[IMG:L]Joe Carnahan is no stranger to blood, guts, bullets and octane. In fact, that was the name of his 1999 film debut. Now, the writer and director is serving up plenty more shoot ‘em up action, thrills and carnage in Smokin' Aces, set to hit video store shelves April 17.
The feature follows the story of Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), a Vegas magician formerly caught up in the mafia. When he agrees to testify for the FBI, organized crime boss Primo Sparazza (Joseph Ruskin) puts out a $1 million bounty on his head, sending assassins and FBI agents on a race to Israel’s Lake Tahoe hide out.
Hollywood.com caught up with Carnahan to find out more about writing Smokin' Aces, watching Ellen, and working with his brother on White Jazz.
Hollywood.com: What inspired this story of all these assassins racing to get to one guy?
Joe Carnahan: I think a lot of it came from my early fascination with Frank Sinatra and his proximity to the mob and what those relationships really were … a lot of people sort of have this wish, especially in Hollywood, to be notorious or parlay their power as entertainers into criminal venues. What would happen? Well it would be disastrous. You would wind up tracking mud all over the place and probably endangering a lot of situations and other people and basically make a mess of the criminal world.
HW: Alicia Keys and Common really held their own, but were you apprehensive about casting musicians?
JC: I had real success when I put Busta Rhymes in Narc a couple years ago … there’s not a huge gap, at least in my mind, between the world of music and the world of film in the sense of storytelling … so in that respect I was confident they could make that transition. It was them really wanting to be a part of it and their tremendous enthusiasm … obviously I was thrilled with the performances they gave.
[IMG:R]HW: Jeremy Piven gives a riveting performance as Buddy “Aces” Israel, at what point in his career did he grab you as an actor?
JC: I’ve been a fan of Jeremy’s for a long time. It is funny, because when Ellen had her first show years ago I thought Jeremy was so funny and you just saw how talented the guy was. I remember seeing him in Very Bad Things and his ability to play a wide range. You know when he’s onscreen on Entourage, that’s when that show really comes to life … We just went to a lunch meeting and after about five minutes I offered him the role.
HW: What was it like filming in Lake Tahoe?
JC: We gambled until the wee hours of the morning. We were horrible degenerate gamblers. There was one night where we were up until 4 or 4:30 in the morning playing black jack. We were really down … myself, Ben Bray and Frank Torres my stunt coordinators and I think Kevin Graham was with us, he’s one of the Tremor Brothers. We had like a group at this table and played through every horrible dealer change and we were down all this money and had to kind of hunker down until we could win it back – I think we got about 80 percent of our money back and then had to make a 6 a.m. call and we all had to go sleep for an hour and then go work a 14 hour day.
HW: How did the locals react to the cast and crew?
JC: I think at some point we started to sour on the locals. We had one night where I think a number of our contingents and the locals flared … when [our guys] are bigger than the bouncers they have at the club they end up taking the bouncers out of the club. It was pretty funny – toward the end there I think they’d had their fill of Hollywood … [we were there] three weeks.
HW: What are some of the DVD extras you are most excited about sharing with the audience?
JC: I think the original scripted ending that I shot and decided not to go with was more of a dramatic ending. This one I call the Cowboy Ending. It is really hostile and kind of abrupt in a movie that had tremendous hostility and kind of abruptness throughout and I thought that maybe it was too much at the end. Although, I do think it will spark an interesting debate among fans of the film.
HW: The behind the scenes footage shows you guys messing around – what are you like on set?
JC: We just like to have a lot of fun …There was this really goofy thing that shows all the dancing, everybody at some point, I don’t know how they captured all of this, but I played music constantly and they just put together this wacky little ode to the fact that I was deejaying on set everyday and they cut all this stuff together. One scene we literally had a dance off with the Tremor Brothers, the producer and her assistant and everybody ended up break dancing.
HW: How are things coming along with White Jazz, the latest film from Jams Ellroy’s “L.A. Quartet” series of noir novels?
JC: This is the first time [my brother Matthew and I have] officially collaborated … this is the first time we are writing back and forth with one another. He just got a really quick little scene for me and sent it to me this morning, so we are right in the midst of it. I’m getting this great material to put together this presentation for Warner Brothers and for all concerned. We’ve got a date in November when we are going to start shooting so it all looks really good. The screenplay is great right now and it is just getting better.
HW: Have you talked to Guy Pearce about reprising his role as Ed Exley from L.A. Confidential?
JC: As much as I wanted to use Guy, it just didn’t come to pass … there are talks of L.A. Confidential 2 as a separate project. We were basically informed that the Exley character [was off limits] … so we had to make that change and it is unfortunate, but at the same time White Jazz was really in and of itself a stand alone piece and the only character that really showed up was the Exley character and although he’s a really prominent part of that book, you could easily create another character and not lose anything and as a matter of fact it actually kind of helps the process.