When asked why the male protagonist, Carlo, is an emigre from Italy, the director and producer of the film (Daniel Pace) responds: "I wanted to bring into the relationship a foreign element, a different point of view from what Mary, and the American audience, is used to. Somebody who sees things from an unconventional perspective. I think that for the last twenty years, men in America have been conditioned by society and the media to behave in a more civilized manner in their relationships with women. Frowned upon are the "traditional" male and female roles, as everyone pushes for a more egalitarian way of life. Carlo hasnt been exposed to any of that, so his character is sometimes like a wild animal, acting on instincts. He is unpredictable.
It is Carlos uncensored way of expressing himself that makes us react and think about our own lives and actions. In a way, I wanted to reach the raw human being inside each of us, to unleash the real person from all inhibitions and social restraints.
On the surface, Carlo is a regular guy, although his job as a loan shark gives him a slightly twisted dimension. The violence of his world lends a subtle but persistent reminder of who he is, a hue of danger and ruthlessness. His wife Mary, on the other hand, is a child of the sexual revolution of the 1960s; a feminist who has given up her dreams of a career, for a marriage that is slipping away despite her sacrifice. She feels herself withering away, inside and out, losing her womanhood - meeting her favorite soap star gives her a glimpse at the romantic, flesh-and-blood woman struggling to free itself from within.
The story is told from both points of view, Marys and Carlos. I didnt want to favor either one, but rather, allow both to express whats happening to them at all times. This brings a richness to the text that is almost palpable: the audience will find itself feeling firsthand the battle between the man and the woman, as they struggle for opposite goals. Will the marriage be saved, or is it Splitsville?"
With funding in place, the first task was to locate the right actors to play the parts. "We knew it was going to be difficult," said Daniel. "Im convinced that no matter how talented an actor is, its always better to find somebody whose personality is a match with the character. That way, the job of the actor is just to play himself."
Besides possessing the raw personality and charisma of Carlo, the actor playing that part needed to speak Italian for some of the scenes. We wanted somebody who looked like a regular guy, but with an urban flavor. After several weeks of casting, we found the perfect Carlo in Michael Tassoni, a wonderful actor with a sense for realism that only belongs to the very talented. Michael was performing the lead role of Vladimir in the Fox animated movie Anastasia, scheduled for release in late 1997.
After we signed Michael, we approached the daunting project of finding a young woman in her twenties who matched Michaels performing ability, and also matched his looks, to play Mary. After exhausting all possibilities in Phoenix, we started to cast in Los Angeles. Casting Director Larry Horrowitz was hired, and after viewing tape after tape of possible candidates, we narrowed the selection down to six very fine actresses.
Daniel comments: "I flew to LA and met with all six of them. I wanted to see the person behind the actress, and to find out about their lives: their experiences, their relationships, their beliefs, their disappointments, everything. What really surprised me was that, after reading the script, they all identified plenty with the female protagonist. All of them had gone through something similar in their lives. Some even told me that they had had the same conversations and arguments with their boyfriends or husbands.
"The choice was extremely difficult, but finally I was convinced that Mary had to be played by Tracy Burgard, an inspiring actress who proved to be even better than I expected."
Joe Estevez, brother of veteran actor Martin Sheen, was signed for the role of Maximo, Carlos flamboyant boss. "I saw Joe in a film called South of Reno, and really liked his performance," explains Daniel. "We contacted Joe and, after talking to him and going over the story, I concluded that he was perfect for the part. Mollie Kellogg, featured several years in a row by New Times as Phoenixs best actress, plays Maximos exotic girlfriend. They have a very unique relationship: it thrives on cruelty and venom. The two actors had just the right chemistry to bring this relationship to life."
Gerardo Albarran was cast in Mexico for the role of Rodolfo, the Mexican soap opera star adored by Mary. The director is confident about the choice: "I believe Gerardo is going to leave an intriguing, bold impression on the American audience. His acting style, combined with his personality and striking good looks, remind you of the great stars of the 1940s and 1950s."
Daniel Pace, the director, believes that realism is the most crucial essence in this type of film. To achieve that extra realistic touch, he uses several non-professional actors in various small roles. "For instance, in one scene I need a Priest to give Carlo advice on his relationship. Priests give advice and listen to confessions everyday, and theyve probably heard every human drama there is. I wanted to treat the scene as a real confession, letting the Priest deal with it that he normally would, so I needed a real Priest, not an actor. I talked to Padre Saul Madrid, who has his parish in South Phoenix. Initially he was hesitant, and didnt want to be involved in something that he might regret, so I left the script for him to read. He called me the very next day and said that he would do it. In short, Padres performance was exactly what I had been looking for - really fantastic."
The story includes a scene from a Spanish soap opera, which Daniel decided to shoot in Mexico City. "I wanted to capture all the dramatism of the Mexican soaps. We assembled a crew in Mexico and cast real soap actors. It was a great opportunity to work in a medium that was new to me."
Phoenix was the perfect place to shoot the rest of the film because, like the story, it is caught between two cultures, Spanish and American, and it is full of contrasts: rich and poor, peace and violence, loneliness and extravagance. The first scene, which occurs in Italy, was filmed in the mountains near Prescott, 70 miles north of Phoenix. "We were lucky that, after many days of uninterrupted sunshine, it suddenly began to snow the day we arrived in Prescott. It gave the scene a look that I never dreamed of," enthuses the director.
The crew was put together with Mark Rezyka as the Director of Photography. Mark has years of experience directing and shooting music videos for major bands like Kiss and Metallica, and has developed a style all his own. "After seeing his reel I was astonished by his way of expressing ideas and moods with a camera. However, movies are different from music videos, and I wanted this film to be very simple in its style. I felt that Mark could create a look that would tell the story with subtlety.
"I wanted to evince two different moods: one of Carlo and Mary in their house, trapped in their conflict, and one of Carlos world without Mary, the outside world. A faster-paced, more vivid world, violent and unstable. The mood in the house is safe, but tedious and intolerable at times. We paid a lot of attention to the decor, which is monotonous and drab. Marys room is the exception: this is her private world, where she retreats from the suffocating loneliness of her colorless life, and where she pretends to be the fashion designer that she never became. It is here in this room that she watches the Spanish soaps, and falls in love with Rodolfo; here that she hides the love letters. The mannequins, lifeless and mute, remind us of Marys desperate attempts to combat solitude."