The latest film from cinematic madman Tony Scott is Domino. Written by fan face Richard (Donnie Darko) Kelly, it’s the sort of true story about a real female bounty hunter, who really was the daughter of Manchurian Candidate star Laurence Harvey. The film stars It Girl Keira Knightley as the titular bounty hunter, and a couple of weeks ago I found myself in Los Angeles, California, at a hotel with a very serious parking problem. It was there that I had a chance to talk to these two. Of course they came in together. So much the better for the tabloid reporters to ask Keira bullshit questions, wasting valuable Tony time. I cut that stuff out.
Q: Can you talk about your costar Edgar Ramirez?
Knightley: I think the guy’s a fucking genius. I haven’t seen any of his other work. I’d love to. I think he’s got something based on Cyrano de Bergerac about to come out, which sounds fantastic. Honestly, I’m blown away – partly because, as you wouldn’t think, he’s a fucking sweetheart. He’s such a sweet, gentle, amazing man. And, yet my God the character’s a psychopath – and he just turns. What was brilliant for me was you’ve got Edgar, and you’ve got Mickey, and me, and we turned into a family. There’s absolutely no doubt about it. We’re all completely from different places, different worlds. And we collided, and it worked, and it was beautiful. I think both of them are phenomenal actors.
Q: Did you meet the real Domino?
Knightley: I did, yes. A couple of times. I thought she was amazing. I mean, you’ll have to ask Tony more than me, because Tony’s known her for—
Scott: Twelve years.
Knightley: I met her twice before we started the film, and then she was on set quite a lot. I haven’t done a direct characterization of her because I didn’t have the time because I was working on something else, so my actual character was kind of based on my best mate –
Scott: Who was similar to her.
Knightley: -who was similar to Domino in many ways, but yet completely different in other ways. There were certain aspects like—
Knightley: Funny. Tony gave me interviews done with Domino before I started, so I had something to listen to, so I knew the background and all that kind of stuff. He gave me pictures of her and various visual references he had so I had something. I just took that and went off in my direction with it.
Q: Tony, it seems to me, beginning with the commercial you did for [The BMW series] The Hire, that you started doing—
Scott: With James Brown?
Q: Yes, with James Brown, where you started with the subtitles, and really headed off in a different direction stylistically with that commercial, then continued on with Man on Fire.
Scott: When I did that commercial, I did it as an experiment for Domino. And I took some of that to Man on Fire. So I always do commercials in between movies because it’s a great way to – commercials aren’t as expensive as movies, so you get a chance to experiment and try stuff. I’m lucky I could get James Brown and Gary Oldman together. It was fucking great fun. That was my experiment for Domino – outrageous characters. And also stylistically as well, I took some of it to Man on Fire and some of it to Domino, but my next movie, you’ll see, will be very different. All my style is motivated by the interior of the characters, and motivated by the world that I’m touching. I always saw this as bounty hunting on speed, you know, It was the nature of the characters that I encountered during the course of twelve years with the real people. That’s how I felt the movie should be. It’s rock-and-roll. It’s a lot of energy.
Q: Richard Kelly called it punk rock.
Scott: Did he? Oh, cool. That’s a great quote.
Q: Keira, can you talk about preparing for the role, and how you got into such great shape?
Knightley: They got me a trainer who would come down at 4:30 in the morning before I went to set to work on Pride and Prejudice and jog with me. And then they gave me some numchucks, and said, “Play with those”. So, I was in my Jane Austen costumes on the side of the set practicing my numchucks. I did that, and a bit of weight training because I wanted to look like I could be a bounty hunter. I didn’t do as much as I’d have liked.
Q: What was it like going and back between the two?
Knightley: I nearly failed completely. I got completely freaked out. He’d would be phoning me when I was on the set of Pride and Prejudice trying to talk about Domino, and I nearly had a meltdown. I got so freaked out that I couldn’t get my head into Domino. On my one day off, I was walking past a hairdresser, and I cut all my hair off. So I cut Lizzie Bennett out of my hair. Suddenly, I was looking in the mirror and I didn’t see Lizzie Bennett anymore, and I could actually get my head into Domino. But it wasn’t until I cut my hair off that I could get my head into Domino. ‘Cut my head off?’ Did I just say ‘cut my head off’?
Scott: I nearly cut my head off when I saw you with short hair. I though, “Oh, fuck!”
Q: That wasn’t in the script?
Knightley: [Laughing] I thought it was a very Domino move.
Scott: It was!
Q: Tony, at the very beginning it says “Based on a true story… sort of.” How important is it what is true and what isn’t?
Scott: To me, it’s important that I capture the tone of the world, the tone of the characters. It’s entertainment. It’s a fun, wild ride in a dangerous world. And it’s not the Domino Harvey story, because we had two biopics done on her that were boring. But every person in the movie is a real person. I brought most of them, Richard brought a lot of the guys – the mob guys were all guys he went to USC with. Lateesha’s a real person at the DMV. He had to get his license back, and that’s where he got the idea. He wrote it there. He said, ‘Fuck it, I’ve got it. The movie begins and ends with this person here.’ That’s where he came up with this idea.
Q: Keira, you’ve had such an amazing run of male costars: Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and, now, Edgar.
Scott: And Mickey.
Knightley: And Mickey!
Q: Can you talk a little about the relationship you develop with your leading men? Is there any way to compare and contrast the intensity that develops?
Knightley: Unfortunately, they all turn into brothers, which is so disappointing. No, I’ve been really lucky with the guys I’ve worked with; I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, so I like working with a lot of guys. That’s always fun. We have a laugh. As I said, I was extraordinarily lucky with Edgar and Mickey. I absolutely adore Mickey Rourke. I really do. I’d heard a lot of stories, and was kind of a bit like, ‘Oh, what is this going to be like?’ I think he’s a fucking amazing man. I absolutely loved him. He’s totally inspirational, and part of the reason he’s so inspirational and so amazing is that he cannot be anything than what he is. I think that’s really rare, especially in an actor and especially today. I really admire that.
Q: Which is most like Keira: Jane Austen or Domino?
Knightley: You know what? The last three films that I’ve done are the first three that I’ve actually had a choice about. I’ve had several offers on the table, and I’ve chosen to do them. They are The Jacket, Pride and Prejudice and Domino Harvey. And I guess that Keira Knightley is somewhere in the middle of all of them.
Q: Similarly, Tony, if Domino is a paradoxically tough and tender character, how was Keira able to capture both of those?
Scott: I spent a lot of time with of Domino, but in the end, when I cast everybody that’s where I came down to Keira, from the real Domino Harvey. I let them work within themselves. I think a lot of my direction to Keira most of the time was, as it was with Mickey, as it was with Monique, was ‘Let me see more of Keira… Let me see more of Mickey.’ I do a lot of research, and every character in the movie I knew before I cast the movie, so I knew what I was casting for. Mickey could’ve been Ed Martinez’s brother.
Q:You’d seen these attributes in Keira in previous roles?
Scott: Yes. It’s funny. People say, ‘That’s an odd way of finding Keira for this role.’ Because I saw her in Pirates, and that one sequence where Johnny grabs you around the neck. It’s difficult to articulate why you respond to somebody, and why you cast somebody. The best always comes from your gut. I began life as a painter, and my spontaneous response is always the best; it’s always the gut response. That’s hard in this town in Hollywood, because you’ve always got ten other people giving you fucking reasons why you should or should not use this particular person. Fortunately, I’m in a stronger position now, so I can go, “Fuck off, and leave me alone. I’m going this way.”
Q: Where do you draw the line between comedy and drama, and how seriously people should take this film?
Scott: I think that’s what’s great about the film is that it touches it all. People say to me,’“What’s the movie about?’ So, I say, ‘It’s a little bit of The Royal Tenenbaums, it’s a little bit of True Romance, it’s a little bit of Taxi Driver.’ I always love extremes – extremes in humor, extremes in sweetness, extremes of emotion, extremes of danger. This feels like it’s this fucking wild ride. This wild adrenaline journey.
Q: Delroy Lindo has said when he read the script he thought it was much more of a comedy. Then when he saw it, it was much more serious.
Knightley: I think it’s one of those films where it depends on what mood you’re in when you see it. I think you’ll take out exactly what you want to take out of it. That’s what is brilliant about his films a lot of the time is that you can do that. That’s what I love when I see films, is that it reflects the mood I’m in.
Scott: But you know, when you see it with a young audience – it’s funny, because the scene that’s really disturbing, when Edgar goes back and blows the arm off with a shotgun , the kids are laughing. It’s almost like Monty Python. They’re not laughing because they’re twisted kids, it’s almost Monty Python-esque in a way.
Knightley: Because you’ve got Tom Jones behind it.
Scott: You’ve got this guy blowing an arm off with Tom Jones playing behind him. It’s got a sense of humor.
Q: Tell us about the Tom Waits scene and his music. What were you doing there?
Scott: We didn’t have the Tom Waits character [originally]. At the last minute – I can’t remember what the problem was – somebody I had dropped out, and Tom Waits – who I’ve always been a huge fan of – I called him up. I sent him the pages, and he said, ‘Tell me about the character.’ I said, ‘Well, I see gospel somewhere.’ And he said, ‘You know, there are these guys, these Seventh Day Adventists come to my fucking house every weekend. Unfortunately, I open the door and let them in, and I can’t get them out.’ I said, ‘Cool. So, a Seventh Day Adventist with a bandaged hand and a gun in his pocket.’ And he said, ‘I’m in.’ And then he came. He arrived the night before at eleven o’clock and I cut his hair because we couldn’t find a hairdresser. He had a sort of semi-afro. So, I got a pair of scissors.
Knightley: He’s amazing. That song that he sings when we’re driving up in the car, he made that up as we were going along, and he kept on getting us all to sing along with him.
Q: What was it about Edgar that appealed to you?
Scott: Well, you know, Edgar came out of a casting session. He was here just doing ‘go sees’. He was in how many films? Three films in Venezuela. Small films. Normally I’m wary of beautiful guys, he was really beautiful, he’s like a cross between Jim Morrison and Val Kilmer. And normally people who are that beautiful survive their lives on the beauty, and this [points at his brain] slows down. But Edgar was such a combination because he lived in Caracas, Venezuela, which is a dangerous town. Also, he’s very smart. I could see that there is a darkness inside Edgar, and that him being so beautiful as well was a weird contradiction. I love contradictions in people.
Q: How do you feel about the violence and the language in the film?
Knightley: I’m British, so the language isn’t half as bad as my language normally is.
Scott: You should see the scene we cut out.
Knightley: Yeah, right, I know! I love that scene.
As far as violence, I’m not a purist as far as films go. If there’s sex in a film, that’s fine as long as it’s done well. If there’s violence in a film, that’s fine as long as it’s done well. One of my favorite films, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, is a Korean film called Oldboy, which is possibly the most violent film I’ve ever seen. Absolutely brilliant. I think that if it’s done well, that’s fine. I’m a fan of cinema, so I love watching it, and I think in this it is done brilliantly.
Q: Is Tony’s directing style the same as what we’re seeing onscreen? Is he moving that quickly?
Knightley: Yeah. [Laughs] It’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. It’s a lot of bad language, and a lot of—
Scott: A lot of energy.
Knightley: A lot of energy. What’s brilliant about being on a set with Tony is that you can’t feel tired because the energy is nuts, and you laugh from the moment you get in to the moment you leave at night. The atmosphere on set is sensational.
Q: Tony, why do you keep going back to guys like Mickey Rourke and Christopher Walken? They’ve become recurring actors in your films.
Scott: I love them because they both guys that go to the dark side, like Domino did. When you think of Chris’s career, how after The Deer Hunter he disappeared for a while. I think The Deer Hunter got to him. And now – people didn’t think he had a humorous bone in his body, because his early movies were so dark and unforgiving. Now, look at him. He can read the phone book and make you laugh. Mickey’s the same. I’ve known Mickey twenty-odd years, we basically used to be the Hollywood Hell’s Angels. He and I used to go out with these sixty guys on fucking bikes, drive up to Ojai, get fucked up, and come back. I’ve known him from way back. I’m a huge fan of Mickey’s because he lost his way in the middle there, but when you think of his early movies – Barfly, Angel Heart – he’s never lost that. He’s always kept it. Mickey was Ed Martinez. They could’ve been brothers.
Q: How did Domino’s death affect you?
Scott: I knew Domino for twelve years, so she was like a surrogate daughter. There were times when she would be in my life every week, and sometimes I wouldn’t hear from her for six months. At the same time I wasn’t surprised. She always went for those dark places. But when you’ve known someone that long, it hurts. That’s why when she comes up at the end of the movie, every time I look away. That’s her music at the end, as well: ‘Heads you live, tails you die.’ That’s her singing.
Knightley: I didn’t know her for twelve years, I only met her twice before and a couple of times after. All I can say is that I wish I knew her better.
Q: How did you guys do the mescaline scene?
Knightley: I thought that he’d spiked the coffee at one point. We were all sitting there, and I was so tired. “I bet he spiked it.”
Scott: That’s pretty cool!
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