By Alan Scherstuhl
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The temperature hangs in the mid-70s in Miami, and New York City-based actor/writer/director John Turturro remarks, "It's just so nice to be outside. I'm so happy to be outside."
Though it's breezy, his neat crop of salt-and-pepper hair remains unshakable. He sits in the shade of a large gazebo at the Standard hotel, not far from the bay, and the light that shines from the sea and sky gives his gray eyes an extra translucent quality. They also gleam with an eagerness to talk about the first feature film he has directed since 2005's Romance & Cigarettes.
Middle-age love stories have often been difficult for Hollywood to cover, but not for Turturro, who knows how to pull rich humor and charming pathos from the subject.
"I think love and needing to be loved, to be touched, to connect, it's a universal thing," he says. "It never ends."
So many Hollywood films romanticize naive, young love, be they high-schoolers confronting prom or 20-somethings saying "I do." Here comes Turturro with Fading Gigolo, casting himself as a middle-aged florist pushed into prostitution by his older friend (Woody Allen) to satisfy the fantasy of a beautiful doctor (Sharon Stone) seeking a ménage à trois involving her best friend (Sofia Vergara).
"I see so many films, and sometimes they make me laugh, but they don't really speak to me just because they don't have anything to do with me," Turturro says. "I thought it would be nice to do something funny, and Woody encouraged me to make this as nuanced and sophisticated as possible."
In Fading Gigolo, Allen takes his first lead role for another director since he voiced an ant in 1998's animated hit Antz. Turturro admits Allen gave him a lot of welcome input into his film's script.
"He definitely gave me merciless criticism — the structure, 'this is too broad, this is that,' " he says. "Then I would rewrite it . . . He didn't tell me what to write. I let him improvise a little bit, and he came up with some really funny things, but he stuck to the script."
Fading Gigolo is also Allen's first film since his adopted daughter Dylan Farrow stepped forward with accusations that he sexually molested her when she was a child. Asked whether he is concerned that the news might overshadow his film, Turturro says, "I hope people can watch the film and receive the film in the spirit in which it was made. He's my friend, and I love working with him, and I would work with him again."
Around the time of this film's release, Turturro will costar with Philip Seymour Hoffman in God's Pocket. Hoffman's sudden passing following a drug overdose casts another shadow of a scandal involving the cult of celebrity that Turturro will have to address. He has genuine respect for the younger actor, who died at age 46. Remembering him, Turturro says, "He really loved my work when he was starting out, and I didn't know that until he expressed that to me, and I was told later on. He auditioned for me for [my directorial debut] Mac, and once I saw him, I was like, 'Wow, this guy is unbelievable' . . . I think there are people for whom [acting] cost them a lot . . . and Philip was one of those guys."
With age, not only does love grow more complex, but there's also the ever-hungrier specter of death, and the 57-year-old Turturro admits he's getting uncomfortably familiar with it.
"I'm still reeling from both [James] Gandolfini, who I worked with, obviously, and Phil," he says as he turns toward the bay and looks not only over it but also beyond it for a pause. "Those are two special people in different ways, very special people."
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