Marking a return to his filmmaking roots as an independent producer, One Night at McCool's is the first film to come from two-time Academy Award®-winning producer and actor Michael Douglas' new production company, Furthur Films.
"I came out of the box with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) as my first producing effort," recalls Douglas. "It was independently financed outside the studio system. Over time, my companies got larger and larger until I was able to finance the movies myself - and I found myself feeling almost like a mini-studio, having to fulfill a menu of different kinds of pictures. So, this go-round with Furthur Films, I've decided to kind of go back full circle to where I started from, to limit the amount of development that we do."
He explains, "By that, I mean, maybe for every two scripts you develop, one of them's going to get made, not 20 or 30 scripts developed for every 1 picture that gets made. So, we're being much more selective. I'm also looking for more projects that I can star in, but there's a real shortage of good material, so I have to take it much more upon myself to develop material that I can do."
When asked what drew him to Stan Seidel's screenplay for One Night at McCool's (2001), Douglas comments, "I'm always attracted to characters that are in a gray area. I don't see all good or all bad in anybody. Jewel is a young lady who has learned at an early age to get what she wants in life through the qualities that she has: her beauty, her body, her charm. Jewel is 'the Madonna and the whore,' depending on what you're looking for."
Producer Allison Lyon Segan adds, "Michael and I both felt that Stan's script was one of the most original voices we'd read in years."
For the film's directorial chair, Furthur Films sought to tap another talent fresh to feature films. Norwegian-born (and now Los Angeles-based) director Harald Zwart, a noted music videos and commercials director, fit the bill. The director responded to the film as "a dark comedy about the power of women over men, and how a group of people can all perceive different realities. It's the same story told from three different points of view, and each time we tell the story, we try to reveal a little bit more about what actually happened, which nobody really knows."
The first-time feature director was joined behind the camera by an estimable filmmaking team, including production designer Jon Gary Steele (American History X (1998)), director of photography Karl Walter Lindenlaub, A.S.C. (Haunting, The (1999)), and costume designer Ellen Mirojnick (a longtime creative collaborator of Michael Douglas', both as actor and producer). These creative talents worked closely together to visually delineate the differing perspectives of the film's three lead male characters by way of color, lighting, lenses, and costumes. Zwart cites just one of many examples: "When Detective Dehling sees Jewel, the scene is backlit and she looks beautiful. When Carl sees her, she's all cleavage and legs. When Randy sees her, she's almost - almost! - plain."
As conceived by screenwriter Seidel, the audience is privvy to the three wildly divergent perspectives of Randy, Carl, and Dehling as each man spills out his version of the story to a "confessor" he has turned to in desperation. In Randy's case, his confessor is Burmeister, a low-rent, bingo-playing hit man played by Michael Douglas. Carl consults a psychiatrist, Dr. Naomi Green (Reba McEntire). Dehling picks a real father confessor - Father Jimmy, who is also Dehling's brother (Richard Jenkins).
The shifting perspectives and "threepeat" story structure afforded the cast a field day, especially the lead actress. "If we couldn't find the right Jewel, we couldn't make the movie," reminds Segan. "We met with Liv Tyler, and we just knew that she was the one."
Tyler savored the prospect of playing a movie character who, at every moment, would contrast so sharply with her own real-life personality: "I try to be really honest in my life, so it's really funny to take the opposite approach to everything and be really obvious about your manipulations. Jewel's not subtle in any way at all..."
Even so, Tyler concedes, "Jewel is like most of us: she has the grass-is-always-greener drive inside of her. But she's always short term: every plan just holds up for a few days, and then she has to come up with a new excuse. She just wants to have somewhere to park her feelings and somewhere to call home. Of course, having the looks that she does, she's gotten used to using all that to achieve her goals. She has a dream of something that she wants desperately, that she'll do anything she can to get: a house, her dream house. Throughout the course of her life, she's trying to find ways to get that. She has many different tactics. She manipulates each and every one of the men by catering to their needs and knowing how to get from them what she needs. Ultimately, it's not really about them - it's about what they can give her so she can have what she wants."
"She just loved exploring all those sides," marvels Zwart. Segan adds, "If you don't fall in love with Jewel, you don't understand why the three men in the movie do. Liv really pulls it off."
To dress the part(s), Tyler worked closely with costume designer Mirojnick. The actress remarks, "In Dehling's account, I wear a lot of pink and very virginal colors. In Randy's version, which is the more realistic Jewel, I wear a wide range of things. Then, in Carl's version, the clothes are slutty. So, I'll have one dress on that's below the knees - but in Carl's version it's really short; it's the same dress, just two different versions of it."
To play the men in her life, the production landed three seasoned film actors. Matt Dillon signed on as Randy, the easygoing bartender with the one thing guaranteed to drive Jewel wild - his own house. Dillon notes, "What appealed to me about Randy was that he, like Jewel and others in the film, has three different incarnations as seen from different points of view. You have Randy's point of view, which is the closest to reality. Then you have Carl's point of view of Randy as well as Dehling's, and they each have a different take on who my character is: to Dehling, Randy is abusive and threatening to Jewel - Dehling's rationalization for making a move on Jewel; and Carl sees me as somebody who's beneath him, this big-shot lawyer."
The role of Dehling, the lonely widower who sees Jewel as a sudden revelation - an angel, his wife rediscovered, a beautiful innocent young woman - was taken by John Goodman. "Dehling's really sour on life," Goodman notes. "He's on automatic, he's in a place where he's just desperate for a source of life. Then he sees Jewel, and he doesn't even know her, but she becomes this ideal woman for him. She's as pure as the driven snow, she's romance, she's young love, she's a Hostess Twinkie - she's everything to him."
Finally, the rather slimy Carl's relationship with his cousin Randy suddenly becomes warmer as he tries to get closer to Randy's new lover. In his eyes, Jewel is the most desirably wanton woman that he has ever seen. Paul Reiser, cast as Carl, muses, "I love the idea of people having their own truths when they tell their stories, even though the audience has already heard it differently. When Carl is telling my story, he's very innocent and everybody else is at fault. Then, when Randy is telling the story, Carl is of course this out-of-control crazy knucklehead. In fact, it'll take three viewings of the movie to see it fully: you have to see it through everybody's eyes, so that's, like, 27 bucks right there...."