Bob Montagnet (NICK NOLTE) is an American gambler and thief who has ended up in the South of France, out of luck and out of money. A living legend, he is considered the sharpest gambler in Nice. But he is also a heroin addict, his habit fed by Said (OUASSINI EMBAREK), a young Algerian. As the film opens, we find Bob gambling in an illegal joint run by Remi (MARC LAVOINE), a local pimp. He is losing, as he has been for months. In his heroin induced haze, he meets Anne (NUTSA KUKHIANIDZE), a young Eastern European girl, 'trapped' by Remi. Bob is taken by her beauty, and in particular her lucky eyes. As Bob warns her against the club and its owner, the place is raided by the police. Said is found with a quantity of drugs. Roger (TCHEKY KARYO), the detective, is about to cuff him, when Said grabs the gun and holds it to his head. A stand-off develops, until Bob disarms Said, thus saving Roger's life.
We soon realise that Bob and Roger have an acquaintance stretching back years, oddly supportive of each other, given that one is a policeman, the other a thief. Roger looks out for Bob, warning that his next conviction would put him away for many, many years. Bob swears he is staying straight, and asks Roger to keep an eye on Anne instead, fearing she will end up working the streets for Remi. As dawn breaks, Bob falls asleep beneath his most prized possession, a Picasso, which he won in a bet many years ago.
The following evening, Anne is sporting a black eye. Bob saves her from Remi's clutches; he buys her food, introduces her to his young friend Paulo (SAID TAGHMAOUI), and gives her enough money to pay for her hotel-room. But the next day he finds her walking the streets with her case. Realising she has spent the money, he takes her to his place, leaving her in Paulo's safe hands.
Bob and his friend Raoul (GERARD DARMON) go to the races, where he loses the last of his cash. Seizing the moment, Raoul suggests a trip to Monte Carlo, where he and Paulo have been planning a robbery. Thinking Raoul wants to achieve the impossible, robbing the casino safe on the evening of the Grand Prix, Bob is initially uninterested - until they reach the casino. Raoul plans to rob not the safe, but a fabulous collection of Impressionist paintings recently hung on the walls by the new Japanese owners. When Bob realises they are very good fakes and that the originals are in a vault nearby, he is hooked. And the best bit? The help of Vladimir (EMIR KUSTURICA), who installed the security system.
Locking himself in his apartment, Bob goes cold-turkey to rid himself of his habit for good. When he emerges three days later, he has a plan. They will set up two robberies, a real one and a fake. Aware that Roger is watching his every move, Bob plans the impossible, legendary heist of the casino safe - a cover for the real theft of the art collection. He will pose as a gambler, with the apparent intention of robbing the safe, but will seemingly call off the robbery just before dawn. Vladimir takes them through his ingenious plan to create a false Villa De Pez on his computer. Meanwhile, a reluctant Anne moves in with Paulo, and gets a job at a lurid nightclub, as well as a constant supply of drugs.
In order to finance the heist, Bob leases his beloved Picasso to Tony Angel (RALPH FIENNES), an English fence-cum-art-dealer. As Raoul and Paulo assemble a crack team Bob wonders who will betray him: Said who has now turned police-informer and is watching him like a hawk; Remi who holds a grudge for the loss of Anne, with whom Paulo is now in love; or Anne herself, who seems determined to end up on the streets.
During one of their recces of the casino, Security Guard Albert (MARK POLISH) realises that they are planning to rob the safe. He confronts Bob and reveals that he himself had been planning exactly the same theft - with the help of his brother Bertram (MIKE POLISH), about whom the casino management know nothing. He now proposes that they pool their efforts. Astonished, Bob agrees to this; it will provide further cover for the real robbery. Meanwhile plans start to break into the villa via the old Napoleonic sewers.
But the plan soon goes horribly awry. Said tries unsuccessfully to find out about Paulo's activities from Anne. However, when Remi chances to see a series of negatives of the casino art collection at Paulo's, he realises the planned robbery is a screen. He works Paulo into a jealous frenzy, telling him that Anne has told Said the whole story. When Paulo finds Said talking to Roger, he shoots him dead and flees. Roger is amazed that Bob would be stupid enough to rob the casino safe, until Remi casually tells him of the real plans. Bob tells Paulo to lose himself in San Remo and, unsure exactly how much Roger knows, nonetheless decides to go ahead as planned. But Tony Angel has wrecked his place - the Picasso is a fake and he wants his money back. Paulo reaches the Italian border, but finding police checking identities he panics and turns back. Acting on a last desperate instinct, he tracks down the twins.
As the truth finally dawns, Roger admires Bob's ingenuity, but determines to stop him.
Meanwhile Bob asks Anne to accompany him to the Casino in Monte Carlo on the most glamorous night of the year - the evening before the Grand Prix. The pair arrive, looking stunning. He starts to gamble and, to his astonishment, begins to win.
As Roger examines the seemingly impregnable vault, he hears a sound beneath the floor, and realises they are coming from the sewers below. But as the gang try to cut their way upwards, they sever a gas pipe. The massive explosion destroys the vault floor, but leaves the paintings oddly intact. A forlorn Philippa (SARAH BRIDGES) is the only gang member still in the vault, too disheartened to run.
In the casino, Bob's run of luck continues. He has forgotten about everything to do with the heist, mesmerised by the magic of the cards, oblivious to the crowds now pressing around him. Roger can hardly get to Bob and watches, amazed, as he places all of his chips on one last bet - and wins. He has broken the bank. But when Albert goes to the safe with the manager to get Bob's cash, they find it empty. Bob is genuinely amazed.
Meanwhile Bertram is waved through the Italian border. Bob's alibi is rock-solid; he is in full view of the cameras all night, on his extraordinary winning streak. The management have no option but to present him with a cheque for his winnings. Roger tells him he has won, twice over. Bertram pulls up on the rocky beach and reveals Paulo in the boot of the car, painfully curled up on a bed of banknotes. He calls Bob on his mobile. Bob sits on the beach, but not alone, and talks about love, the best game of all. ..
THE GOOD THIEF is the eleventh film from Writer/Director Neil Jordan and Producer Stephen Woolley. Filmed entirely on location in the South of France, the Italian Riviera, Monte Carlo and at the Riviera Studios, Nice, the film brings together the American star Nick Nolte and an ensemble cast of international actors: Tcheky Karyo ("The Patriot"), Gerard Darmon ("Diva"), Said Taghmaoui ("Three Kings"), French musician Marc Lavoine, acclaimed Serbian director/actor Emir Kusturica ("The Widow of Saint Pierre") and seventeen-year-old Georgian actress Nutsa Kukhianidze in only her second film.
The Irish director, whose credits include MONA LISA, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, THE CRYING GAME and THE END OF THE AFFAIR, has also written the screenplay, based on Jean Pierre Melville's 1955 film BOB LE FLAMBEUR.
Stephen Woolley explains how he was made aware of this little known French movie: "Some seventeen years ago, I went to see a rare screening of the original film at the French Institute. I loved its gossamer-like simplicity. At the time we were making MONA LISA with Bob Hoskins, and it immediately struck me that it would transfer very well to London. I could picture him as Bob the gambler, surrounded by rogues and henchmen played by up-and-coming actors of the '80s like Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. However, I was unable to acquire the rights from Melville's estate. But neither Neil nor I forgot the film. "
More than a decade later, fate intervened. Neil and Stephen worked with Warner Brothers on MICHAEL COLLINS. The company were keen to collaborate again and asked if they had any suitable projects. Neil recalled BOB LE FLAMBEUR, and it transpired that Warner Bros had just bought the rights from Canal +. So Neil developed the script in conjunction with John Wells at Warner Bros and Stephen began preparing the production. But by the time they were ready to make the film, the company had changed management regimes, set up its own gambling-themed remake, OCEAN'S 11, and passed on the project "partly because of those conflicts" Woolley suggests. Neil and Stephen then took control of the rights.
Shortly afterwards ICM chief Jeff Berg showed Jordan's script to Canadian company Alliance Atlantis. Motion Picture Production President Seaton McLean leapt at the opportunity: "I think that there is a niche for us to fill at Alliance Atlantis. There is a tremendous number of film-makers who can make good and exciting films on budgets of less than $50 million. If we can find people like Neil Jordan, we will happily commit to them. "
Jordan characterises Bob Montagnet as a loser whose luck seems to have run out for good: "When we first meet him, he uses only half of his brain. But when he uses the whole of his brain, he wins big. "
The film's subject matter held many such attractions for Neil, as Woolley explains: "He was fascinated by the character of Bob who, like many of Neil's characters, is in the twilight zone - part of society, but an outsider, who lives on his wits. He's a drug addict, a fallible human being, into gambling and criminality, but people like and respect him. His friends are disparate - both drug-dealers and cops. It is a world of fantasy, real but surreal, a very exciting and strange world. Dark shadows are cast over the story - and those elements are Neil's trademark. "
Whilst the character of Bob is based loosely on Jean Pierre Melville's charismatic anti-hero, there was plenty of scope for developing and updating the original story, as Neil explains: "I began working on the script with a bit of circumspection, because I like the original movie a lot and I wasn't sure that I wanted to do something that was a remake of it. In fact I was as much influenced by films such as Jules Dassin's RIFIFI, or films by Godard, even Fassbinder, as by BOB LE FLAMBEUR. Let's say THE GOOD THIEF bears an affectionate relationship to the original movie. As I wrote, the character got more and more interesting to me and I found myself adding more and more layers to the story. "
He continues: "The original idea is of a gambler who sets up a casino robbery. Then I remembered a casino in Los Angeles called the Bellaggio, owned by two guys who used to run Studio 54. They had a vulgar idea; they bought lots of Picassos and hung them up in their casino to attract customers. So I dreamt up the idea of a Japanese corporation who had bought all these over-priced impressionist paintings in the eighties. To try and retrieve their investment, they hang them up in the casino. But it seems that these corporate organisations often get a copy made to hang in the board room, whilst the original is stored in a secure vault. " Thus the idea of the real and the fake was born.
Neil then decided to move the action in THE GOOD THIEF to the Côte d'Azur. Stephen elaborates: "The original film was set in Paris and the casino was in Deauville. But Paris has changed a lot since the fifties. Many of Bob's haunts are now tourist attractions. Montmartre and all those places that were seedy and weird and full of Genet characters in the fifties and sixties don't really exist any more. Neil was bringing the story right up to date, and he felt that the contrast between the shifty, shady underworld of Nice and the gaudy opulence of Monte Carlo was much more striking. "
In many ways, says Neil, the story could be set in any casino-driven city: "Tijuana, Atlantic City, San Diego. However, the attraction of Nice was not just the proximity to Monte Carlo, but the fact that Bob's character, the crumpled American gambler abroad, is plausible in a way he wouldn't be in, say, Dublin or London, as so many Americans have made the Riviera their home. "
It soon became clear just how much Nice had to offer in the way of locations. Almost permanent sunshine, the sea, fabulous, vivid colours, all made the Côte d'Azur a perfect backdrop for the film. "The French Riviera is so rich and alive," says Neil. But the area isn't all glamorous: "I had always associated filming in the South of France with those rather dated and elegant old films like MONTE CARLO OR BUST or TO CATCH A THIEF. But actually there is some really serious stuff going on down here. In no time I was finding out about the Russian Mafia, the drug-dealing, the young Eastern European girls who are lured to the Côte d'Azur with false promises of employment and find themselves falling into prostitution. "
Many of these darker elements have found their way into Neil's script. But although he has been filming on the streets and in Nice's Old Town, he insists he is not making some drab docudrama: "The film has the same kind of magical realism that you find in most of Neil's work," says Stephen.
Although Bob's story takes place in familiar territory, that twilight world of gangsters, petty criminals, terrorists and gamblers, Neil explains that: "Ultimately, this is a story set in a place of the mind. We've built an imagined city, an imagined environment. There's a deeply romantic feel to this film. We've done a lot of night shooting. We've plastered neon and strings of bulbs everywhere. "
The area is also steeped in artistic heritage. Nice itself is a fitting home for a collection of priceless paintings as it was the home of such artists as Picasso, Matisse and Chagalle. Moreover other forms of art have flourished in the area. Writers such as Guy de Maupassant, Guillaume Apollinaire, Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, Aldous Huxley, DH Lawrence, Arthur Miller, F Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway all made the Riviera their home and the area became a haven to German writers fleeing Nazism. Since LA COTE D'AZUR VUE D'UN TRAIN (1903) by the Lumiere brothers, the Riviera has played an important role in world cinema. Film-makers such as Jean Cocteau, Jean Marais, Henri Decoin and Roger Vadim flocked to the south of France.
Neil has always been passionate about European film-making, and describes THE GOOD THIEF as a homage to the kind of European films that made him want to become a director in the first place: "I'm tired of the dominance of American movies over everything, every facet of film-making and cinema-going. I just think it's time to make a move back to Europe. It's exciting to see European directors making films with reach, punch and intellectual ambition. "
Neil describes THE GOOD THIEF as "a film about gambling, cards, roulette, casinos, the enchantment of winning and losing and the unpredictability of luck, really. It's a beautiful theme. Gambling is about chance, about romanticism, dreams of this impossible, perfect moment that everyone has. All gamblers are totally incurable optimists. No matter how much they lose, they all think the next throw is going to win them the world, and that is quite a beautiful metaphor for the way some people lead their lives. "
He admits to being an enthusiastic gambler: "I love it, cards more than horses, roulette and casinos. That's why I can really relate to the film. " The film's title refers, in part, to gambling: when the first two hands have been dealt in Black Jack, you can 'double down' or double the amount of your bet and play off both. This is what Bob does when he plots his heist on the casino. It's not just the cash that he wants but the works of art (which may or may not be forgeries) on the walls.
The plot is thick with decoys, duplicity and double dealing. Neil elaborates: "THE GOOD THIEF is a heist movie, but the idea of imitation of an inspired original is played with throughout. The plot of the film involves an attempted double-theft, of an art collection and a casino safe, woven in with Bob's basic philosophy of gambling. In all of his endeavours, he regards himself as someone who imitates the form of genius, the basic moves, but is sadly lacking in the genuine breath of genius himself. "
Bob's most treasured possession is a painting by Picasso. He spins far-fetched yarns - one is about a wager he once had with Picasso at a bullfight. Neil continues: "A gambler plays with mathematics, chance and the laws of probability, of course, and no matter how inspired or lucky, can never match the sublime position of one who plays with the laws of aesthetics, the history of painting itself. Thus Picasso becomes a kind of symbol in the film for a state of grace the characters themselves can never hope to reach. Their mode is imitation, and no matter how perfectly they imitate, the result will always be an imitation. "
With the script ready, those characters could be put in place. Neil and Stephen worked closely again with Casting Director Susie Figgis. The casting of THE GOOD THIEF is adventurous and unusually international. To attract Alliance Atlantis, the new financier, and to be allowed to shoot in Europe, Neil needed a star. Enter Nick Nolte, a reformed hellraiser once famously browbeaten by Katharine Hepburn who told him he was an "illiterate, ill-mannered, inconsiderate oaf who's been drunk in every gutter in town", before adding that he was just like Spencer Tracy. Woolley compares him to rugged, old-style stars such as Jean Gabin, Robert Mitchum and Lee Marvin, and talks admiringly of his "world-weary, seen-it-all, done-it-all feel. The charisma he carries is very important for the part. "
Alongside Nolte appears seventeen-year-old Georgian Nutsa Kukhianidze, the Turkish-born Frenchman Tcheky Karyo, the North African/French actor Gerard Darmon, a Moroccan Frenchman Said Taghmaoui, an Algerian Ouassini Embarek, French musician Marc Lavoine and, from Idaho, USA, the twins Mike and Mark Polish. Jordan's fellow-director, the Serbian Emir Kusturica, twice winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1985 and 1989, has a key acting role as Vladimir, a computer genius.
Nick Nolte plays Bob:
In an incredible career spanning some twenty-five years, Nick Nolte is one of film's most versatile leading players. He was launched to international fame with a breakthrough role in the landmark television mini series RICH MAN, POOR MAN. Diversity of character has since been his signature. Recent credits include Merchant Ivory's GOLDEN BOWL and Terence Malik's THIN RED LINE. He was nominated for Academy Awards for Paul Schrader's AFFLICTION and THE PRINCE OF TIDES in which he starred opposite Barbara Streisand. Other credits include 48 HOURS, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, NORTH DALLS FORTY, LORENZO'S OIL and CAPE FEAR. He has played both cops and con-men: his performance in Sidney Lumet's Q&A as the hulking Irish cop Mike Brennan was, according to Marlon Brando, "the scariest thing I ever saw. "
Nolte recently returned to the stage in the world premiere of Sam Shepherd's play THE LATE HENRY MOSS in which he was reunited with THIN RED LINE colleagues Sean Penn and Woody Harrellson, playing elder brother Earl Moss. Neil takes up the story: "I went to San Francisco, saw Nick on stage, met him afterwards, and I just knew he could be Bob - this ex-vagrant, very much a character of the sixties. I thought, this is the character I've been writing about. "
Nick didn't hesitate. He was once responsible for a draft-dodging scam in the sixties and felt a natural affinity for playing the existential incurable rebel Bob, a loser with a romantic streak who yearns for the one big win that can redeem his tattered fortunes.
Neil was delighted: "Nick is a bit tired of playing the game in Hollywood, so he relished the opportunity to play this part. He's a superb actor. Just as the character began to get its own energy and life on the page, so Nick is so much more like the character than I could ever have imagined. There's a tremendous amount of dialogue, which Nick delivers with a punch, speed and intelligence you don't often get in movies nowadays. "
Stephen agrees that Nick is "tailor-made" for the role: "He is very worldly and has lived life to the full - which you can see from his face and hear in his voice. He is so versatile; utterly convincing as a sad loser shooting up heroin in the seedy backroom but transformed into a suave gambler in the casino scenes. In the final analysis he has warmth, and that's vital as Bob manages to inspire loyalty in everyone he meets. "
Having agreed to play Bob, Nick admits that he didn't really have to research the part: "I've lived that life. Apart from the heroin. An actor really has no choice but to play himself. You can form and shape it, though. So there's a bit of Bob, a bit of me - we're both getting older, and have a bit of trouble functioning. Bob is a wonderful character who can sense the approach of the end of life and there's not a whole lot left for him to live for. Anne kind of brings Bob back to life. I think it's wonderful to be around youth. The other young people come up with the idea of the heist, and hope he'll regain some of his old enthusiasm. "
He continues: "Bob's substitute for the thrill of life is gambling, but now that's turned bad. " "There's a book called MONEY SPINNERS by Jack Black, which Neil gave me as he'd found it very inspiring. There's a wonderful description of the Palais Royal in Paris when it was a haven of marble in streets of mud; all the shops were there, and a night-club, populated by midgets, a blind orchestra, giants, circus performers, thieves, gamblers - and actors. I think there's a natural affinity between actors, art and gambling. "
Nick was soon joined by a cast of talented international actors, which he found very rewarding: "It's refreshing to work with actors who are 'ensemble-minded'. Nothing smacks of star behaviour. Tcheky and Gerard love films. They are 'actors'. That's an extremely rare thing in America. "
Tcheky Karyo plays Roger:
At the beginning of the film, Bob saves the life of his friend Roger, a cop who is looking out for Bob's future, played by Tcheky Karyo. One of France's most popular actors, Tcheky was born in Istanbul to a Turkish father and a Greek mother but grew up in Paris. After spending fifteen years in theatre, he has almost seventy international film credits to his name, amongst which the French movies THE KISS OF THE DRAGON, JOAN OF ARC, CRYING FREEMAN, 1492: THE CONQUEST OF PARADISE and NIKITA. American film credits include THE PATRIOT with Mel Gibson, ADDICTED TO LOVE with Meg Ryan and BAD BOYS with Will Smith. English credits include SAVING GRACE, GOLDENEYE and NOSTRADAMUS.
Tcheky describes Roger as "a tired cop, fed up with his work - given the choice I think he would go off and grow flowers. He's been on Bob's case for years, regarding him as 'a gentleman cambrioleur'. He likes and admires him and is trying to stop him making another mistake - warning that his next conviction would put him away for life. In many ways, Bob leads Roger by the nose, but he knows that criminals always slip up. Roger is an ordinary man, not special, not a hero, which is why I wanted to play him. He doesn't like violence, and would rather look weak to avoid confrontation. "
Said Taghmaoui plays Paulo:
Born into a large family of Moroccan immigrants near Paris, Said was a champion boxer before he became an actor. He burst onto the scene in LA HAINE in a part tailor- made for him. Since this film brought him international fame, he has been in demand with English language directors in such films as THREE KINGS opposite George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg and HIDEOUS KINKY opposite Kate Winslet.
"Said is terrific at playing young, uppity Northern African characters, which is why we offered him the part," says Stephen. Said loved the script: "It's such a rich combination of dark and light. Paulo himself is a young guy who hero-worships Bob. He sees him as a generous man with all too human weaknesses, which is why people love him. Bob was a friend of his father's, a long time ago. Now he's in jail, so Bob has become a father figure. Paulo helps organise the heist, but he also falls in love with Anne, who doesn't really care. "
Nutsa Kukhianidze plays Anne:
In his heroin-induced haze, Bob meets Anne, a beautiful young Eastern European girl 'trapped' by a crooked club owner who plans to force her into prostitution. "The seafront in Nice after twelve o'clock at night is littered with young girls just like Anne, mainly from Eastern Europe, who have been blackmailed into coming and promised work as waitresses or shopgirls. But when they arrive, their passports are taken away from them and they are forced into prostitution," says Nutsa.
Although still only seventeen years old, Georgian born Nutsa has already started making her mark on the international stage. She starred in Nana Djordjadze's Georgian feature film 27 MISSING KISSES which played in Directors' Fortnight at Cannes 2000 to great acclaim and went on to win more than half a dozen awards. Nutsa herself won the Best Actress at the Baltic Pearls Riga Film Festival as well as the Best Newcomer award.
Neil and Stephen saw the Georgian film. They thought her performance was stunning, and loved Nutsa's corkscrew curls and her wonderful voice. They called her in to audition alongside half a dozen other young Eastern European girls in London. However, having thought they had discovered a young ingenue, they were astonished to learn that Nutsa now lived in "the other Georgia - the one in Atlanta!" and that her English was perfect. When she arrived for the audition at the Groucho Club, her hair was cropped, dyed black and she had a scar under her eye following a major car crash.
Nonetheless, Stephen and Neil had found their Anne: "She did the most fantastic screen test. She has huge talent, amazing energy, commitment and a real empathy with the characters. I put her right up there alongside our other 'discoveries', Cathy Tyson and Jaye Davidson. "
Seaton McLean comments: "Nutsa has a freshness, like a young Audrey Hepburn at the underbelly of life. She has a wisdom beyond her years, combined with a freshness and naivete which are very rare - especially in places like North America where so many of the kids are jaded by the time they're fifteen, having been brought up on a diet of "Beverly Hills 90210".
Nick says: "Nutsa is wonderful. She has this wonderful combination of real streetwise savviness and incredible fresh-seeming innocence. When Bob meets Anne, he is pulled out of his downward spiral. A lot of this film and Bob's world is discovered through her eyes. Here she is getting to know this much older man who is going through withdrawal and she has only just arrived from the Eastern block. She gives him a completely new lease of life. It's a bit like Beauty and the Beast. "
Nutsa describes Anne as "very warm and kind, but she needs to be tough to survive, so she protects herself by seeming not to care. In my view, she sees Bob as a father figure, a real gentleman. He's really strong and charming, her anchor. It's like the meeting of two lost souls who bring all these disparate people together. As for Nick Nolte, he's a great person, very caring and very funny, so open and friendly, always there to help - just like Bob really. "
Nutsa made quite an impact at the Cannes Film Festival, causing SCREEN INTERNATIONAL to comment: "Her name may not trip off the tongue so easily yet. But she looks destined for future festival familiarity alongside such instantly recognisable Palais courtiers as Nanni Moretti, David Lynch, Joel Coen and this year's Croisette queen of cool, Isabelle Huppert. "
Neil was not surprised: "It's thrilling to find someone so young, so unexposed; she's remarkable. " Nutsa laughs: "I'm still in shock that I'm here! I've never had acting lessons or been to acting school. " She has, however, loved the experience: "The crew on the movie are one big happy family. We've all become really good friends. "
Gerard Darmon plays Raoul:
Gerard Darmon was a highly successful theatre actor for many years before auspiciously making his feature film debut opposite Richard Bohringer in DIVA as one of the two memorable villains. Since then he has worked extensively in cinema, most notably with Jean-Jacques Beineix, in such films as 37. 2 LE MATIN (aka BETTY BLUE), becoming one of France's most popular screen actors.
Stephen comments: "Gerard just has this fabulous face, a wonderful dignity combined with a slightly fox-like quality. Perfect for the part of Raoul. " Says Gerard: "Raoul is an old friend of Bob's - they go back a long way and have worked together often. They also worked with Paulo's father, and now that he is in prison, Paulo is like a son to them. When Bob loses the very last of his money at the race-course, it is Raoul who persuades him to take part in the casino heist. "
Marc Lavoine plays Remi:
Marc Lavoine is a successful singer/songwriter. He has released seven albums and appeared in several films and television dramas. Stephen explains: "Marc is a bit of an institution in France, which I hadn't realised when we cast him. He turns Remi into a handsome, outgoing and seductive rogue, not an ugly thug. " Marc thoroughly enjoyed playing Remi: "Remi runs a seedy gambling house and is a slick French hoodlum with a motorbike, but he is also a ruthless pimp who plans to force Anne into prostitution. " He adds: "I love being part of a team, surrounded by so many talented people. "
Ouassini Embarek plays Said:
Still only twenty years old, Ouassini has appeared in almost as many films. The young actor found playing Said a mental and physical challenge: "Said is Bob's junkie drug-dealer, an Algerian who doesn't want to get sent home so he tries to make a life in France. His scar reminds him of whatever happened at home. In many ways he's homeless, neither French nor Algerian. He admires Bob as he sees him as someone who has successfully settled in a foreign country, but he agrees to be Roger's snitch if it will save him from being deported. " Stephen Woolley explains that Ouassini "brings a real fragility to the part, which reflects the reality of the drugs world - dealers aren't all thugs. "
Emir Kusturica plays Vladimir:
Born in Sarajevo, Emir Kusturica is one of the most admired independent film-makers in the world, a multi-award-winning director, writer, actor and musician. Winner of the Palme d'Or in 1985 and 1995, he recently starred in the critically acclaimed film THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE opposite Juliet Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. Since the late '80s Emir has played bass guitar for a Serbian rock band, so enjoyed his moments with a stratocaster.
"Vladimir is a friend of Raoul's and is a computer expert, guitar player and a bit of an eccentric genius. He installed the security system in the vault; but his family in Vladivostock are begging him to get them out and he needs serious money, so he decides to take part in the heist. " Stephen was delighted when Emir agreed to appear in the film: "Emir is just right for the part. He brings a nervy, strange, weird element to the character of Vladimir. "
The gang members are a fascinating mixture of interesting faces and nationalities. British actress Sarah Bridges was recruited from an agency called Musclecast to play the part of trans-sexual muscleman Philippa, who is terrified of spiders.
Roger's colleague, Junior Cop Philippe, is played by French actor Julien Maurel. Julien kept the cast and crew endlessly entertained during the long shooting hours with a hilarious selection of magic and balancing tricks - some of which have found their way into the film.
Americans Mark and Mike Polish feature as the twins Bertram and Albert. Mark and Mike created TWIN FALLS IDAHO which Mike directed and Mark wrote. They of course both starred in this award-winning film and this year their new film TITLE TBC is released by Sony Classics.
And finally, Ralph Fiennes, who starred in Neil's award-winning movie THE END OF THE AFFAIR, makes a brief appearance in DOUBLE DOWN as British art dealer and fence Tony Angel. "Let's just call him Fine Art Consultant to the film" laughs Neil.
Director of Photography Chris Menges
Director of Photography on THE GOOD THIEF is the outstanding cinematographer Chris Menges, who has twice won an Oscar, for THE KILLING FIELDS and THE MISSION. He initially worked on documentaries all over the world, making his feature film debut with Ken Loach's POOR COW, and lit Neil's very first feature film ANGEL.
Stephen comments: "It is never going to be easy when you make a film with Neil Jordan and Chris Menges; you know that their ambition is always going to be to go one step further than they've gone before, the results however are exhilarating. "
Production Designer Anthony Pratt
Working closely with Neil and Chris is Production Designer Anthony Pratt. He relished the chance to work in the streets of Nice. "The city is automatically very visual, very vivid. The area just resonates with art. It is the home town of Matisse and Chagalle. The light and colours are just wonderful. The design is fairly realistic, but we've heightened the colour. " Initial recces added unexpected texture to some of the street scenes: "For example, there are levels in the old town that are like the Kasbah, so we decided to set one scene in an Algerian Market. "
One of the major design and lighting challenges was the Riviera Casino, "full of fake glamour, serious money - and a lot of bad plastic surgery. " The casino was recently refurbished by the new owners, a Japanese Bank, who have filled the place with art - Picasso, Van Gogh, Mondrian, Matisse. But Bob learns that they are fakes; the real ones are in a vault nearby, and it is these that he plans to steal.
Anthony and his team set about transforming the magnificent Regina Hotel, designed by Marcel Biazini, into the Casino. The Regina was Queen Victoria's residence whenever she was in Nice and home to such artists as Matisse. Now a series of sumptuous apartments, the residents are used to playing host to international crews; more than 150 photo-shoots, commercials, video shoots, short films and feature films have been shot there over the last year alone, including videos by Sting and Irish group U2.
Much of the filming was done at night, when the exterior and surrounding palm trees were wreathed in bulbs. For the interiors the building was plunged into darkness thanks to an enormous 1000 m2 black-out drape which took five days to put up. Five roulette tables and seven blackjack tables were brought over from England. The room was filled with striking reproduction impressionist paintings, commissioned from a local artist. After turning the Regina into a casino, it was the turn of the beautiful 'Belle Époque' building La Rotonde near Beau Lieu to undergo a similar transformation.
The trucks and crew members soon became a familiar sight elsewhere over the three month period they were filming all around the town. But the locations were by no means all glamorous. Many of the scenes take place in Remi's club and other locations in the sleazy streets of the Quartier, where every whore and pimp seems to know Bob; the late night bar where Bob meets Roger, Yvonne's Bar where the gang meet up and Paulo's tiny, peeling apartment.
The crew also ventured further from the town's centre: the police station was in fact an old abattoir. Nearby the Abbaye de Saint-Pons is the church where Bob and Roger meet up. High on the hills overlooking the monastery of Cimiez to the west and the Castle Hill to the south, the Church, built in 1724, is one of the most beautiful baroque churches in the region. Filming also took place in the harbour at Ville Franche, where a large warehouse played home to Vladimir's warehouse apartment arranged around the open space of an old machine-tool factory.
At one stage the crew decamped for a night up the coast to the famous Hippodrome at Hyeres, near Toulon. Luis Bunuel, Jerome Clement, Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut, Maurice Pialat, James Ivory and Jean-Pierre Ameris have all filmed in Hyeres.
In the shadow of the pine trees some 200 local people gathered to appear as extras. The celebrated stuntman Mario Luraschi was on hand, with more than 400 films already under his belt.
There was an opportunity for both cast and crew to place bets, and Nick Nolte - who has already played a man passionate about horses in SIMPATICO opposite Jeff Bridges and Sharon Stone - unexpectedly found he had to pull of one of his most difficult acting moments to date. The camera catches Bob's reaction as he sees his horse lose, and he tears up his ticket in disgust. However, the horse Nick had placed his money on came in first - so he managed to look deeply disappointed until the moment when the camera stopped rolling and he could punch the air with glee and go off to collect his winnings.
When he is not in a gambling den or at the races, Bob can usually be found at home in the Villa Beau-Site. This extraordinary but run-down building with commanding views over the Baie des Anges, just above the actor Sir Sean Connery's own home, was built in the late nineteenth century and completed in 1890 by Sebastien Marcel Biazini, the very architect who had designed the magnificent Regina Hotel. In the 1940s Gisele Paul Tissier - widow of the celebrated designer and party-giver Paul Tissier - bought the house and moved in along with ten railway carriages full of belongings. Mme Tissier was a talented harpist, composer and designer of haute couture, and Beau-Site became a regular venue for flamboyant private parties and concerts under the watchful eye of an efficient guard dog in the shape of a goose.
In 1983 the current occupant, Patrick Le Nezet, an art enthusiast, became a lodger at the crumbling villa. He found Mme Tissier and her magnificent home in a very poor condition. "The place looked like something out of a Hitchcock movie, full of dust and spiders' webs. " He set about making an inventory, cleaning up the house and giving Mme Tissier, now in her late eighties, a new lease of life. When she died in 1988 she was an elegant and fulfilled woman of 94. She left the villa and its contents to the Institut de France on the understanding that Patrick could continue to live there until his death. He has subsequently formed an association dedicated to the arts, and all the money from concerts, photo shoots and this, the first feature film to be shot at the house, will go towards its upkeep.
The last few days of filming took place at the famous Studios de la Victorine, now called the Riviera Studios. With the dawning of cinema, Nice provided film-makers with the ideal ingredients for their future success: almost permanent light and sunshine, the sea and the presence of magnificent hotels as natural backdrops. The "azure cinema" really took off in 1920, however, when a large unoccupied property to the town west of the centre, La Victorine, was acquired by the fabulously rich Hollywood producer Rex Ingram, who had launched Rudolph Valentino and Roman Navarro. He produced an epic historical film, MARE NOSTRUM, to promote his new studios.
From that time, the Victorine Studios saw both French and European film-makers prosper for the following ten years. Then changes in public tastes brought another decade of inactivity. The Armistice of 1940 caused French cinema to seek refuge in Nice (Abel Gance, Jacques Prevert, Marcel Carne). The filming of LES VISITEURS DU SOIR in 1942 revived the production of large scale films.
In 1944 came LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS, co-produced by Carne and Prevert, with Arletty and Jean-Louis Barrault, which was the greatest production of La Victorine.
The reconstruction of the "Boulevard du Crime" in the middle of the war required more than 30 tonnes of scaffolding and nearly 3,500m2 of fencing for the sets, as well as 2,000 extras who were recruited in Nice.
Other notable films shot at the studios include Michael Powell's RED SHOES (1947); Hitchcock's TO CATCH A THIEF (1954) with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly; Cocteau's LE TESTAMENT D'ORPHEE (1959); Jacques Demy's LA BAIE DES ANGES (1962); CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG (1967); THE LION IN WINTER (1968) starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole; MONTE CARLO OR BUST (1968);
Truffaut's 1972 movie LA NUIT AMERICAINE, aka DAY FOR NIGHT with Jacqueline Bisset and Jean-Pierre Leaud; THE RETURN OF THE PINK PANTHER (1974) and DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (1988) with Michael Caine and Steve Martin. The studios also played host to the BBC's ill-fated adaptation of Peter Mayle's A YEAR IN PROVENCE in 1992.
International film makers are now flocking to shoot in France, according to recent figures. The number of major international movies filming in France has risen from two in 1995 to 12 in 2000. Other films shooting along the Côte d'Azur were Brian De Palma's FEMME FATALE starring Antonio Banderas, and Jonathan Demme's THE TRUTH ABOUT CHARLIE. At the beginning of June, LA REPENTIE, the new film from Laetitia Masson starring Isabelle Adjani, began filming on the seafront and at the Studios.
Stephen Woolley reflects after three months filming on the Côte d'Azur that the stunts pulled by Bob are nothing to those a producer faces on a day-to-day basis. "My father was a terrible gambler. I went to every greyhound stadium in London almost every night of the week. He would disappear for days playing cards. Strangely, he didn't drink. He was addicted to gambling. I have some of that in me. What we do for a living - making films - is the ultimate gamble. You're risking everything. .. we have an obsession with that process. "
He adds: "There are dark elements in the movie, but there's also a lot of fun; Bob's old mistress, lady luck, finally deals a winning hand and the humour, comedy and lightness should shine through. THE GOOD THIEF promises to be a piece of entertaining cinema that will combine the gritty realism of modern-day France with the charm, humour and compulsively engrossing narrative that have been trade-marks of Neil Jordan's films for the past twenty years. Nick Nolte's performance is utterly compelling - Bob the gambler is surely set to become one of cinema's most memorable and loveable rogues. "