for sexuality, he added in a recent phone call about the movie opening today in Pittsburgh.

"Sometimes, someone can be really beautiful but they're really boring, and then you can see someone who looks like a little doughnut or something and people are like, 'Wow, that person is really just innately attractive,' maybe because they're brilliant or really funny or really sensitive."

In "Fading Gigolo," Mr. Turturro is Fioravante, a New Yorker who becomes an improbable but in-demand gigolo thanks to a friend, Murray (Woody Allen), owner of a failing book shop. Seeing the chance to pick up a little extra money, Murray functions as his pimp.

Fioravante is a man who is comfortable with women and good with his hands, whether potting orchids or taking apart a car engine. "He obviously is a little bit of an unlikely choice," as a gigolo, but he and Murray have a sort of odd father-son or uncle-nephew relationship.

"People want to see things that, in some ways, they haven't seen a thousand times. At least I hope so. At least I hope so."

As you might imagine, when you work with Mr. Allen, you keep the door open for improvisation.

"In certain situations, we stayed very close to the script, but then at other times, he likes to loosen his own scripts up himself and he lets people kind of meander and then get back into it," said Mr. Turturro, who invited his co-star to try some one-liners.

"He's got a very high batting average of what he can come up with versus a regular actor," he said, and the four-time Oscar winner delivered some gems. "The guy's just inexhaustible that way and, obviously, I want to take advantage of it."

Mr. Turturro, who has appeared in 60-plus films including "Do the Right Thing," "Barton Fink," "Quiz Show" and "Transformers," had a hunch he and Mr. Allen might make an interesting screen team. It took a third party to play movie matchmaker.

"We know each other a little bit but not well, but then this guy, Anthony, our hair cutter, mentioned it to Woody. ... What about if we went into the sex business because of circumstances, and Woody loved the idea."

The first draft, though, was much too broad, and Mr. Allen encouraged him to make it more sophisticated. "We did these plays [under the umbrella 'Relatively Speaking'] in the middle of the situation, on Broadway, and I got to know him very well there," Mr. Turturro said.

"He never told me what to do, but he told me what he didn't like or what was more effective. And then I thought about it, 'Listen, when am I going to have this opportunity to at least consider what someone like Woody is telling me?' And then I did a lot of research and then the piece just started opening up in a different way."

Some of that research sent Mr. Turturro to a flower shop, where he worked for a week and adored it, surrounded by women who ended up in the movie and leaving with the makings of a new hobby.

He also explored the Hasidic community, which factors into the background of an Orthodox Jewish widow (Vanessa Paradis) and mother of six along with a vigilant member (Liev Schreiber) of the neighborhood's patrol.

When it comes to making a film, a director cannot apply a tone but can see one emerge from the material and cast. "When Vanessa Paradis came in, she's so delicate, you could see right away, once I saw her with Woody, there's a nice juxtaposition here. I knew that with me and Woody, there would have to be a juxtaposition, too."

The eclectic cast also includes Sharon Stone as a dermatologist and Sofia Vergara as one of her close friends.

"I thought Sharon would be really right, and I thought, wow, it would be interesting to see Sharon put in a vulnerable situation and I thought she could be, maybe, believable as a dermatologist.

"Sofia reminded me of this lady who's a friend of mine who designs glasses, who does a little cameo in the film, her name is Selima. She's got this wild personality and she seems really like she's always looking for adventure. I don't know to what extent she really is," but she inspired the role played by "The Modern Family" star.

"Fading Gigolo" arrives at the launch of the summer season when superheroes garner $90 million their first weekends and little movies squeeze onto the remaining multiplex screens.

"It's really a movie about intimacy and how everybody needs that in their lives and is hungry for it. I think if you do it in an entertaining way, it can also be intelligent and also can be sensitizing or moving in a way, and people can come out of it with something."

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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