"It did. It was as terrifying and anxiety-inducing and as unbelievably fun as I thought it would be."
Is it intimidating directing Anjelica Huston?
"Yes, absolutely. She didn’t make it so. We did a kind of couple of rehearsal days in Los Angeles a couple of weeks before we started shooting and after we read her scenes with Sam [Rockwell] and Brad Henke who played Denny, she didn't want to leave. She wanted to stay and meet all the strippers and hookers who weren’t there that day. So I kind of knew she was a player. She wanted to get on the court and mix it up, but she's still a legend and one of my favorite actors. I wanted to make sure and give her stuff that was useful and do what my favorite directors do, which is mostly shut up."
How quickly did you know that the chemistry would work between she and Sam?
"The minute that Sam and Brad read together and the minute that Anjelica and Sam read together and the minute that Sam read with Kelly [Macdonald]. I realized that the people I had picked were all kind of from the same kind of gang of actors. They all loved each other's work and they all were really psyched to be acting with each other. And it was amazing that that equaled chemistry around the block."
Why did you think of casting Kelly Macdonald?
"I thought of Kelly right away because I just always loved her. I’d always loved her. I’d always, from the time I saw Trainspotting I thought she was amazing. And then I saw her in this movie for HBO, The Girl in the Café with Bill Nighy, and she was fantastic in it. And I brought her up immediately and they said, 'You can't have her. She lives in England, you can't afford that."
It’s more than your budget to fly her over and put her up.
"So I was shut down. And then a couple of weeks later Sam said, 'You know who’d be amazing? Did you ever see Trainspotting?' And I took that as a sign. I said, 'Sam, you're preaching to the choir here, but they've already shot me down on this because she lives in the UK.' And he said, 'No, she's just finished this Coen Brothers movie. I heard she’s in LA,' because they worked on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And the next day I was meeting with her."
What's it like to direct sex scenes? Were you ready for that?
"No. Because I’m a weird combination – I'm very much a kind of a perv, but at the same time a little bit protective as an actor. My wife’s an actor, I never wanted anyone to feel uncomfortable or sleazy. And yet the whole movie is sex, you know? Basically porn with a storyline. I just tried to make an environment where I would have felt comfortable. I offered my wife three different parts in the movie and she turned them all down because they were all too dirty. She was really being protective of me because she knew I would have burst into flames just from uncomfortability. But I just tried to imagine, you know, if that was my wife would I treat her? Would she have felt comfortable? Unfortunately she’s got pretty high principles… Luckily Sam was really good, and people knew what they were getting going in."
Did Sam Rockwell stick to the script?
"He liked to improve. Some people improv and it’s just kind of like watching traffic go by because you know you're not going to use it. But Sam would kind of improv stuff and later I’d realize he was improvising, he was mixing in with his improvs his favorite lines from the book that weren’t in the script. He had this Walkman and he would listen to the book on tape, like that's the level of immersion that he does. So with him it was always interesting."
Were you given approval for the final cut?
"I was in a way in that the producers who made the movie waded in with their actually really intelligent opinions. They waded in and I listened to them, but really when push came to shove, if I said, 'This is not how I see it,' I was given free rein. And then when Fox Searchlight bought the movie, they bought it as is."
You didn't have to go back and tinker with it for them?
"Well, ironically, I watched the movie eight times at Sundance, or six times or how many times it was screened, and I learned a lot. Because, again, we had so little money, our post schedule was so short that I saw a lot of places where I could fix small things - just fix the mix level, the volume level of a punch line if I thought a joke would work. I also felt like there were ways that scenes could work better, not big stuff but little stuff. And so I took a big chance and I went to the studio. I wouldn't have gone to just any studio, but Fox Searchlight is the best in the business for this kind of movie. So I went to them and said, 'Okay, you know what? I feel like I haven't really had the full experience here if I don’t bring you in and say I think I can make this movie better with a little bit more time in the cutting room and a little bit more of a music and sound budget.' And they said okay, and they ended up having really good ideas. There weren’t huge changes but there was a lot of little changes that I think add up to the movie that's coming out being a much better version of the movie than the one we showed at Sundance."