Life of Crime is a wonderfully wicked tale filled with outrageously eccentric characters, sly comedy and surprising twists based on Elmore Leonard’s darkly funny novel, The Switch. When a couple of low-level criminals kidnap the wife of a corrupt real estate developer, they get both more and less than they bargained for in this cool crime caper adapted for the screen and directed by Daniel Schechter. The film stars Jennifer Aniston, John Hawkes, Yasiin Bey, Mark Boone Junior, Isla Fisher, Will Forte and Tim Robbins and will be released in theaters and VOD on August 29th.
At the film’s recent press day, Schechter, Aniston, Hawkes, and Forte talked about making a film set in the 70s, what appealed to Schechter about Leonard’s The Switch and made it perfect for adapting to the screen, the brilliance of Leonard’s dialogue, Aniston’s duo role as actor and executive producer and her future plans to direct, how Hawkes found the right balance playing a lovable criminal, the chemistry between the actors, their preparation for the physical scenes, what they learned from each other, and Forte’s upcoming role in his new Fox TV series Last Man on Earth directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Check out the interview after the jump.
JENNIFER ANISTON: It’s a tough look. I mean, it was awesome for the time and a lot of fun to wear all of that polyester and the handkerchiefs around the neck. My favorite piece of my wardrobe was the sunglasses. Basically, I looked like my mom. I pulled out a lot of her old pictures and just tried to rock the old Nancy Aniston 1970’s look.
You were also executive producer on this. What made you invest in that part of making the film, too?
ANISTON: (points to director Daniel Schechter) Well, this man. That was pretty much from the get go. I had a meeting with him and he just impressed me to no end. And I was so excited because I’ve always loved Elmore Leonard and I hadn’t read The Switch, which was the theatrical name. But then, we had to switch because there was already a movie called The Switch about best friends making a baby. Then, I read the book and it was such a fun, wonderful story. I love how he writes his characters. They’re all so interesting and detailed. Also, his bad guys aren’t the brightest, but yet they somehow always make it happen. They’re the most charming and they’re actually lovable. I also thought that Mickey (Aniston’s character) has such a beautiful arc and a powerful one in that time. For him to write that for a woman in the 70’s was pretty awesome. The whole package was really exciting for me, and then, knowing that I would get to work with this man and Yasiin (Bey) and all those who were onboard already. It was pretty much a no brainer.
John, you are one of the most lovable criminals we have seen on screen in a long time. How did you find that balance and at the same time develop that great relationship that we see grow between Louis (Hawkes’ character) and Mickey?
JOHN HAWKES: A lot of it’s on the page. A lot of it’s in the book and in Dan’s wonderful screenplay. But I was most interested in the relationship between Mickey and Louis. There’s a scene where we’re at my place right before she goes home where I suggested to Dan that maybe there could be a slight almost move or slight touch of her where we begin to wonder if something might happen. Then, when it doesn’t, one thing I love about Louis is his grace through it all that he’s not despondent, and then he sees her again and he’s happy to see her, and the movie ends with them all getting ready to be a team for a moment, which is pretty great.
ANISTON: It’s a great love story.
HAWKES: I know that I didn’t want to come on screen and for the audience to say there’s a cuddly bad guy. There’s a lovable bad guy. It’s important for the story for us to worry about Mickey as well as that Louis needed to be a guy who felt like he was formidable, and he did have some darkness and a bit of a rough side to him early on, so that we don’t play the ending in other words, and hopefully that unfolds more than we look at him and say, “Oh there’s a sweet guy that I would trust.” So, it was a great challenge to try to lay the character out in pieces and have it add up to something that made sense.
DANIEL SCHECHTER: I don’t think we ever assessed this John, but John is very smart and almost hard on the script. He really likes to test it to make sure everything makes.
HAWKES: You wrote for reasons beyond his comprehension. sense. The one scene I didn’t know how to explain was the scene where you give the tennis racket to Mickey, because there’s not a great explanation for it. He has no motive in that scene. It’s just a reckless thing that he does, and I was terrified to talk about it with you.
SCHECHTER: Yeah. I wanted to preemptively say, “Why do you think he gives her the tennis racket?” and John says, “Because she’s beautiful.” It was like that was just immediately obvious.
ANISTON: That’s all we need.
HAWKES: I thought it went deeper than that.
Dan, you’ve read all the Elmore Leonard novels and I wondered what it was about The Switch that appealed to you and made you want to adapt that particular one?
SCHECHTER: I don’t think they’d all make great films, even the ones that are really good books, but this one felt really adaptable. It felt like a movie as I was reading it. I could see it in my eye. And it felt like the epitome of what he does. There’s a very basic crime at the heart of it, and then the characters are what I find super fascinating about the story and how they bump up against each other and their motives. They were just seven roles that I wanted to see cast like a fan, like a Harry Potter fan that wanted to see all those great actors fill all those roles. And I thought I could do it and it was tight. It was almost Hitchcockian in a sense. It wasn’t a largely ambitious film so I thought it made a good indie. It was all those reasons and more. This one was clearly the one I wanted to do.
ANISTON: And didn’t you write it in like a week? You adapted it?
SCHECHTER: It was a highly adaptable book. But the first draft I did, I took it off my bookshelf and I experimented with it. The first scene I wrote was the one between Marshall (Forte’s character) and Mickey where they’re flirting at the window. I said I’ll just see what happens if I transcribe this, and I loved the scene, and I did that to most of it and did some fun editorial stuff. Yeah, I think eight days I had my first draft that I Hail Mary’d to this guy Michael Siegel who represents Elmore Leonard’s materials. He took pity on me and gave me a shot to do it.
Jennifer, in the movie, you have to wear a ski mask with the duct tape over your eyes. What was that like? Also, you get roughed up a little bit in this movie. How did you prepare for those physical scenes?
ANISTON: I didn’t prepare. I just let them hurt me. That’s the best way to get a real reaction it turns out. And the ski mask was kind of great. It’s weird. It’s a lot to build to try to convey emotion when everything that usually does is covered up. It was really fun for me. (to Schechter) We worked a lot on that ski mask. It was lined with silk so we didn’t get some rashes on the old faccia. It was a very well made ski mask.
SCHECHTER: Our Assistant Director liked it a lot because it meant no hair and make-up.
ANISTON: That was the other fun thing. That day you didn’t have to put your eyes on.
The chemistry between Jennifer and John is instantaneous. Also, Will was always in the background, but there was chemistry there, too. It was like a backstory that we didn’t know about but you guys dialogued with your eyes. How did the chemistry between you guys play out?
ANISTON: I think that stuff is just natural. I don’t think you can force it or create it. We got along instantly when we met, and we were both interested actors. We’re interested in the story and that very subtle, odd, not even love story, but that’s sort of what unfolds which we both thought was really interesting. Chemistry is chemical, man. I don’t know how you make it. And Forte…
WILL FORTE: I actually went to an eye acting school.
ANISTON: Look at those baby blues.
It’s too bad Will didn’t have a beard in the movie. (referring to his appearance and the beard he’s grown for his upcoming TV series)
ANISTON: Can you believe that?
FORTE: It’s freaky. I’m sorry. I apologize to everyone. At least there’s not a sandwich up here.
HAWKES: I know from my end it’s like a script saying the character is charismatic or something. There’s no way to really play that. So, I think as Jennifer said, it’s interested actors. I don’t even know if Jennifer remembers but we worked together long ago and then we’ve done 24 Hour Plays. We met a couple of times and I’d seen you at work. I think a lot of admiration helped as well. It just makes it easier when someone is open and game to work. That helps.
HAWKES: You’re only as good as the people around you. I mean truly.
ANISTON: For sure.
HAWKES: We were lucky.
ANISTON: Very lucky.
HAWKES: You were very lucky to work with us.
All the male characters feel like they’re in control but they’re the most feckless, and the women, even in the position of being kidnapped, still seem to have more control than the men? How did that reverberate in how you directed the actors and how they developed their characters?
SCHECHTER: I was saying to John earlier that one of the main things that really attracted me to the book was how these men who had their own very selfish motives would abandon their own self-interest to lust after a beautiful woman. They all make these reckless decisions as the film goes on, because either consciously or unconsciously these women are manipulating them and controlling them. It’s something that was shown on Game of Thrones the other day. Women have to find power where they can find it in certain times throughout history. This is 1978 when the movie takes place, and by this time, most women were probably a little further in making their way. Mickey was even ten years earlier than that in terms of the mentality of how she felt as a woman in society. I find to see her gain power through the movie very empowering.
How did that manifest in how you played the characters?
ANISTON: Again, it was pretty much on the page. Pretty much Mickey was living in the Petrified Forest with Frank (Robbins’ character) and very repressed, emotionally abused, and had no way and didn’t even know how to make a move to get out of that jail. Oddly enough, the kidnapping is her ‘get out of jail free’ card. As the story progressed and her situation became more dire, that’s how she found that strength like women do when faced with unimaginable circumstances.
SCHECHTER: Part of the pleasure of reading the book was that when we meet Mickey, she’s putting on proverbial masks for the country club and her children and her husband, and then when she gets kidnapped. She’s like, “I don’t have to put on airs for these jerks that kidnapped me. I can just see who I am and want to be in this situation.” She seems to really find her voice.
ANISTON: I’m not going to lose.
ANISTON: It was pretty awesome. I mean, he really was a jerk. Just a jerk. No. He’s lovable and a teddy bear is an understatement. And he is quite towering. He’s a towering figure, for sure. With those scenes, it was really intense but fun and awesome to play, especially towards the end when she grows a good set of balls and just takes him over. It’s pretty fun. He’s a lovely man and I’ve known him for a long time. So, it was fun to have him beat me up a little bit.
Jennifer, you have such amazing energy. Are you always this way on set and what makes you most happy and fulfilled at this stage in your life?
ANISTON: I don’t know. The room. Look at the room. We’ve got a great room.
HAWKES: There’s a lot of love in this room.
ANISTON: Yeah. You can feel when there’s no love in the room and you leave that room. (Laughter) Right? Sometimes you can’t.
HAWKES: Usually I can’t.
ANISTON: I’m just excited. I’m happy. Of course, we’re not always happy, but there are moments of … It’s like when you get sick and you go, “Oops, I’m sick” and then you get better and you go, “Oh my God! This is the most amazing thing in the world. Health. That’s awesome.” You forget that you actually felt that way before you were sick. That’s a terrible analogy.
FORTE: There was a very wonderful, nurturing environment. I had met Jennifer at SNL when she had hosted, but I wasn’t in a ton of stuff in that show, so I didn’t really get to know her at all. So, this is really the first time I’ve gotten to know her and it just immediately felt comfortable. She is so good. She’s wonderful. I can’t say enough about you. You’re wonderful. And John, I’d never met before. There were quick friendships made. Everyone is very sweet and respectful and Dan makes it very fun. He’s really energetic, too. It was a great work experience and friendship experience.
HAWKES: One of the joys of getting to work in movies is the other people that they hire. You get really excited and think, “Wow, I get to work with Jennifer and I get to meet Will Forte.”
FORTE: He was really nervous.
SCHECHTER: There’s one scene together with Will as an unconscious body on the floor.
FORTE: But you were given an unconscious gift. Tim Robbins went on and on. This is one of the joys of the business is to get to meet and work with people you admire. That’s what makes me happy. That, and there were complimentary drinks today.
ANISTON: There were?
FORTE: Yes. Soft drinks.
Jennifer, more and more often, you wear different paths in the industry. Are there still some things that you haven’t done that you’re looking forward to trying to do, either as a producer or as a director?
ANISTON: To direct, absolutely. That’s the one, the next thing, the big hurdle I want to take on. I’ve done a few short films that I just loved the experience of doing, and I’m just waiting for that wonderful window and that wonderful script, and that will be the next one for me.
Is there a genre or a style that you think you’re going to be best suited to, to make that directorial film?
ANISTON: Well I wouldn’t say like horror films or like a Matrix kind of thing.
I’d like to see that.
ANISTON: I’d definitely like to see it, too. But I don’t think you’d like to see my directorial version of that. Everyone would somehow be really bad at it. Maybe that’d be fun. I love the human experience. I love human beings and behavior and relationships, and it will probably have something to do with that.
John, I was wondering if you’d seen Jackie Brown and seen your character in that before you even got this and realized it was the same character? Did you read The Switch book to get a feeling about your character in this?
HAWKES: I’m embarrassed to say that among the movies I’ve never seen are Gone with the Wind, Casablanca, The Godfather series, any of them. It’s terrible. So luckily for me on that list was Jackie Brown which I hadn’t seen, because there’s no worse curse to me personally as an actor than when a director says, “Do you remember Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now?” Or the script says that. I once got cast in a television series and it said, “Think Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.” Believe me, that’s all I could think the rest of the time. And so, for me, if a director suggests a piece of music or a painting or something, it makes much more sense to me than some other performance. And I’ve heard of Robert DeNiro, but…no, I’m a huge, huge fan so it was really wonderful not to have to try to walk in his footsteps. I hadn’t read any Elmore Leonard novels. I was more of a Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald kind of guy for that kind of crime fiction, but I had always certainly heard of Elmore Leonard. I was really happy when I read The Switch and what a terrific book it was and how informative it was as far as character study and things like that. I did not read Rum Punch in preparation. The script is the Bible, but certainly the book was a really wonderful aid and sidepiece to what we were trying to do.
SCHECHTER: A cool thing Elmore Leonard once said that I saw in an interview was that when he wrote The Switch, he knew that one day Louis or Ordell (Bey’s character) would kill the other, but he didn’t know who was who. And then, 20 years later, he wrote Rum Punch.
HAWKES: Don’t tell me who.
SCHECHTER: I’m not going to say anything. I’m just saying, “Isn’t that kind of cool?” That’s all. That’s it. Moving on.
HAWKES: One of us doesn’t live?
ANISTON: Don’t tell him.
SCHECHTER: I’m not going to say anything.
SCHECHTER: It was harder than we thought to make a dent in that car.
FORTE: It really speaks to the cars of the 70’s. They’re very well put together. And it was a very cold day. So, gripping onto that thing, every whack you’re feeling it through your entire body. As fun and therapeutic as it was, it was also physically very painful.
SCHECHTER: This was something I didn’t even have to say to Will in the second take, which was, “Really go for it.” He right away, just immediately, went apeshit on that car.
FORTE: How many chances do you get to do stuff like that? It was really fun.
Jennifer, one of my favorite scenes in this film is your character’s relationship with her teenage son (played by Charlie Tahan) and your rapport in that scene in the car. How did you guys develop this chemistry? How was it playing the mother role?
ANISTON: Again, it was pretty much written in the script. In that particular scene, it’s difficult because there isn’t that flow of communication that kids and parents have today where they talk about everything. It was kind of taboo to do [then]. She knew how bad the situation was with her husband, and she was hearing him kind of act out or throw away some jabs at him, and her first instinct was always to be the good woman and the good wife. And then, it was such a beautiful exchange between then because it was sort of silent. It was more of a… (to Schechter) How would you explain it?
SCHECHTER: Acting with the eyes.
ANISTON: Acting with the eyes and also just with knowing that, “We’ll talk. I know that you’re unhappy and that you know that I’m unhappy.” He obviously could see that he wasn’t treating me well. But at that time, she didn’t know how to tell him that she agreed with it. Again, it’s just one of those wonderful scenes that you get to play. It’s beautifully written and he’s adorable. He was a wonderful young actor.
SCHECHTER: He’s in a movie now called Love Is Strange and he’s remarkable in that film. That actor gave me the gift of ‘okay that’s definitely the person you cast’ when he came in to audition. The only thing I want to add to what you said is you called me the night before and you were reading the chapter in the book and you said, “Oh can we add…” We added six to ten lines in because we had a lot of freedom from our producers and people who were helping us make the film. You seemed tickled by that, that we could do that, that we could call an audible.
ANISTON: An audible. What part did we add?
SCHECHTER: That’s the last sport reference I’ll make, I promise.
HAWKES: You hit that out of the park.
Jennifer, you are in the admirable position of other than Isla being the main girl in the whole film. What did you learn from your fellow actors and what would they say about you?
ANISTON: That’s a very hard question to answer. You want to know what Isla would say about me?
ANISTON: I don’t know. Isla and I are really good friends and have been for a very, very long time. I think they would say we had a lot of fun together. We were all really excited to work together and that was clear from the beginning, from the first rehearsals. Our leader, Dan, starts at the top with his enthusiasm and his love of all of the characters. I think that’s what they would say. I don’t know. Ask them.
What did you learn from each one of them as actors because they all have such diverse backgrounds?
ANISTON: Oh my God, one of the beautiful things about these amazing [actors]… You always find surprises about people, about the way they work, and to see certain people come on and they just [bring it]. It’s there. And then, I love the curiosity – Tim, especially. John, especially. Will, you’re just instinctual, I would say. We also would try to figure out… You were having a hard time trying to figure out how to walk that line of being a dick… I’m sorry!
SCHECHTER: First, it was finding the right tone because he didn’t want to be too goofy. There’s a scene where they’re flirting at the window that I like where they’re both sort of like… I had both takes where they were colder to each other and maybe Will was a little creepier and then one where he’s a little bit more seductive and Jen is a little more flirty. It was fun to have those kinds of options.
ANISTON: It’s wonderful to know that everybody has moments of getting stomped. Sometimes as an actor you go, “Oh God, I should know how to do this. I should know. I’m having trouble finding this moment.” It’s great when you have actors that you can actually communicate that with and you don’t feel like, “I shouldn’t be asking.” Everyone is a student. They were all so… I think we’re all always students and those guys especially. I mean, this particular team. It’s different than a comedy where you’re just riffing on each other. This was a real character study and trying to understand the story and how much you want to reveal. That’s my very Cuisinarted answer to your question.
What did you feel was your character’s defining moment? Was there a scene in particular that you were worried about getting absolutely right to define relationships or tone or anything like that?
ANISTON: Well, there were a couple. The scene when she goes back to confront Frank. That was one. Then there was the scene with the three guys and the mask and I’m trying to figure out what the hell was going on. Those were moments that I remember struggling with. And then, there’s also the scene when I’m asking John if he’s going to kill me. It’s hard to know the level of fear and hysteria. You just want it to be honest. Sometimes I found myself having a hard time understanding that because it’s so far away from anything I’ve ever had to walk through. Those were moments where you actually feel like when you’ve completed the scene you’re like, “Ah, I did it!”
Will, going back to what you were talking about where you had to play this guy with all these demons and you’re in love with someone, where did you find your inspiration for your character?
FORTE: Like they said, a lot of it is it’s such a well written script. It comes from an incredibly well written book. So, I read the book and the script. It really tells you. But still, it was workshopping with Dan a little bit to find the right tone because we really didn’t want to make it too goofy. There could have been this element of real goofiness to it. So, we just found the right level to make sure it was capturing the essence of the character, but in a believable way.
Dan, you mentioned the adaptation process. When you have someone like Elmore Leonard who is such an iconic writer, what do you bring to it? What do you put in of your own voice to add to that?
SCHECHTER: There definitely was angst because he was someone who I admired enormously, and he loved to publicly shit on the adaptations that he hated. And personally, my goal was to be in the top group that he was proud of or held his head high about. So, there was enormous self-pressure that I had to please him. To me, it was like reading music and I could hear it in my head, and it was so interesting and the casting process and the notes you get, and people all had different interpretations of it. But I’m like, “No. I really think I get the tone of this.” With every decision that these guys made or just the casting of these guys, it could go either way. It was a tightrope that I really enjoyed walking.
Will, is the beard for a role? It looks great.
FORTE: I’m in a Fox show called Last Man on Earth and we start in a couple of weeks. Five months so far I have not groomed at all. I guess I don’t need to say that by the way. I mean, I shower.
Do you like it?
FORTE: The show or the beard?
FORTE: Uh, no. There is a point where it becomes more than a beard, more of like a hair jail. I’ve had a beard before, but this one is not grooming. It’s this part. Everything else is fine.
ANISTON: How do you eat? Honestly.
FORTE: Sometimes I try and do this. (Tries to pull his beard aside to reveal his mouth)
ANISTON: Do you part it?
FORTE: If you’re trying to drink something, if you lean back, it all just… A sandwich, your first bite is you bite into the hair, and it’s pulling down, and you have to really open wide.
Is your character a Neanderthal?
FORTE: No. It’s the last man on Earth. A fake beard sucks. So I will always, if given the chance, try to do the real thing.