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Devil Gets Its Due

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ethan Hawke, Marisa Tomei, and Sidney Lumet discuss the new film Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. logo
Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman
in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead
The hottest kid on the block is none other than octogenarian director Sidney Lumet, who is currently receiving some of the best reviews of his 60-year career for Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. The film, which was penned by playwright Kelly Masterson, stars Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke as Andy and Hank, a pair of brothers who are both in love with the same woman, Gina (played by Marisa Tomei). The pair are also so desperate for cash they decide to rob the jewelry store owned by their own parents (played by Albert Finney and Rosemary Harris). While some might term the film a melodrama, Lumet says, "Personally, I don't consider melodrama a dirty word. In drama, the characters determine the story, but in melodrama it's the other way around."

Lumet -- who was Oscar-nominated for directing 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, and The Verdict -- and his cast turned out to be a true mutual admiration society. "The intensity of this story needed marvelous actors, and we had Phil, Ethan and Marisa, who are as good actors as there are working today," says Lumet, who also cast such theater stalwarts as Brian F. O'Byrne, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, and Lee Wilkof in the film.

"We were all very aware that we were among the few actors of our generation to be directed by someone who actually directed live television and he was in his sweet spot!" says Hawke, who is currently directing the New Group's production of Jonathan Marc Sherman's Things We Want. "I learned so much from him that it'll take a little time to process." For her part, Tomei says of Lumet: "He's so passionate and so engaged. Working with him is a real lesson in how great an experience filmmaking can be. Philip, Ethan, and I all know each other from the theater and we've all worked on a lot of indie films, so you bring your chops. And for this film, we had the same kind of rehearsal you would for a play, so we were ready for whatever."

All three actors marveled at the intense but short shooting days that characterized Lumet's process. "I'd never experienced a pace that fast before; he'd get his shots in two takes or sometimes even one," says Hoffman. "Sidney runs a workman-like set. You show up, do your work, and then you go home." The shorter days were especially nice for Hoffman and Hawke, both of whom have young children.

As for their characters, Hawke confesses, "I actually hated filming the movie because Hank's such a miserable guy to play and it's such a horrible world to live in even for awhile." Tomei, who's soon to return to the stage in Will Eno's Oh the Humanity and Other Good Intentions at the Flea, calls Gina "a leaf in the wind who is just trying to survive from moment to moment."

Much has been -- and will be -- written about the intensity of the film's opening shot of Hoffman and Tomei in flagrante. "That opening shot wasn't in the original script, but I felt it shows right at the start what Andy wants -- luxury and sex -- and the only way he can get them is money," says Lumet.

"I think being naked is a literal way to show a character's vulnerability," says Hoffman, whose upcoming films include The Savages with Laura Linney, and Charlie Wilson's War and Doubt, both with Meryl Streep. "I was attracted to my character's personality and his predicament. A lot of the work I've done has explored sexual ambiguity. I haven't been offered many alpha male roles, but Andy's a very straight up, hetero kind of guy."

Not surprisingly, Tomei was more philosophical about the nudity. "Hey, I'm not getting any younger, so I might as well do it now," she says.

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