Before heading off to CineVegas to show his two latest films, the feature comedy Go Go Tales, about a failing strip club, and Chelsea on the Rocks, a documentary about the Chelsea Hotel, the 56-year-old maverick director Abel Ferrara took some time off to speak with Las Vegas Weekly from his New York apartment. We spent a good deal of the time talking about his cat and his time with Milos Forman in Marrakesh. He even put his girlfriend, actress Shanyn Leigh (who appears in both films), on the phone to say hi. In between, we actually managed to talk a bit about his two new films.
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I saw a definite connection between Go Go Tales and the John Cassavetes film The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
Yeah, definitely. That was one of the templates, that and Woody Allen’s Broadway Danny Rose. We looked at those more than once, even though we know ’em by heart anyway. It was our first intentional comedy.
The money shot, of course, is the shot of Asia Argento playing a stripper and making out with the dog onstage.
She started off being scared of the dog, trying to talk me out of using the dog, and the next day she’s riding the dog around. She got that performance out of the dog. When the film played at Cannes, that became not only the shot of our movie, but the shot of the festival! If I had to answer one more question about that dog, and her ... It was just a spontaneous thing.
A lot of the cast you’d worked with before, but this was your first time with Bob Hoskins ...
It was the first time we really worked with Hoskins. We sprung that part on him at the last second. He was going to be the accountant. But I thought he would be better as the baron. But to ask an actor to do that two or three days before the film? We never met each other; he looked at me and said, “You look like you’re about to tell me your grandmother died.” He was great, asking things like, “Do we take liberties with the girls?” or “Do we sleep on the premises?” He said, “I heard there would be a bit of lunacy with your group.” You really need a rapport among the actors. My dream is to do a TV series based on those characters in that situation. There’s a backstory to all those girls. I want to do a TV thing where you could really stretch out, like The Sopranos. We’ll see.
The common theme between Go Go Tales and Chelsea on the Rocks is corporate scum swooping in and turning everything human into something kind of antiseptic and soulless.
It’s funny how it comes around to that. The individual isn’t who they once were, what Woody Allen was and obviously Cassavetes was.
You moved into the Chelsea for the purpose of making Chelsea on the Rocks. How long were you there?
Six months. A friend of mine used to live there. Visiting is one thing, but being there is something else. It’s a strange place. They check in for a weekend and leave 16 years later. It definitely has its advantages, like very thick walls. I think that’s where the music thing comes from. There are not a lot of places you can play your guitar in the middle of the night and not have people call the police. That’s what’s being really lost [in the sale of the hotel] is that they no longer want to have long-term residents.
It’s kind of the same thing with distributors and your work. You continue to have a hard time with that.
Go Go Tales is supposed to be released through IFC, but I don’t want to talk about that. The truth is that whatever happens, these films are made. They exist. They get out there.
Go Go Tales plays June 16 at 9 p.m. and June 18 at 1:30 p.m.