A hit on Broadway before it arrived in cinemas, Glengarry Glen Ross is every bit as manly as the guy who wrote the play, David Mamet. Having worked in land sales before making it as a playwright and, later, screenwriter, Chicago native Mamet knew first hand the desperation, deception and bad language that peppered the profession (he once jokingly remarked that the working title of the project was 'Death Of A Fucking Salesman'). When filmmaker James Foley dared to transfer Mamet's tale to the big screen, many cinemagoers - especially those on the content - were stunned by the brutality of the language. As for the critics, there were some like Leonard Matlin who dismissed the picture as nothing more as a photographed play. "That's like saying the Mona Lisa is just a picture of a lady," a rightly pissed-off Foley replied.
With a cast of bona fide acting heavyweights (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, an on-song Alec Baldwin) and some of the most memorable dialogue ever committed to film ("That guy's a fuckin' asshole. Anybody who talks to that asshole is a fuckin' asshole"), Glengarry Glen Ross's return to DVD is long overdue. Here we talk to Kevin Spacey, Ed Harris and James Foley about the movie where 'ABC' stands for 'Always Be Closing'.
James Foley (Writer-Director)
On how he came to make Glengarry Glen Ross: “I was aware the script existed and had been doing the rounds in Hollywood. I read it and liked it. Al Pacino and I had for years been trying to figure out something to do together. It turned out Glengarry Glen Ross was perfect for us.”
On working with Al Pacino: “I’m of the school that it’s really hard to make movies - it’s a lot of work, it’s a pain in the ass. For it to be cost-efficient you have to have a great actor and that the actor can’t be neurotic so that the energy that’s needed to make a movie is not to pacify their neuroses, but to get at what the truth of the moment is: that’s Al Pacino. You know, where it’s very involved, it’s very intense, but it’s all cost-efficient, it’s all ABOUT that which is important. And he pushes and he’s in synch about what matters most, and he realises you have to push for it, it just doesn't happen automatically – you have to push against this big machine of time and pressure. And so he’s a great conspirator because he’ll just go and do the thing and couldn’t care less what anybody else is doing. Plus the studios don’t come and yell at me. I mean, what are they going to say? 'Sack Pacino'?”
On the reaction to the film: "I remember being in a restaurant and this group of people were sitting there having the most vicious argument [about Glengarry Glen Ross]. The females HATED it and the males loved it. It was so great to hear - they had no idea that the director of the film was listening to them. Then, the day after, I was watching CNN and there was this woman in Connecticut saying she'd left the theatre and demanded her money back 20 minutes in because she thought it was disgusting. And I remember being stunned by that; It’s 'disgusting' in what way? What you see on screen is not disgusting, it’s not blood or anything like that. But I began to realise that it wasn’t the profanity per se, it was the general feeling. We screened it in New York and people laughed all the way through. I screened it in Paris and it was met with stone silence, like it was a respectable, serious movie. You see, in New York, that verbal rough and tumble is so familiar. I mean, you go into a grocery store there and people are saying: ‘Fuck you, I want it!’ It’s all one’s perspective.”
Kevin Spacey (John Williamson)
On Glengarry's theatrical feel: “I liked the fact that nobody tried to introduce wives and children, there’s no going to the ball park or getting on planes, all of that jazz. It's just about these men in this room."
On his character: “John is a man who views himself as just doing his job. There are people who are so efficient at what they do that the notion of being aware of human dynamism sort of goes out the window. But while Williamson appears to be incompetent and is the recipient of an inordinate amount of verbal abuse, in the end he turns out to be rather smart and something of a negotiator in a way."
On working with Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Co.: “I felt like a junior tennis player holding my teeny racket and trying not to get hit by the ball. It would have been easy to be overawed and I'll be honest and say there were times when I felt a little out of my depth. But acting's a collaborative process. It was as much in Jack and Al's best interest to get the best out of me as it was for me to give them everything I had.”
Ed Harris (Dave Moss)
On his approach to acting: “I like to do my work and let nothing get in the way of that. I like to feel that the things I do have some integrity.”
On the art of selling: “Well, first off, it’s not about telling the truth. It’s about making somebody believe you’re telling the truth. The story at the heart of Glengarry Glen Ross concerns the evils of the free enterprise system. You’ve got these guys selling bogus real estate and they’re upset because they can’t sell it. I think they used to run a much more legit organization.”
On how the movie was made: "“There were five and six-page scenes we would shoot all at once. It was more like doing a play at times when you’d get the continuity going. All of us felt like we really wanted to do it word-for-word. David Mamet's is not the kind of writing you want to paraphrase.”
On all that swearing: "I think Jack Lemmon said it best. Jack's take was that it was in the backgrounds of those guys to talk like that. These aren't the most intelligent guys. The language is a direct result of their inability to think of other words to describe their frustration. Guys will swear in a football huddle or a locker room because there are no women or kids around. The office is conducive to it, too. But you'll notice there’s a big difference when they’re on the phone. On a sales pitch, they don’t swear – the swearing is only among themselves.”
Glengarry Glen Ross is released on DVD 15th September by Odyssey