Pittsburgh addicted to Gyllenhaal's 'Love and Drugs'
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True, there were no feverish flu patients but it sure looked like a doctor's office, from the names on the outer glass door to the men in white coats, stethoscopes slung around necks, filing cabinets, boxes of latex gloves and (unopened) urine sample cups, scale and weight chart.
The two doing the brisk walk and talk were Jake Gyllenhaal and Hank Azaria, and the location had been built and decorated with remarkable detail in an office building in McCandless for "Love and Other Drugs."
Edward Zwick is directing the movie set in 1997 and featuring Gyllenhaal as Jamie Randall, a Pfizer pharmaceutical rep, and Azaria as Dr. Stan Knight, a busy physician he's shadowing this day and trying to convince to prescribe his drugs.
Jamie fires stats at the doc -- "33 percent fewer phone calls at 4 a.m." -- while Knight weighs a request from his receptionist, Cindy (Judy Greer). A woman is on the phone asking for an antibiotic for her daughter, starring in a high school production of "Bye Bye Birdie."
The physician, with reading glasses low on his nose, says, "Sure, why not." Jamie cranks his charming smile to full tilt for Cindy, who pivots and hustles back down the hallway.
After some back and forth about Knight angling for a consultant's gig, the doctor plucks a chart from outside an exam room and the men step inside as the director calls cut. "Sometimes it all falls into place, doesn't it? Nicely done," Zwick announces.
"Love and Other Drugs" fell into place for Pittsburgh and is now in its fifth week of shooting and expects to finish in late November.
The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as Maggie Burdock, an artist in the early stages of young onset Parkinson's disease; Josh Gad as Jamie's successful entrepreneur brother; George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as the men's Chicago parents; Oliver Platt as Jamie's district manager; Kimberly Scott as the dour gatekeeper in Knight's office; and Gabriel Macht as a rival drug rep.
"Love and Other Drugs" is based on Jamie Reidy's real-life book, "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman," but the story has been fictionalized. Charles Randolph, Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz wrote the screenplay.
The movie, from Fox 2000 Pictures and New Regency Productions, is scheduled for release some time in 2010. Although characterized as a romantic comedy, "Love" has more meat and less froth than most films in that category.
"It does talk about the pharmaceutical industry with some insight and some penetrating understanding," Zwick said during a break in filming. "It also has elements of a relationship that are more serious and dimensional than just the basic romantic comedy but it's also very funny and very romantic."
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway played an unhappily married couple in "Brokeback Mountain" but their relationship here is charged with attraction and passion.
"When you see what they have together, that is the heart and soul of the movie," Zwick said. "So chemistry is an elusive thing, in real life as in movies, but you do know it when you see it and know it when you have it."
Hathaway, who started filming this week, did her homework about Parkinson's. "She's that kind of actor, as all the good ones are," Zwick said, doing lots of reading and spending time with neurologists and patients.
When you've re-created Civil War America ("Glory") or Montana at the turn of the last century ("Legends of the Fall") or 1870s Japan ("The Last Samurai"), as Zwick has, Pittsburgh circa 1997 isn't such a stretch.
"It's not archaeological. There's all the stereo equipment and medical equipment and clothes, everything is available," Zwick said. "Sometimes you have to be careful with cars on the street but those cars are still around."
Nevertheless, this was a time of bulky flip phones, boom boxes, pagers and drug companies that pitched doctors instead of consumers, as with today's ads for everything from Boniva and Lunesta to Viagra.
"These commercials and ads have had a profound effect on sales for these companies," the director said.
Reidy was just one of many sources providing an insider's view of the pharmaceutical world. "What's remarkable to me is how eager people are to talk to people from the film business because they're not talking for attribution, it's all essentially deep background," the director said.
"It's been my experience that whether it's the CIA or the Department of Defense or the Justice Department or NASA or whomever, people have been more than eager to tell their stories and have it understood. And so, to that end, we've had quite a wonderful availability of voices."
In addition to McCandless, cast and crew have filmed at homes in Squirrel Hill and Fox Chapel along with the Mellon Arena, Omni William Penn, Gandy Dancer at Station Square and in Sewickley, Aliquippa, Brownsville and elsewhere.
Pittsburgh plays Pittsburgh and even a bit of Chicago. Jamie aspires to advance to the largest sales territory of a New York or Los Angeles or Chicago, so none of those cities fit the bill.
"We wanted a place that was urbane and had the requisite locations," which Pittsburgh with its rich medical history did, the director said. The state's tax credit program and its increasingly experienced and talented crew base also factored into the decision.
Pointing out the roughly 175 people working on the set this day, producer Pieter Jan Brugge said, "Many are local. They are terrific. That's one of the reasons why we're here, the wonderful crew. The film office here is pro-active. Very, as they say, user-friendly."
Although Zwick had never been to the city before scouting here, Brugge made his directing debut with "The Clearing" starring Robert Redford, Helen Mirren and Willem Dafoe and partially filmed here. "It was a great experience, really great," he said.
That movie featured Redford as a businessman who achieves wealth and success, only to be abducted by a former colleague who has lost his job. Brugge was ahead of the G-20 summit in recognizing Pittsburgh's evolution.
In July 2004, when the movie was released, he told the Post-Gazette, "I saw a picture of Pittsburgh in The New York Times, and I read about Pittsburgh and the fact that it was representative of old industrial America and had transformed itself into a new economy."
In the intervening years, Pittsburgh's ability to fill key jobs on a production has blossomed.
"Now, you have people who are on par with the best of what we could get out of Los Angeles, so it really has become a significant production center and with the incentive, it only grows and it brings an enormous benefit into the local economy," Brugge said.
The recently passed state budget includes a $42 million tax credit for this fiscal year and $60 million for the following year, down from $75 million.
Aware of stinging complaints about the commonwealth subsidizing Hollywood, Brugge says, "Every single individual, even if they are from out of the state of Pennsylvania, still pays Pennsylvania state taxes. And you have hotel, you have apartments, you have local lumber, you have local office supplies, you have telephone installation, catering and produce, local props and set dressing. There's an enormous amount that comes from the local community."
In fact, Lucia Leventis rented out her Squirrel Hill home of 30 years on Bartlett Street to the film crew for three days of production in late September. Her large house, built in 1875, plays the Chicago residence of Jamie's parents.
"I really don't know why they chose my house," she said. "I think they chose it because the space is appropriate for their cameras."
Scenes were shot mostly on the first floor using some of her furnishings and some furnishings and artwork that the film crew added. Some rooms were painted and Leventis had the option of getting them returned to their original colors but she liked the tints the production team chose, although she planned to ditch the curtains.
"I'd rather look at the trees," she said, adding that the film crew had been "most gracious" and treated her home with respect.
"I did meet Jake," Leventis said. "He's very sweet. I said, 'Jake, you sure are handsome.' "
On the sidewalk outside as crew members erected a "Neighborhood Viewer Area" sign in hopes of corralling onlookers into one area across the street, Gyllenhaal arrived to shoot his scenes, his pet German shepherd following closely behind.
Rivka, 18, and Debbie, 26, who declined to give their last names, shyly said hello to Gyllenhaal and pulled out their cameras as he walked past.
"I just said, 'Hi, good luck,' and he said, 'Thank you,' " Debbie recounted. "I don't want to bother him. He's a human being."
The two young women were excited to have the filmmakers in their neighborhood on the same days that coincided with the G-20 summit. "Nothing ever happens in Pittsburgh," Debbie said, prompting Rivka to wonder, "I don't know why it's compacted into two days."
"They can spread it out a little," Debbie said of the exciting goings-on. As it turns out, they're spreading it out this fall, with Gyllenhaal and Hathaway in town along with Russell Crowe and Elizabeth Banks in "The Next Three Days" and Denzel Washington and Chris Pine due for "Unstoppable."
First Published October 21, 2009 12:00 am