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“I Love You Phillip Morris” – Exclusive Interview with Glenn Ficarra

by The Next Family December 06, 2010

By: Brandy Black

On Friday afternoon I was able to catch up with the very busy Glenn Ficarra, Co-Director/Co-Writer of I Love You Phillip Morris. We chatted over the phone as he returned from a meeting in Santa Monica. Glenn and John Requa (you may remember them from Bad Santa) wrote and directed this fantastic film based on a true story about a con man / imposter Steven Russel (Jim Carrey), who, while incarcerated, fell in love with Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor). This is a romantic comedy with lots of twists and turns that leaves you wondering what Steven Russel will do next.

Brandy– Congrats! It’s opening night.

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Glenn – It’s been a long road. It’s been 7 years since we first started up.

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Brandy – What first interested you in the story?

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Glenn– It’s a true story, but it was so absolutely outrageous that you couldn’t deny that it would make a good movie and also that this guy did all of this wacked-out shit for love…it was endearing, you know? Undeniable.

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Brandy – How close is the movie to real life?

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Glenn– It’s pretty close. It’s close in the sense that the facts are all correct; the cons are correct. But a lot of the story is told through Steven Russell’s (Jim Carrey) eyes. It’s his version of events, and he’s a con man, so who knows how true it is? The stuff we know of on record, we kept to, but when he tells the story of him and Phillip (Ewan Mcgregor), he tells it like it’s the greatest love story ever told…but if you talk to Phillip Morris, it’s not quite that. Because he got dragged into all these crimes and he didn’t want anything to do with it. It’s not quite as romantic from Phillip’s point of view, so we just told it from Steven’s.

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Brandy– Did you get pushback from the actors regarding the content?

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Glenn– No, it never came up actually…the only discussion that was had was that they definitely wanted to make sure we were going to be sensitive to the material. We went in with the attitude that we were sick of the gay guy / best friend that can do no wrong, and we were sick of the movie that treats being gay like you have cancer…so the matter-of-factness is always a calculated way to go, because I’m pretty sure these people don’t walk around talking about how hard it is to be gay all the time. In the book, (Steven) never really mentioned anything about the sexuality being a problem; the only time he suffered any hardship was when he was keeping secrets from his wife and he felt really guilty about it. But he loved her dearly and he didn’t want to break her heart. We figured if he didn’t have any struggles with it, why should we?

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Brandy– Was it difficult to get the movie funded based on the topic?

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Glenn– It was definitely difficult. I think if it were a gay message movie it would have been easier because they could always hide behind that. But this is like audacious –at least, at the time it was. One studio asked us to change Phillip to a woman…

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Brandy– What?

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Glenn– “Yeah, you know, this would be such a great Jim Carrey movie if it were just a woman” –and that’s when we decided we had to write it for free, which we did. And once Jim got involved, it all came together pretty fast. Originally Gus Van Sant was going to direct the movie but then went off to do “Milk”. By that time we had gotten to know Jim, who said “You guys should do it.” And that’s how it happened. Then we secured the money in pretty short order.

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Brandy– You were honored for the Gotham Awards on your directorial debut for feature films –that’s pretty impressive.

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Glenn– You know, it was nice. It was an honor to be nominated. We didn’t really expect to win –comedies don’t usually get treated with very much respect in the awards world, even though in the dramatic terms of the movie, the actors were incredible. But for us it was cool to get a nomination; we never expected to get anything like that.

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Brandy– Do you have a preference –writing, directing, or both?

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Glenn– I like both. Preferably I like directing our own material; it’s pretty great.

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Brandy– You and John Requa are quite a team –co-directing, co-writing –have you been on the same page the whole time about your decisions?

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Glenn– We’ve been working together for 23 years. We went to college together. We have the longest same-sex relationship that I know of (laugh) and, like a married a couple, we don’t have sex. (laugh)

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Brandy– Exactly. (laugh)

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Glenn– We’ve been working together for so long we’re pretty much one mind. If somebody feels strongly about something in the rare case that we do disagree, we trust each other enough to go with the other person’s opinion.

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Brandy– I have a gripe with movies that are written and directed by the same person because oftentimes it could use more editing and this movie didn’t feel that way.

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Glenn– Well it’s nice to hear. We’re pretty ruthless in the editing room with our own material and we were actually ruthless on the set too. If something wasn’t working we would want to do re-writes and actually Jim Carrey wouldn’t let us…he got really precious about the script, which he never usually does.

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Brandy– Really?

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Glenn– Yeah it was really interesting…it was nice. He really loved the script.

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Brandy– That’s got to be nice to have an actor that invested.

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Glenn– Yeah, all the actors…I mean he and Ewan worked for free, basically. They were so committed to it and they were totally on point and never let up. They promoted the movie more than they might promote any other movie because we don’t have a lot of money for that either…so they’ve been indispensable.

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Brandy– Are you going to sneak into the Arclight in Hollywood this weekend?

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Glenn– I don’t know…I usually do that, but I’ve seen the movie so many times. (laugh) I always have the same fear that I’m going to walk in and the theatre will be empty. I don’t want to think about it…I have no idea if the advertising has gotten out there. I have no idea if people know about it. I really hope they do keep it alive for a few weeks so the movie can go wider and wider…it’s only in LA, San Francisco, and New York…

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It was a pleasure to speak with the very humble, smart, funny Glenn Ficarra. This must-see film is a refreshing, audacious comedy that will keep you delightfully entertained…and might even be a favorite for the year.
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The post “I Love You Phillip Morris” – Exclusive Interview with Glenn Ficarra appeared first on The Next Family.




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