Fresh off the international success of his directorial debut, actor/writer/producer/all around cool guy and now director, Robert Davi sat down with me for a few moments to lend some silky voiced insight on the inspiration for The Dukes, his own 30 year career, and why it matters to you.
What was your inspiration for the script?
In the 70s, I read an article in the newspaper about steel workerâ€™s getting laid off, 25 thousand workers, and that was a frightening thing for me as a young guy. Seeing people who had something in their life but could no longer do it. Then a year later, my own father was laid off from his own job of 25 years. Later, I was reading a book called The Third Wave by Alvin Toffler and in it, he talked about the industrial transitioning to technological. That the work force and the economy was gonna go through upheaval and huge drastic change and a lot of people would fall through the cracks. The work force would be at a certain point, devastated.
The film was very light hearted and playful. Is that an interest of yours? Bringing comedy to these dramatic stories?
The earliest cinema I saw as a kid was the Italian Neo-realists. Fellini, Antonioni, Rossellini, all the great masters of Italian neo-realism. After the neo-realists, came a form of film called Commedia all’italiana, where they took this neo-realist style and they put an uplifting comedic tone to the social issues the neo-realists dealt with. When I met Frank Sinatra in the 70s, the Doo-Wop groups were losing fame, and where they used to pack out Madison Square Garden in the 60s, they couldnâ€™t get a gig at a Johnny Rogers. So I noticed that not only was it the blue collar work force losing work but even the entertainers, the whole world was changing. Using the Doo-Wop angle let me tell this story now, with music and a humorous tone. Those were the seeds of the film.
There is a scene in the film where your character Danny has a monologue and he looks in the mirror and seems to psych himself up. Was that an homage to Taxi Driver?
It wasnâ€™t Taxi Driver actually, but it was something that I used to do in my own life. I feel like everyone has those moments, especially in acting class.
Were there any other life experiences that you drew upon for the plot of the film?
Yes, my divorce was going on at the time, which was echoed in the on-screen relationship Danny has with the boy in the film. Again, with neo-realism, you take from life, you take whatâ€™s given, and when you write the screen play initially and then cast the film, you evolve in your own reactions. Thatâ€™s when I start to work again and infiltrate the scent of the piece to get at that realism. Itâ€™s in all the characters.
Was there anything about first time directing that was surprising to you?
The feeling that I have is I knew what I was getting myself into, I knew what I wanted to do. I was enjoying the process, but no, in terms of the creative aspect, I knew what I was getting myself into. What I was thrilled about was that I was accepted. Someone showed a copy of the film to the editor of the most important film magazine of Italy, CIAK, a woman named Piera Detassis. She also happened to be the head of the premiere section of the Rome Film Festival. Then when I got a notification from her that she wanted The Dukes to have a Premiere at the Rome Film Festival, along with Francis Ford Coppola, Sean Penn, Robert Redford, Sidney Lumet, Gavin Hood, Julie Taymor, and a few other internationally known directors, and this is my first time directing on a budget that was not as big as the rest of these, and the response that it got in Rome, this was just absolutely thrilling.
Being from New York, Do you have any sort of New York event or place that youâ€™d recommend to someone visiting?
Yâ€™know I canâ€™t settle on just one, the whole city just has great great places to go to and things to do. It really is an interesting experience all over New York. Itâ€™s a spectacular city, I love going to Little Italy, restaurants like La Mela or Angeloâ€™s. The flavor down there is enchanting for me.
Why should people see The Dukes?
Well, let me put it this way; the European critics, who are very tough, theyâ€™re very specific and look deeper than some of the American critics, The European critics picked this out; â€œRober Davi gives us an America we havenâ€™t seen of late. It makes you wanna pick yourself up and get back in the game.â€ So itâ€™s a film with humor, heart, and song, thatâ€™s uplifting and itâ€™s really a slice of life. I also, [chuckles] selfishly want people to go see the film.