Director David Dobkin‘s 2014 legal drama The Judge snagged Robert Duvall an Oscar nomination for the role of a small-town judge butting heads with his high-powered attorney son (Robert Downey Jr.). However, we were about two meetings away from a very different movie, as Oscar-winner Jack Nicholson just barely missed out on Duvall’s role with a request for heavy rewrites. In an interview with Collider’s Steve Weintraub to discuss Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Dobkin revealed that it came down to Nicholson vs. the material in Bill Dubuque and Nick Schenk‘s script.
“We had two meetings with him. He wanted the script rewritten much more than we did, which was a concern. So we went back, Robert [Downey Jr.] and I, we sat with him again. Then we just had to realize…we just felt like defending the material. We were concerned with where we would had to have gone to get Jack happy. I had Robert in and we were off to the races and we were basically greenlit on the movie so I didn’t want to go back into writing. But they were really fun conversations. Jack is a hell of a storyteller. It was a different movie. It wasn’t right or wrong notes, it was a little bit different. A little more isolated. A little smaller. Less of the brothers. A little less of what was going on. It was a very interesting film. But right after that, I remember walking out of his house with Robert and looking at him and saying, “I don’t know…”. We had been working on that script for two years. I was like “I don’t know if we can go back to writing.” He was like “No, we’re not. Who’s next?” I was like, “It’s gotta be Bobby Duvall.” He’s like, “Alright.” And that’s how it happened. It was a one-two thing.”
Passing on Jack Nicholson while you’re standing in Jack Nicholson’s drivway is…not the easiest thing in the world, and the decision gets tougher in hindsight. Nicholson effectively retired from acting after 2010’s How Do You Know, which means, hypothetically, The Judge could’ve replaced that film as his final performance.
“You’d do almost anything to get him in a movie. By the way, he hasn’t been in a movie since. Man, he’s one of my all-time favorites. It was a hard call. But I loved the movie, Robert loved the movie, we had a slot, and we were going to miss it if we did as big a rewrite as he wanted to do. And some movies you do that. Some movies you don’t. One of the lovely things about that film…that movie is shot very straight. It’s a coverage movie. It’s all about the performances. I didn’t try and move the camera a lot or push things cinematically. I had [cinematographer Janusz Kaminski], so I let him do the lighting. But there’s a certain joy to the movie of just backing off and watching people just perform the material. Bill Dubuque wrote an unbelievable draft of that script.”
Be on the look-out for the rest of our interview with Dobkin over the next few days. Until then, check out what he had to say about the status of Wedding Crashers 2.