Thursday, October 16, 2008
Nancy Morgan and Rance Howard on "Grand Theft Auto"
How did you first hear about Grand Theft Auto?
NANCY MORGAN: My agents were contacted by Ron! Can you imagine? The reason for that was when he was casting for this role he was for someone who, first and foremost, he didn't have to pay a lot. It couldn't be a star -- it had to be an unknown. At the time, one of my first movie that I'd ever acted in -- in fact, one of my first acting jobs ever, because I came to Hollywood untrained and unprepared -- was a movie called Fraternity Row, with Paul Newman's son, Scott Newman, in his first and only picture. And it was out in the theaters when Ron was casting and he liked my performance in it and found my agent.
What was the audition like?
NANCY MORGAN: Back then I used to say to myself, 'There are a lot of people here who know a lot about acting, but all I really know is that you just have to pretend that it's happening.' And so, during the audition process, I did as close to what I felt a human being would do under the circumstances, and that was to say the lines like I meant them, and then when Ron was talking to me, react to what he was saying. And that's all I knew -- that was about as much acting as I knew.
Ron later said to me, 'You know, I interviewed a couple hundred girls. Did you ever wonder why you got it?' And I said, 'Yeah.' And he said, 'Because you were the only one who, when you weren't speaking, was still listening.'
Because that was the only thing he told me, that was something that forever stuck with me as one of the things that was important and not everyone's top tool.
Did you handle any of the stunts yourself?
NANCY MORGAN: If you're a good driver, and you're a little bit fearless, you're going to do some of that stuff, because it makes it more exciting and real. So when those shots of us going, "Whoa!," I'm driving. When you see the car stop suddenly along the freeway, and fishtail along the edge, or start up really fast, it is me driving.
What I didn't do were any of the really long shots from the air -- those were all done where you can't see the people inside. The scenes where we're just talking were frequently towed. But I did a lot of driving.
Did you rehearse much?
NANCY MORGAN: The cars rehearsed. The stunts rehearsed. And the explosions rehearsed. We basically just had to know our lines and pretty much bring it to life. We would run through the scene once or twice, but really rarely for the acting of it. Ron knew what he was doing, so he didn't really need it. And every scene I was in was with Ron, so it was like, 'Could I do it? Did I know what I was doing or not?'
When you're hiring a young actress or actor and you know you're not going to have a lot of rehearsal time, you better do your best to get the person that you want to see, as opposed to the great actress who will be able to bring Paula to life. So, it's just me, saying the lines and trying to bring some life to them.
Looking at the script, there appeared to be a thousand interchangeable scenes of Ron and I in the car, talking about this and that. I understood enough about story to know that it had to build and climax and resolve. And so the first thing I did with my script was to break it down into an outline and had an understanding of where Ron and I were in our relationship, from the first scene to the last.
Ron, on several occasions -- since he was in charge of the whole picture, directing everything -- he realized that I had done this and that I was aware of where we were in the script at any given point in terms of his and my relationship. He would sometimes say, 'Where are we?' And I would say, 'Well, this has happened and this has happened and this has happened, but this hasn't happened yet, so we do know about this but we don't know about that.' And he's say, 'Okay. Got it thanks.'
My breaking it down was something that I could do that was helpful to him and that would orient him as to where we were in the scene, and then Ron just acts -- he doesn't even to have to worry.
RANCE HOWARD: Ron had acted in Eat My Dust, and it had been a huge success for Roger. He wanted to do another car chase/car crash film. Ron said, 'I will do another movie for you, with one additional job added.' And Roger said, 'What is that?' And Ron said, 'I want to direct. And Roger said, 'Well, Ron, you always looked like a director to me.'
Now the question becomes, what is the movie?
Who came up with the title?
RANCE HOWARD: Roger already had the title. He had tested it. It was going to be called Grand Theft Auto, and it was about young people on the run. He said, 'If you and your dad could come up with a story like that, we'd have a deal.'
So we sat down and put our heads together and started kicking ideas around. We did a treatment first; Roger read the treatment and loved it and we went right to script.
Why a Rolls Royce and the demolition derby?
RANCE HOWARD: We thought the Rolls Royce would be the perfect automobile for the girl's father to have, and then she would take his car because he had, in essence, taken her car. And then we'd put the car through all the punishment we could, in order to get back at her father, and then finally wreck it at the demolition derby.
I was fascinated with the demolition derby. At one time, Ron, Clint and I went to see a demolition derby, and it was just fascinating. At that time I had considered writing a script about a demolition derby. Then with Grand Theft Auto, it just seemed perfect for the car to end up in a demolition derby.
How was it for Ron working with his father and his brother on the movie? I'm guessing it's okay, as he's done it in just about every movie he's made since then.
I think any director likes to use people that he is familiar with and that he can trust and has confidence in. Both Clint and I fit nicely into those categories. And his mother, at that time, had been working quite a lot coordinating extras for other filmmakers. And so she coordinated a lot of the extras for that film, in particular the senior citizens on the bus.
Involving his mother, and his brother Clint -- an excellent actor, and who was at that time, almost as big a name as Ron -- in the film just made good sense.
We had been feeding the crew Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch every day, and they were getting close to a mutiny, because they didn't appreciate having Kentucky Fried Chicken for lunch every day. And, of course, the reason we were doing it was the most reasonably-priced thing we could give them.
Ron's wife, Cheryl heard about our problem, and she said, 'Let me cook lunch. Give me the budget that you're spending for the Kentucky Fried Chicken, and I'll prepare a hot lunch for the crew.' And I said, 'Cheryl, you don't want to do that.' And she said, 'Yes, I do. I can do that.'
She enlisted the help of her grandmother, and they prepared lunches on that budget that -- if you run into any of the crew to this day -- they will comment on what great food Cheryl provided for that shoot.
What's the biggest lesson you took away from the experience?
RANCE HOWARD: Stand up for what you believe in. For example, if we had allowed ourselves to be easily talked out of it being a comedy and cut it as a straight action picture.
You need to be tenacious; you need to stick to your guns, but at the same time, you have to be prepared to compromise and negotiate. That was really driven home to me, the importance of compromise. There are a lot of aspects of making a film where you can compromise. In some places, you can't. You need to know what compromises can be made and what compromises can't be made.
Coming to that realization is important: understanding that you're not going to get everything you want, you're going to get part of what you want.
Filmmaking is a team effort, it's really team work. We happened to have a great team.