Director Luc Besson and producer Martin Scorsese have teamed up to bring us The Family, a blackly comic action film about a Mafia family on the run in Normandy. Cast members Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dianna Agron sat down to chat about family, violence, black comedy and getting to film in Normandy. Here’s what you need to know about the film!
1. Martin Scorsese produces.
Legendary producer and director Martin Scorsese, long-time collaborator with Robert De Niro and stalwart of the action film genre, is on hand to produce this new film, based on the French novel Malavita by Tonina Benacquista. The novel follows Giovanni Manzoni, a Mafioso on the run with his family under the US witness protection program after snitching on his boss, the vengeful Don Mimino. The story promises action and a healthy dose of dark comedy.
2. Luc Besson directs.
Another titan of the action movie genre is Luc Besson, the French director renowned for his classic action flicks, Leon: The Professional and La Femme Nikita. Choosing Besson to helm this project was an easy decision, says Agron: “It’s a dark comedy and this is something that Luc does very well.” The appeal of gangster films is evident from their long and rich film heritage, which De Niro thinks might be because “people are fascinated by these people because they’re against the establishment in some way.” And Besson fits the project so well, because he too has always been anti-establishment.
3. It’s international.
The film was shot on location in Paris and Normandy, which was a great opportunity for the cast to do some exploring. De Niro says: “I have time [during filming] to do things. When you’re on location you take advantage of it because you never know when you’re going to be back there.”
Agron especially took the opportunity to explore: “I went to a livestock fair with Tommy Lee Jones, which was one of the most comical things that has ever happened to me.” Whilst Agron wanted desperately to find a way to take some of the animals home (“the most enormous rabbits you’ve ever seen!”), Jones was in his element. “He’s a cowboy,” Pfeiffer says. Stepping away from the hustle of LA for a quiet Normandy town seems to have suited his cowboy nature. “Normandy’s very untouched,”Agron elaborates, “you feel like you’re in the 80s. People would slowly walk around town and peek their heads out of the window to look at you like you’re an alien, whereas in LA or New York people would like, ‘Great, there’s a film crew, there’s gonna be traffic.’” Pfeffier laughs: “It’s so scary that stepping back in time for Dianna is the 80s.”
4. It’s all about family.
The central family unit in the film was important for the actors. Michelle Pfeiffer took the book as a huge influence on how to play her character and loved the fact that Maggie wants to “protect her family at any cost.”
She says: “In terms of my relationship with him in the film, you know, he’s my husband. I don’t really relate to him as a mobster. He’s just somebody who won’t listen to what I say and who misbehaves.” “Sometimes!” De Niro laughs.
5. It’s got an ultra-violent streak!
Like many a gangster film before it, The Family has some scenes of violence that complement the dark comedy. De Niro gets to have some fun, including a memorable moment when he exacts some rough justice at a barbeque. “I forget if those scenes were in the book, but Luc has a way of doing it that makes it personal and that’s why I think it’s funny.”
But so too do the ladies. Pfeiffer’s character lets loose on a few snobbish locals by getting creative with some lighter fluid and a gas can. “I broke my electric toothbrush the other day in a fit of rage,” laughs Pfeiffer. “It’s fun to play those kinds of parts. I had a lot of fun getting to kick ass, show that other dark side of yourself. It’s fun to explore areas that are taboo, that you’re not allowed to in real life.”
6. De Niro revisits an old gangster favourite.
The film has a few cheeky in-jokes about Scorsese and De Niro’s 1990 classic Goodfellas. Even part of the earliest preparation for the role meant re-visiting Goodfellas: “There were some people I spoke to, Henry Hill from Goodfellas, I talked to him a bit,” says De Niro. “I looked at the movie and I looked at the DVD.” “It really holds up,” Pfeiffer adds, “it’s an amazing film.”
De Niro is a huge part of the gangster film genre, so what keeps him going back? “If it’s written well and it’s fun to do and the characters are interesting, especially if I’m doing it with Luc or Marty Scorsese. We have another film we’re going to do, [The Irish Man],” he adds. “We’re preparing it, we have a script. Marty has another film he’s going to do before that, so it won’t be for a while.”
7. Dianna Agron learned a thing or two from her co-stars.
Working with such distinguished actors was a bit of a learning curve for Agron, who was inspired by the way they carved out their careers. “They have made such wonderful choices with the characters they’ve played.” Rather than choosing to work constantly, they’ve been more selective about the roles they’ve taken and that’s resulted in some iconic work.
Pfeiffer remarked on the importance of working as team on a movie set. “[Robert De Niro] is iconic as someone who effortlessly puts actors at ease. You show up to set and you’re working together and supporting each other. If everybody shows up with that attitude everybody has a good time and the work is better.”
“They’re just lovely people,” Agron adds.
8. It’s all about the grub!
Like any Italian Mafioso worth his salt, Giovanni Manzoni loves his wife’s Italian food, memorably exclaiming his high praise in one word, “Fuck!” So what are the cast’s favourite meals of all time?
“I can’t say the worst,” De Niro laughs, “but I have had some good ones here in London, and Europe – France and Spain. [There are] great restaurants this side of the ocean. I like my restaurant Nobu.”
“You can’t have a favourite meal,” Pfeiffer adds, “like you can’t have a favourite book or movie…or a favourite child.” She laughs. “I’ve had some amazing meals at Nobu,” she nods to De Niro, “I gotta say.”
Agron agrees that you can’t choose a favourite meal, but is just grateful for the chance to go places and try new things: “We’re so lucky that we get to travel to these places so you get to try so much.”
The Family is in cinemas on 22 November 2013.