John Turturro and Woody Allen share the laughs

Posted By on April 18, 2014

It's a tantalizing combination of words Woody Allen is a pimp that seems custom-made for tabloid fodder. And while cheeky headline writers may still be inclined to exploit the phrase, actor and filmmaker John Turturro had more artistic intentions when he decided to cast the controversial comedian as an aging procurer in his "Fading Gigolo."

Opening Friday in limited release, Turturro's film he wrote, directed and stars opposite Allen is one of the season's more unusual amalgams. A religious sex comedy? A sociable meditation on loneliness? An exploration of a Hasidic Jewish enclave? "Fading Gigolo" is all of those things. Plus Allen acting in a non-Woody Allen movie for the first time in more than a decade.

Turturro, who previously directed "Mac" and "Romance & Cigarettes" among other films, said some of his earliest ideas about the independently financed film were rooted in his memories of 1975's "Shampoo," starring Warren Beatty as George, a Beverly Hills hairdresser as adept at tressing locks as he is undressing women. For all of George's sexual couplings, Turturro said, he's ultimately emotionally untethered. What if the story were updated and set in the world of sex workers, with Turturro playing a gigolo?

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That's when the idea of collaborating with Allen took root. The 57-year-old actor said he had always wanted to work with the 78-year-old director. (All this of course before the recent flare-up about old, unproven charges of sexual molestation brought up by estranged daughter Dylan Farrow that turned into an ugly public spectacle.)

"I thought that maybe we would be interesting together," said Turturro, who acts opposite the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in May 9's "God's Pocket." "Maybe we would have some good chemistry. I've always kind of liked him."

So he took a page out of "Shampoo" and used their mutual hairdresser as an intermediary. Could the barber ask Allen, Turturro wondered, if he would be interested in playing a pimp in a movie? The barber passed along the suggestion to Allen, and by the time Turturro was ready for another haircut the answer was yes.

"I was kind of fooling around," Turturro said. "But he took it seriously."

Allen last had a lead role in a film he didn't direct 14 years ago, in 2000's Alfonso Arau comedy "Picking Up the Pieces." But he wasn't joining "Fading Gigolo" just as a performer. He wanted to help shape the story, and Turturro was happy to welcome Allen as a collaborator.

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John Turturro and Woody Allen share the laughs

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