Cast: Bill Murray, Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O'Dowd, Jaeden Lieberher
Director: Ted Melfi
Running Time: 102 minutes
Synopsis: The singular Bill Murray teams with first-time director/screenwriter Ted Melfi for St. Vincent, the story of a young boy who develops an unusual friendship with the cantankerous old guy next door.
Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), a single mother, moves into a new home in Brooklyn with her 12-year old son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher). Forced to work long hours, she has no choice but to leave Oliver in the care of their new neighbor, Vincent (Bill Murray), a retired curmudgeon with a penchant for alcohol and gambling. An odd friendship soon blossoms between the improbable pair. Together with a pregnant stripper named Daka (Naomi Watts), Vincent brings Oliver along on all the stops that make up his daily routine – the race track, a strip club, and the local dive bar. Vincent helps Oliver grow to become a man, while Oliver begins to see in Vincent something that no one else is able to: a misunderstood man with a good heart.
Release Date: December 26th, 2014
Do Your Homework: The Origin Of St. Vincent
The roots of the story of St. Vincent were inspired by a life-altering moment in writer/director/producer Ted Melfi's own life. When his older brother passed away at the age of thirty-eight seven years ago, he went to the funeral and realised his eleven year-old niece had nowhere to go. Ted Melfi and his wife quickly decided to adopt her and move her from a small, rural town in Tennessee to where they lived in Sherman Oaks, California.
Once enrolled in Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Ted Melfis niece received a homework assignment with the following prompt: Find the Catholic saint that inspires you, and find someone in your real life that mimics the qualities of that saint. She picked St. William of Rochester, who is the Patron Saint of Adopted Children, and selected Melfi as the match. A very moved Ted Melfi realised that it was the perfect idea for a movie. Instead of characters like himself and his niece though, he wanted to use an old curmudgeonly guy who'd lost his will to live and a young boy. Bill Murray seemed to be perfect for the role. Recalls the filmmaker: 'That's the genesis of the story: this young boy moves in next to this cantankerous alcoholic played by Bill Murray, and they become best friends. This little adopted eleven year-old boy makes Bill Murray the saint in his assignment, and they both change each other's lives. That's how this whole project started - from a homework assignment."
Casting (And Chasing) St. Vincent
Although Ted Melfi had Bill Murray in mind for the starring role, desiring to cast Bill Murray and actually tracking him down are two very different animals. It is not a task for those easily discouraged. Ted Melfi explains: 'Bill Murray has no manager or agent. He has just a 1-800 number, and so you spend a fair amount of time leaving messages on the 1-800 number and hoping that it's actually his. You leave message after message and start having a relationship with an answering machine, kind of like in Swingers." But Ted Melfi kept trying.
After six months of playing phone tag, Ted Melfi found himself meeting up with Bill Murray at LAX at 9am one morning over Memorial Day weekend. Talking over the script and stopping at In N Out Burger along the way, the eight-hour meeting in the back of Murray's Towncar solidified the actor's interest in the project. Notes Bill Murray: 'The script was different. It had a different rhythm than most things have and had a lot of emotion in the story. Ted had a pretty good way of writing it that has the potential to not be sentimental at all, which is how I really like to see emotion delivered: without sentimentality at all. You feel it, and you're not tricked into it. You're not drenched in it. You just get it. It comes at you, and it comes as a natural outcome of the way the plot goes."
Ted Melfi was not just willing to receive Bill Murray's comments – he viewed the opportunity to collaborate with Murray as a life-changing experience. 'Working with Bill Murray, I've learned a tremendous amount about directing, about writing, and about life. He would tell me many times: -Don't let stress take over. Stress is the death of art and the death of comedy.' He would tell me: -Don't let the scene become what it's not. Don't get caught up in what you think is funny. Trust the material and trust the writing.' He brings stuff to the table when he has to, but other than that he stays out of its way, which is a gift. And he's taught me to stay out of its way – to know when it's working, see when it's working and to leave it alone. I can't think of a better person to learn anything from comedically and artistically than Bill Murray. He has to be the coolest person on the planet."
With the coup of landing Bill Murray as Vincent, Ted Melfi faced another challenge: finding a young boy able to play opposite him. The story is largely seen through the eyes of Oliver, and Ted Melfi was very particular about the kind of child he wanted for the role: 'With kid actors, you really want someone who is a kid first and an actor second. You can get acting out of a lot of people, and especially children because they're so open and available, but you can't get an actor to be a kid."
The filmmaking team auditioned about 1,500 candidates over the course of six months. There was pressure to find someone who could handle the grueling schedule of a film shoot and not be overly intimidated by working with Bill Murray, Naomi Watts and Melissa McCarthy. Whoever they found also had to be able to hold their own and carry a movie. Comments Ted Melfi: 'Vincent is the lead, obviously, but the character of Oliver is the glue of the script. That's the guy who holds it all together for all the other characters that are spinning out of control. That's a lot to ask for any actor, much less a child."
In young actor Jaeden Lieberher, the filmmakers discovered an extraordinary talent with a quiet confidence - he fit the bill perfectly. Jaeden is preternaturally poised on and off screen, a smart, sage young person who handled his first film role with grace.
Ted Melfi enthuses: 'Jaeden Lieberher is just an exceptional human. To me, he's a lot like Bill Murray in his humanity. He understands people, he understands how to react, he understands how not to act, he doesn't try, he's fully present at all times, and he's still. He's calm…and that still and calm is irreplaceable. At any moment Jaeden Lieberher is there as a presence that is still and calm which is affecting all the other characters. He's like a ninety year-old, but yet when he smiles and giggles it breaks your heart. He is going to have a remarkable life. I don't know whether that life will be in acting. I hope so for him because he's so talented, but regardless, his inner spirit overwhelms me."
Bill Murray confesses that it is not always so great to work with kids, however ten year-old Jaeden Lieberher really impressed him. 'I'm not so sure about kid actors usually, but he's very good," Bill Murray says. 'I liked him more everyday. There was one day he was just so good, he was as good as anybody I've ever seen be good in a scene. It was just great. He was relentless and unstoppable…he really shines."
Executive Producer G. Mac Brown affirms that they definitely found the right young man for the role: 'Jaeden Lieberher was the obvious choice, and he's been unbelievably good. He's a real find. He's already got his next job." In fact, toward the end of the St. Vincent shoot, Jaeden Lieberher was tapped for a role in a Cameron Crowe film, only his second film. Murray, having had a great experience with his young co-star, soon followed Jaeden Lieberher and joined the cast of Cameron Crowe's film as well.
Outside the central duo of Vincent and Oliver, other key characters who complete their inner circle are Melissa McCarthy as Maggie, Oliver's harried single mother, and Naomi Watts as Daka, Vincent's brutally honest and unintentionally hilarious friend – a 'lady who works at night," as Oliver explains it.
These two acclaimed actresses had the fun of playing against type a bit in this film, taking on parts that were different from how audiences are accustomed to seeing them. As Bill Murray quips: 'They've sort of swapped roles here. Melissa's the serious one and Naomi Watt's the clown. And they both make it look graceful. '
The suggestion to cast Naomi Watts in the role of Daka came from Executive Producer Harvey Weinstein, who had to convince Ted Melfi that she was right for the part. As it turned out, the director was equally delighted with the esteemed dramatic actress' comedic chops. 'Naomi Watts's character is basically the comedy of the piece. She's a Russian prostitute with a lot of attitude, and a no-nonsense state of being. There's a lot more than we know, and that the public knows, and even the film community knows of Naomi Watts. Naomi Watts is hilarious. She's comedically as solid, as strong, as fresh, as unique, as original, and as spontaneous as any actor we have on the set."
Completing the cast are Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) as a witty and modern Catholic school teacher, Terrence Howard (Hustle And Flow) as the local baddie to whom Vincent owes money, Scott Adsit (30 Rock) as Maggie's ex-husband, young Dario Barosso as Oliver's grade school nemesis, Kimberly Quinn as a sympathetic nurse and Greta Lee ('Girls") as an unsympathetic bank teller.
Another key cast member was Vincent's cat. Unfortunately Bill Murray is allergic to cats, but in another show of his commitment to the film, he tolerated the feline cast-mate.
'Not a cat guy particularly, but that cat happened to get washed, shampooed and blown dry so he had no dander," jokes Bill Murray. 'I don't think he even had hair oil because he was so clean. He's a pro cat."
Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure: Making St. Vincent
With blind faith that the enigmatic Bill Murray would show up on day one, St. Vincent began production during a scorching heat wave in July 2013 in New York City.
Longtime New York line producer Mac Brown had total confidence in the maiden voyage of writer/director Ted Melfi. Ted Melfi had honed his skills directing many commercials and some short films, but this is his first theatrical feature. Mac Brown liked the script so much that he made the bold endorsement of signing on to do the film before even meeting Ted Melfi.
Notes Ted Melfi take on filmmaking: 'The job of directing and writing is about knowing what's important to hold onto, and what's not important to hold onto."
St. Vincent was filmed primarily in Brooklyn, but not the trendy Brooklyn that has become popular and draws hordes of tourists looking for the cool enclaves. Telling the story of Vincent McKenna required the old school Brooklyn that still exists, if you know where to find it. Luckily, Ted Melfi is a Brooklyn native, and he remembers what the real Brooklyn was like before the hipsters moved in: 'I grew up in Brooklyn. I don't think there's any place in the world like Brooklyn. When I grew up in Williamsburg on North 6th Street, Williamsburg was all meat packing warehouses, gangs, and prostitutes up and down Kent Avenue. Now you go there and it's a different world. But Brooklyn hasn't lost its guts or its soul. Any given day, any given moment, you get everything you want in Brooklyn: every culture, every race, and every religion. To be able to shoot the film in the neighborhoods where I grew up - Sheepshead Bay, and Williamsburg, and Greenpoint, Park Slope - is probably the most fulfilling part of this whole thing. We shot ninety percent of the movie in Brooklyn. It's the best back lot in the world."
Mac Brown adds: 'As we scouted locations, it was interesting to watch how the fabric of Brooklyn became the fabric of the movie. It became very much a real movie about a real place."
An important partner in the process of capturing the world of St. Vincent was rising young production designer Inbal Weinberg, who has made a name for herself in only a few years since graduating from NYU Film School. She has designed acclaimed indie films like Frozen River, Blue Valentine, Half Nelson, and the upcoming film from Cary Fukunaga, Beasts Of No Nation.
Although the film is set in the present, St. Vincent has a timeless look that evokes the New York City and films of the 1970s, as well as today. Inbal Weinberg admits: 'It was wonderful to design for the character of Vincent, because in a way he represented an older generation that probably belonged more to the 1970s than to the twenty-first century." Weinberg watched many 1970s films to get the palettes and details right, but also had New York's homes, restaurants, cafes and stores to use as a great resource.
The filmmakers scouted many different neighborhoods around New York, but settled on Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn fairly quickly as the setting for Vincent and Maggie's neighborhood. Inbal Weinberg recalls: 'Ted Melfi liked it right away, since it had that combination we were looking for - a bit of suburbia mixed with NYC urbanism. You would have a block of perfect homes with driveways and manicured lawns, but then around the corner, elevated subway tracks and urban blight. It's also a very diverse neighborhood with every kind of ethnicity and religion, which made it more interesting and lively."
The production took up residence for a few weeks in Sheepshead Bay for exterior scenes at Vincent and Maggie's houses. The interiors were carefully matched at Steiner Studios in Brooklyn. Vincent's favorite bar was found in Greenpoint, Daka's strip club in the Hunt's Point area of the Bronx, and most of Oliver's school in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The Belmont Race Track on Long Island was used for Vincent and Oliver's gambling outing - a tricky proposition, because it is not really possible (or financially feasible) shut down an entire racetrack. The production navigated amongst the general public in order to grab those key scenes.
Inbal Weinberg thoughtfully consulted her lead actor about how to best decorate his environment: 'We had many conversations with Bill about his character - what he liked to do, to eat, what his hobbies were, his family background - and those details guided us while shopping and dressing the sets. We also thought a lot about Vin's life before his wife moved out. We wanted it all to be in the walls of the house."
Another signature piece was Vincent's car. Prop Master Courtney Schmidt scoured the earth to find two matching vintage unconventional cars, and was finally able to find not one, but two, LeBarons with wood-siding.
Executive producer Mac Brown, used to working on giant blockbusters that take months to shoot, loved supporting a new filmmaking talent like Melfi on a 35-day shoot. He appreciated the streamlined simplicity of the production, in comparison to huge budget films where it can take a dozen people's opinions for decisions can be finalized. Brown said it made the St. Vincent production a true pleasure: 'It's kind of this group of old men who have done it, and done it, and done it, along with Ted Melfi who's a new kid but completely prepared and has a vision. Everybody was to be able to work together really well to make a great movie."
There is also the fact that making a film with Bill Murray as the lead actor is unlike any other filmmaking experience because of the extremely unique energy he brings to the party - and the fact that he makes it like a party. Brown notes: 'Bill Murray wanted to make a great movie, and he wanted to make Ted Melfi's movie. He was really eager and hard working. But at the same time we kept it very loose and fun. Bill Murray's a guy who lives to have fun everyday. Every moment is a fun experience, and so we tried to keep it that way."
Ted Melfi agrees that the Bill Murray effect extends beyond the cast and crew on set and spills out on to the general public, wherever he goes: 'During the course of working with Bill Murray on this film, I've realised that Bill Murray's a saint. He's the most generous human I think I've ever met. He'll stop and talk to anyone any time. He spent hours talking to people on streets and taking pictures. He's just the most giving person. Bill Murray's present all the time. And it's something that's inspiring to watch. It's been enlightening for me as a person."
For ten year-old Jaeden, it was quite an introduction into moviemaking: 'It's been amazing to work with Bill Murray, Naomi Watts, Melissa McCarthy and Ted Melfi. They've been great. They taught me a lot of things. It's nice to learn from legends. Back when I lived in Philly, I would watch Ghostbusters all the time. I never thought of being in a movie with Bill Murray, and then it happened. It's pretty cool."
Release Date: December 26th, 2014