In which the king of the clipped curse talks about making a ... martial arts movie?
Not content to straddle the line between the theater and the cineplex, writer/director David Mamet has decided to shake things up just a little bit more with his new movie, Redbelt, about a Jiu-Jitsu instructor who is forced into the competitive fighting circuit against his will. Mamet has a made a name for himself with his almost impossibly dark and cynical look at the world in plays and films like Glengarry Glen Ross, American Buffalo, and State and Main. So how did the man, best known for his curt, clipped dialogue seasoned liberally with the F-bomb come to write a serious movie about mixed martial arts?
"You know, I've done all sorts of films," Mamet says. "William Wyler made all sorts of different films. He made a Western, God forgive him. Billy Wilder made all sorts of different films. That's the fun of it. You don't want to make the same film all the time."
This one, Mamet says, isn't so easy to categorize. "I would characterize it neither as a martial arts film, nor as an action film, but as a fight film, which is a very different genre. Because a fight film is a film about a fighter, rather than a film about action. Or maybe it's a kind of American samurai film," he says. "Because it's not a story about an excuse for staging five fights. It's a story of the journey of a man who wants to be pure and gets tempted."
Mamet's interest in the mixed martial arts stems entirely from personal experience. "My friend Ed O'Neill has been studying Jiu-Jitsu for many, many years," Mamet explains. "He said, 'Come out to LA, I want you to meet these guys.' So my first day in LA, I ran into Ed by accident and we had lunch. I said, 'What about those Brazilian guys? Where are they?' And he said, 'Oh yeah, they're right there.' And it was on accident 50 yards from the restaurant. So I thought it was a sign from heaven, so I went over and started studying."
Unlike him, his actors haven't had the benefit of years of training to make the fight scenes, which are so integral to the movie, look real. But Mamet wasn't worried. "They're young, they're healthy, they're very athletic," he says. "The people they were working with, mainly my teacher, Renato Magno -- who's not only trained everybody, but also choreographed and produced the fights -- is a great teacher. [Star] Chiwetel [Ejiofor] would spend like 12 hours a day for a month in the studio."
In fact, Mamet places a lot of trust in his actors, because, he says, finding good ones are the key. And according to Mamet, there's no one better than Ejiofor, whom he came upon because they have the same agent. "My agent had said, 'This is the best actor in the world,' and he sent me Dirty Pretty Things," Mamet recounts. "So I looked at Dirty Pretty Things, and I said, 'He's a great actor. He's fantastic. Has he done a lot of films in Nigeria?' He just said, 'No, he's not Nigerian. He's British.' And he sent me Kinky Boots. And I looked at the same guy do Kinky Boots and Dirty Pretty Things, and I said, 'My God, this guy can obviously do anything. If he can do those two things, he can do anything.' And I wasn't wrong."
Redbelt opens in select theaters on Friday, May 2, 2008.