Interview: Jay Giannone "American Hustle"

Movie Description(Click Here To Hide)
The story of a con artist and his partner in crime, who were forced to work with a federal agent to turn the tables on other cons, mobsters, and politicians - namely, the volatile mayor of impoverished Camden, New Jersey.
Photo Credit: Jay Giannone
December 20th, 2013

Actor Jay Giannone spoke with us back in March 2012 about his role in the action film “Safe” and now we’ve had the chance to talk with him about his role in one of the biggest films of 2013, “American Hustle”.  Jay talks all about the film and his 15 years of working with brilliant director of the film, David Russell.  Here is what Jay had to say to us.

Nick Leyland from Movie Room Reviews: Jay, how are you doing!

Jay Giannone: Well, I'm good, man. Had an exciting night last night at the DGA for the premiere of American Hustle there and hung out with a lot of big celebs and just the director and Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Eli Roth, Benjamin Bratt, it was an insane night. You know it was like, great music, good food, awesome movies and just excellent energy in the room.

MRR: Is that the first time that you've seen the full film?

Jay Giannone: It is, yeah.

MRR: What do you think?

Jay Giannone: Oh man! Honestly, I think it's gonna be a classic movie. I feel like I wanna watch it again because there are so many layers to the characters and to the stories. I just felt like the movie just kept getting better and better, you know?

MRR: That’s fantastic.

Jay Giannone: That's rare. It makes me wanna watch it again because I wanna see like what Amy does again. There's something in my mind about this one scene with Jennifer Lawrence, I wanna just watch that scene again because she was so good, and Christian Bale's character was out of this world. Seeing Bradley Cooper in despair was overwhelming. It's amazing and I'm so happy about what I got to do in the film and I love my own work and I think it's a great film. I'm overwhelmed over the experience.

MRR: Can you tell our audience your interpretation of the film?

Jay Giannone: Well, the film is about conman in a money laundering scheme and a hustle scheme that's going on in New Jersey because what they're trying to do is, they're trying to rebuild New Jersey in the '70s, get the casinos going and things like that. And a lot of politicians get involved in taking bribes and when politicians are involved in taking bribes and the other side is the FBI, they get wind of it and then, they're just caught in the middle. I don't wanna give too much of the movie away. But there's a love triangle going on. The FBI and a lot of money scams and then all of a sudden the mob is involved. I mean, this movie covers a lot, it is amazing.

MRR: What's your role in the film?

Jay Giannone: I play the suburban businessman who is looking for a loan and is a bit desperate and Amy Adams character is kind of a woman who lures the marks in to set them up to lose. So, like, for instance I could own five businesses and be going bankrupt and no bank is gonna give me a loan and so, I go out to get a loan from a private person and it cost me money to buy into a loan, and I never get the loan and I pay money and they get rich and I don't.

MRR: Ouch!

Jay Giannone: There's a lot of different scams going on in the movie too. I mean it's just... It's amazing.

MRR: Well it relates back to the Abscam scandal of the 70s or in '80s I think, right?

Jay Giannone: Yes, it does.

MRR: How does it, how does it relate to that?

Jay Giannone: Well, it’s based on that, what was going on back then was the whole Abscam thing is, is they created situations to make people believe that something was gonna happen. They got an Arab sheik to say, he was gonna put up five million then people would start putting money into things that never existed, and they would steal the money because they thought they were getting into business with some Arab sheik who had millions of dollars and was gonna rebuild the town. I mean, it's like, if there's a piece of property that's empty on a lot and you know that next week they're building a mall there, you know to buy that property. You know to put a Burger King there. There's gonna be 7000 people day in and day out riding into that mall, so you know to build a Burger King there because they're gonna stop at Burger King and go in the mall or whatever.

It's just kind of relates the scenarios and ideas like that. A lot of different politicians, builders and people that are running the town and it's way more dynamic than I'm telling you too. There's just so much more going on that I can't even begin to tell you. It's like, "I have to watch this movie again." It's that type of movie, "I have to see it again."

MRR: Well, director David Russell, gave everyone that way of thinking with his last film, Silver Linings Playbook. It kind of took the world by storm and that movie was about so many different things other than what you expected when you saw the previews for it. Do you expect the same kind of reaction with American Hustle and what makes David so good?

Jay Giannone: You know what makes David so good, is he's extremely intelligent. He understands people. He's a very giving person. He is a man who can look right through you and see who you are. He can see your soul and that's because he's willing to lend his soul to you. He's a collaborator. Can this movie stand up to Silver Linings Playbook? Yes, it can, without a doubt. It is in the exact same category and in the exact same position as that movie was last year. This is a repeat of what went on last year and the year before with The Fighter. So, David is staying consistent. He is very consistent with what he's doing as a filmmaker and he's just really amazing. I mean, as a writer he really knows what he's doing.

MRR: Now, when the audience goes to see this, can they expect a mobster or gangster-style movie like Scorsese’s Goodfellas or Casino or something of that nature?

Jay Giannone: I think, definitely. I think this is something that's fits in the realm of greatness. And we all know Martin Scorsese is a great director and every time he makes something, it's a type of movie that is very dynamic and that you can continue to watch and learn something every time you watch it and see something different whether it's a nuance about a character or a part of the story plot , you understand the psyche of the characters more and more every time you watch it. And I think David has that same gift, which you know, it's very rare that filmmakers have a gift of really being able to convey to an audience, the dynamic situation that's going on. You gotta sometimes watch these movies more than one time to really pick up on everything, and I think this is that type of movie. It definitely fits within that realm. David stands alone on his own two feet. I mean, he can stand right next to Martin Scorsese. If anybody else in this business can, it would be him.

MRR: Well, let's talk about the cast because it's an unbelievable cast. You got Bradley Cooper, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Christian Bale, Jeremy Renner, all these guys, Robert De Niro and many more. Tell me about working with these guys and also, about how you, yourself, got involved in the project?

Jay Giannone: Okay. Well, I'll start with how I got involved. I did two other movies with David. I was in the Three Kings and then, I was also in I Heart Huckabees. I became friends with David, he thought I had talent. He totally believed in me, in my ambition, in my passion, in the love that I have for acting and we connected on that level. I'm also a writer, producer, director, so we share the same aspirations. The only difference is, is I'm an actor first, but I'm a very technical guy also. I edit and I do a lot of different things. So, we were able to speak a couple of different languages together. We could speak the art of acting and the art of film-making for writing, directing and producing and we connected on that level. And when we did, he gave me a role in the Three Kings because I grew my hair out and I learned to speak Arabic on my own.

When he heard me doing it and saw the changing of my look over time, working on the film, Three Kings, 'cause I was working with Mark Wahlberg at the time. He said, "Holy crap. Your whole appearance has changed. Why? You let your hair grow and your beard grow." And I said, "'Cause I wanna be in the movie and I'm gonna be." And he looked at me and he goes, "You're gonna be?" You can't say that to a guy like that because he makes that decision. But I think I had the gall and the guts to... It wasn't like I was being like a wise guy. I was saying to him, "I want to be in this movie and I can do it." Then, he looked at me and he was like, "Wow."

We started talking and then, he ended up putting me in the movie. And it was an amazing experience and that's when we really connected. We got to know each other. Then, I was shooting a short film. I had an idea about this short film called Diamond in the Rough. I told David I wanted to make it. He said, "Well, then, you use my house and I'll give you the camera equipment and the microphones and everything, if you go and you make this movie." So, I shot this movie around LA, short, and in his home and he helped me with all the equipment, and I ended up winning an award for it. And so, he really believes in me as a filmmaker and as an actor, and he's been nothing but helpful. So, when American Hustle came up, I heard that he had casting and bring me in to read for a role, and I went in. I read for this suburban-type businessman and I got the call from Mary Vernieu, a week later, "Hey, they wanna book you for American Hustler" and I was ecstatic. It's been an amazing experience with David and a great friendship.

MRR: Unreal.

Jay Giannone: Yeah. It just seems to keep on progressing like we continue to work. We've been working together for 15 years. I did Three Kings with him in 1999 and here I am in 2013 with a film out with him and he told me last night. He goes, "Hey, let's do something else again." And I said, "Okay. I'd love to." He's like, "I really believe in you," and that means a lot to me because your friends believe in you. And it's a tough town, I'm not gonna lie. Hollywood is really a tough town. I dig in and I do the work and when people recognize that about me, they'll give me an opportunity. They're not gonna just give me a movie role. That's not how it works out here. They give you an opportunity to audition and if they see you're right and you fit, you're gonna book a job. 'Cause I go on audition sometimes and don't get the role, but sometimes and a lot of times lately, I do. And I think that's just through hard work and persistence.

MRR: Well, I heard on the set also, there was a lot of improv going on and the story would change a lot because of that. Did that affect your character at all and did you get to do any improv?

Jay Giannone: It didn't affect my character at all. What's great about that is everybody goes in there and they have an idea of the character and the way David wrote the movie. He wrote it with Eric Singer, also, who's amazing. The characters jump off the page. David's really low key with the script. Not a lot of people got to see it. They only got to see portions and pieces, a lot of people didn't even know what was going on. He keeps the script extremely tight. He doesn't want anybody to see. So, he trusts his actors, so he does, he lets people open up, he lets people do things. He shoots a lot of B role which is a lot of coverage and he shoots everything a bunch of times and then sometimes, he'll just go, "Go ahead, do something. Do what you feel." Bradley Cooper would be like, he'll just create some dialog and change things up or do something different then David goes with it, and sometimes, it makes the film. A lot of times it does.

MRR: What did you need to do to prepare for your role?

Jay Giannone: I think I understood the role. It seemed like the character was kind of desperate and you needed something. I think as a human being, we've all been in a position in life, where we've been desperate, whether we need money to pay rent or need a ride or whatever it may be. I think I understood the character and to prepare, I just really talked to David about the role and he prepared me. He told me what he wanted, what he expected. And I went ahead and I did it. And he was really pleased and happy with what I did, which to me, is the most important thing. I'm not out there to please anybody except the director 'cause I love to work and I love what I do. But I'm out there to please the director. I wanna make sure I give him what he needs for his film, so he can go on and do what he needs to do with the film. I wanna be a team player.

MRR: One of the most important aspects of this film, I think, is the wardrobe. Because the clothing style and what everyone's wearing is just so unique to this film.

Jay Giannone: Yeah, you're good. You get it. You totally get it. You took the words right out of my mouth. Let me tell you something about the wardrobe in this movie. The fat ties from the '70s, the tight polyester suits, the bouffant, the hairdos, just the entire look of the characters. I wear a wig in the film, so does Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale basically took hair away, I mean, Jennifer Lawrence wears a wig. The characters, their hairdos, their clothing, it really captures the essence of the 1970s. You feel like you are back in the 1970s, watching this movie, without a doubt. The automobiles, everything about this movie, very detailed, from the props to the set decoration, the wardrobe, the characters. This movie looks like it could have been made in the '70s. Even the style of the way the film looks, it's really cool.

MRR: Well, what else can we look forward to seeing from you now in the future, now that American Hustle is out?

Jay Giannone: Yeah, well I have a few movies in the can right now. I have a movie called "God only knows" coming out and that's with Ben Barnes, Leighton Meester, Toby Jones, Harvey Keitel, Slaine, Kenny Wormald. Big cast, gonna be a great film, I play this guy Joe. It's directed by James Mottern, written by Emilio Mauro, it's a gangster flick. I'm excited about it. And then, I have, "The Life" coming out with Danny Abeckaser and Jerry Ferrara from Entourage. It's like a modern day Studio 54. And then, I have a couple of other projects. I'm set to direct a movie called, "It snows all the time" in March with Taryn Manning, Brett Cullen, myself and Erich Hover and it's a film about a dad who comes down with Alzheimer's disease. So, I have a lot of things coming up. I'm getting busy, I'm really blessed and I'm just doing the work.

MRR: Alright. Well, congratulations. It sounds like so many great things going on in your life right now.

Jay Giannone: Yeah man. It's a real blessing. So, just staying busy and working hard and just trying to make things happen. It's overwhelming at times, but then again, it's what I asked for 'cause it's exciting at the same time, and there is nothing better than doing what you love to do.

MRR: Alright, well, good job, man. And thank you so much for talking with me today. I really appreciate it. And I hope the film wins every award it can.

[chuckle]

Jay Giannone: Oh man. Thanks for having me, you have a good day and we'll talk soon.