Talking with Viggo Mortensen and other cast and crew members on the carpet at the Green Book premiere presented by Cadillac.
In theaters this Thanksgiving, Green Book is the heartwarming true story of driver Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) and musician Doc Shirley (Mahershala Ali) as they travel through the Deep South in the early 1960s. At the Green Book premiere, The Knockturnal spoke to some of the cast and crew of the movie about filming on location, working with a true story, getting into character and more!
The Knockturnal: What did it take to learn the accent and develop the character, especially working with your character’s son, Nick Vallelonga.
Viggo Mortensen (“Tony Lip”): Well I was nervous because I’m not Italian-American. But once I did, Nick was crucial. And without his help and his family’s help, I wouldn’t be able to get there. I mean my whole concern always is that I don’t want to do a caricature, I want to play real people. And on top of that, this person existed. So even though I can’t look exactly like him, I’ve got to embody his essence and his attitude, the way of speaking, moving, eating, smoking. So they really helped me. They showed me pictures, they showed me what he did, what he was like. They played recordings for me where he’s talking about many things, including this trip with Don Shirley. So that was immensely helpful.
The Knockturnal: What drew you to this project in the first place?
Viggo Mortensen: It’s one of the best original screenplays I’ve read in my entire career. It’s funny, it’s profound, it’s got sparkling dialogue, and it doesn’t tell you what to think or to feel. It doesn’t tell you to compare things to now. It invites you to do that by telling a great story that happens to be a true story from a difficult time about a very unlikely friendship. It’s just beautiful and a great story. I’m really proud to be in it.
The Knockturnal: When did you know you wanted to make this movie about your father?
Nick Vallelonga (Green Book’s writer and producer): As a teenager, I started to get into some writing, and knew I wanted to be an actor, I thought of my dad’s story. And everything about it, and as I heard it more and more I knew I wanted to make a movie about it. And as I got a little older and more serious about it in my twenties, I started tape recording my dad, talking to Doctor Shirley to get his side of the story, and I started compiling all of these. My mother had the letters, so that helped me enormously, and then it took a long time to get it done, but it worked out when it worked out. And to have Brian Currie write with me and Peter Farrelly direct it, and an amazing cast… it was a dream picture.
The Knockturnal: What was it like working with Viggo Mortensen as he played your father?
Nick Vallelonga: It was tremendous. He started out early with me and my family, eating like crazy, and learning the dilects—the Italian combined with the Calabrese. And then just studying films of my father, tape recordings of my father. He transformed himself into my father.
The Knockturnal: How did you work with Doc Shirley to make his character? How well did you know him during his life?
Nick Vallelonga: Well I got his perspective and his side of the story, talked to him about what he wanted in and what he didn’t want in. He was a very private man, and he told me exactly what he didn’t want. So I respected that and stayed true to him. He loved our family, so I went over to his apartment, I sat on his throne… all of that. He was a really gracious gentleman?
The Knockturnal: When did you get attached to the project in the first place?
Brian Hayes Currie (Green Book’s writer and producer): I was just speaking with Nick at a coffee shop in Sherman Oaks. I knew his father for 25 years and I’ve known Nick for 30, and he never told him this story. He just told me over a cup of coffee and I said, “Nick, let me run with this.” And I just started pounding the pavement. I got a hold of Pete, got him interested and once he gets interested, Pete—who’s the nicest guy in Hollywood, no doubt about it—once he’s onto something he’s like a pit bull. So we all get together, we all love each other, it’s perfect
The Knockturnal: What do you want audiences to most take away from this movie?
Brian Hayes Currie Currie: I would say this: If you change one man, you could change the world. This movie… we wanted to keep it small—between Tony Lip and Doc Shirley. Two guys, they had to deal with some issues, they ended up learning to love each other. And at the end of the movie, Tony Lip saved Don Shirley and because of that, we have a movie. They changed each other’s lives and ultimately changed the world one man at a time.
The Knockturnal: You’re playing a real person in this movie. What attracted you to the role, what made you want to make this movie?
Dimiter Marinov (“Oleg”): I come from a communist country, former Bulgaria. I graduated [from the] classical music school in Bulgaria with the violin. Actually, I was fifteen years old when I came to New York for the first time and played with Leonard Bernstein at the United Nations Circle Hall in 1979. And since then, growing up in a communist country, there was just one thing in my mind, about why we were so different—why we had to be different. And the real character is actually me! He was 52 years old when the story was taking place [Marinov is also 52], his father is Jewish, and his mother is Christian. My father is Jewish and my mother is Christian. And everything was so similar. He defected to America to play jazz, I defected to America to play jazz when I was 25.
But that wasn’t the main reason. It was the story, but also the message. Especially now, I’ve been here for almost 28 years. How America can be so divided— why can’t we just listen to each other? That’s all we need to do.
Mike Hatton (“George”): Well George is actually a combination of two real people. So we took the real basis who were in the Don Shirley Trio, and we kinda took the two of them and combined some of their histories and combined some of their stories and made them into one guy. So George was a lot of fun to play. He’s a very different person than I am. I am married, I have three kids but George is a musician who was on the road. All he really cared about was drinking and meeting girls and the kind of things musicians in the 1960s would do. And maybe I was a little envious of the character. So I tried to take full advantage of that… within reason!
The Knockturnal: How much of the music in the film are you playing yourself?
Dimiter Marinov: Well, I never played cello in my life. And I had only five days to learn it. And my wife almost divorced me because I did it old school — six hours a day. But the truth is, the original score was recorded professionally, and everything you see in the film I do really play live. But the recording is the original score.
Mike Hatton: What you hear, to my knowledge, doesn’t sample from what we did on set. But when we were shooting the scenes, we were really doing the songs. And there were full on scenes where we did not roll a backing track that was pre-recorded. There were scenes where its Kris Bowers and Mahershala on the piano, myself, and Dimiter. So we were doing the actual songs. And sometimes we were playing to a backing track, but we were still playing the actual songs and hitting the notes. And that’s a commitment to Peter Farrelly. Peter has a real eye for detail, and he wanted accuracy.
The Knockturnal: How did you get involved in the project?
Patrick J. Don Vito (Green Book’s Editor): I worked with Pete [Farrelly] on Movie 43 and also a pilot, and we got to know each other. When this came up, I read the script and I was like “Wow, this is fantastic.” So Pete kinda told me the origin of how the script came about… I got involved in October into November, and then I went to New Orleans with the crew and worked as they were shooting day-by-day, and just got a couple of things together until they were done shooting. We were probably about two hours and forty-five minutes long then, and we just started whittling it down and shaping the performances. That was probably the biggest thing about the performances, is the balance between the comedy and the drama. It’s trying to get the right tone.
Mike Hatton: I’ve known Nick Vallelonga for years so when I read the script for the first time I knew it was going to be something I had to be in. I said to him, “I want to get in front of Pete, let me audition, let me see him, let me meet him!” So I’m very grateful he did do that. Because I play the bass, they wanted a real bassist in the role of George.
Kwame Parker (Green Book’s producer): I think it was when Participant [Media] and Amblin [Pictures] became involved. So when they became involved, it became “how do we get this film made?” And I had a conversation about it with the filmmakers, and we sat down and came up with an idea, a philosophy on how to make it and what our plans and thoughts were. And I sat there and was like “Look, no matter what we’re making this film. So let’s just go with it.” So I became fully invested from the moment I closed the script.
The Knockturnal: What makes Green Book the right movie for right now?
Don Vito: I think its the relationship between the two of them. It shows that two guys from different socioeconomic situations came together and they found some common ground, and they formed a relationship and a friendship that lasted their entire lives. So I would hope that people kind of reach out to people that are outside of their friend zone, outside of their comfort zone and try to make friends with somebody who is maybe a bit different then they are. And it’s surprising how much you could actually learn from that.
Kwame Parker: Just to talk about it. At the bottom line, it’s all about the human touch, communication. All we need to do is start the conversation. We can have our own opinions and perspectives, but if we’re able to speak to each other that just helps.
A posh dinner party followed at The Oak Room and then Cadillac took us home in style in a Cadillac CT6.
Check out this all-new video titled “Now That’s a Cardiac” featuring award-winning, comedic duo John Mulaney and Nick Kroll – reprising their characters from their Broadway show “Oh, Hello.” With the help of “Val the Vlogger,” played by breakout star Awkwafina, the long time New York City residents take us on a hilarious and misguided tour of the city in the first-ever Cadillac XT4. The short also features a cameo by 2018 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover model, Danielle Herrington.
Green Book opens in select theaters on November 16th. It expands for Thanksgiving.