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April 2007
SMOKINŐ ACES: An Interview with Director Joe Carnahan

SMOKINŐ ACES: An Interview with Director Joe Carnahan
By Wilson Morales

April 13, 2007

With the growing number of DVD purchases each year, a lot of films that didn’t do well at the box office gain a new appreciation and cult status once they become available for the masses to watch at home. I remember how last year, the box office receipts weren’t kind for “Running Scared” which starred Paul Walker, yet it did very well once the DVD came out. With the release of “Smokin Aces” coming to stores on April 17, blackfilm.com had a chance to talk with Director Joe Carnahan, and his thoughts on how his film may do once it becomes available to the public on DVD. He also talked about the other projects he has lined up including Killing Pablo, with Javiert Bardem. In “Smokin’ Aces”, aAn FBI agent (Ryan Reynolds) hunts for a Las Vegas stand up comedian (Jeremy Piven) who has decided to squeal on the mob but, before he heads off for protective custody, decides to go to the casinos at Lake Tahoe for one last good time, drawing a crowd of bounty hunters and assassins (including Ben Affleck and Alicia Keys).

There are 18 deleted scenes on the DVD. Why leave so many scenes off from the film?

Joe Carnahan: I thought at some point that you have to make some tough decisions and you have to use the ones that you have great belief in at the moment. Not that the scenes are less than ones shown in theaters, but you also have running time issue and a lot of things. What’s great about it is that everyone is reunited in the orphanage, that is DVD. Everyone comes together, which is great because it allows for people who are inexperience in DVD to be fully into it and develop a great appreciation for the movie. They can read into stuff and make different connections that you can’t do watching it one time in the theaters.

What’s the difference between alternatives and deleted scenes?

JC: I think if you are going to have a director’s cut of the movie, that should be the one that’s in the theaters. I think doing it two different ways sometimes applies well. We saw it this way and they saw it the other way, and so there is a compromise version. When you let that film go out in theaters, it better have your full endorsement. At the same time, there are certain director’s cuts where they just wanted the film to be longer.

When you have an alternative version on the DVD, is that the one that was less marketable?

JC: No. That was the ending in the original script and I chose to go a different way and make it a bit more dramatic. I call it the cowboy ending. I thought it was important to include in the DVD.

Were you happy or disappointed by the box office receipts?

JC: I was happy because I thought it would do right about what it did, honestly. I never thought it would a big film. There are a lot of smoking aces that I consider very experimental. There’s a combination of comedy and drama and really try to intergrate those two things almost back to back. That’s a really difficult thing to do. So, I never thought that it was going to blow the lid off. I was really happy with what it did do. At the end of the day, “Smokin Aces” will outgross films like “Zodiac” and “Shooter” and movies that cost $65 and $70 million dollars to produce. In that respect, and we opened on a lot less screens. I was really happy with the results. I think on DVD, it will really find its audience. The same scenario happened with “Narc”. That film found its footing after the fact. It built its fans on DVD. Smokin Aces will be the same thing.

What was the fun of shooting the film?

JC: Everything. I didn’t have one day where, the whole process was really exhilarating. For the first time I would be on the floor in a while so I ate every bit of it and really relish the opportunity to get back in there. The most enjoyable part with me is always working with the actors. That’s always the most fun.

Do you follow up with any of them now?

JC: Absolutely. I’ve developed good friendships with Common, and Jeremy (Piven) and Ryan (Reynolds) and Jason Batemen and I are working together on something eles, so yeah, and I have been friends with Ray (Liotta) for years. Martin Henderson and I have become good friends. I got a lot of lasting friendships out of that.

Where are you now in terms of what you are filming?

JC: I’m starting “White Jazz” with George Clooney at the end of this year; and that will take me into 2008 into “Killing Pablo”. I’m very excited about those two opportunities.

From what I read, you will not be using any of the characters from “LA Confidential” in “White Jazz” because of legal issues with ownership of the characters, right?

JC: Yes, exactly.

How different will this be from the book?

JC: The basic storyline will still be the same. It will be a bit different, but it is like an “LA Confidential 2”, even though “White Jazz” is the sequel in the book world. I’m bummed out on one end that I can’t get someone like Guy Pearce to his character again, but at the same time, that idea that he’s going to be in “LA Confidential 2” with Russell Crowe, that’s exciting just as a fan of that movie. I’m perfect fine with “White Jazz” existing on its own kind of universe. The Exley character is really the only carry-over from LA Confidential, so it’s not that big of a compromise.

What are you bringing to the story of Pablo Escobar?

JC: I’m a huge fan of Mark Bowden’s book and I think there’s an extraordinary Shakespearian tale in Pablo’s rise and fall and I made the decision to start with him at the top or actually the bottom, the end of his empire. I start with the last hour of his life and then cut back in time and return to the present and intercut the past and the present. I like the structure with the film. It’s like “The Godfather” as an action film.

Is it going to be as kinetic as “Smokin Aces”?

JC: Parts of it, absolutely! There will other parts where it’s more meditative; something with Pablo where you are trying to stay as true and as much integrity to the real story as possible. I think you have a greater responsibility in you have to proceed with a lot more caution and care. I’m certainly mindful of that.

Who do see playing Pablo Escobar?

JC: Javier Bardem. Javier and I have been dancing around this for a number of years. I’m going to lock him up come hell or high water. I’m very determined.

What about “Bunny Lake is Missing”?

JC: You know what. We had a window to do Bunny Lake and unfortunately it closed. The closer I go “White Jazz”, which didn’t become tenable. Reece (Witherspoon) was weary toward spending time away from her children. If it ever comes up again, it won’t be until a few years. We had a moment where we thought we could pull it off, but it wishful thinking on everyone’s part.

Are there any projects that you are writing that you won’t direct?

JC: I’m finishing up a spec that I wrote called “The Grey”, which I really love. It’s a man against nature thing. I don’t know if I’ll direct that. I also wrote this thing for Warner Bros. called “The Divide” with the idea to direct it. I rewrote it, like a page 1 rewrite and I don’t want to do that, but it was a great experience.

Why should folks pick up the DVD of “Smokin Aces”?

JC: Because you are missing one of the truly unusual unique wonderful freak shows on DVD right now. There aren’t many movies that can lay claim to absurdity and pure visceral fun than Smokin Aces can. The DVD extras and deleted scenes are really well done and I think you’ll have a great time watching it.

SMOKIN’ ACES DVD in stores on April 17, 2007



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