For a director, picking your second film can be the hardest decision, especially when there are many expectations after your first movie. While Brad Furman’s The Take didn’t really make too many waves, his second movie The Lincoln Lawyer is a lot more high profile, not only because it’s based on the best-selling 2005 novel by Michael Connelly, but also because it stars Matthew McConaughey.
McConaughey plays Connelly’s character Mick Haller, a defense lawyer doing business from the back of his Lincoln town car who’s been hired to defend a wealthy realtor (Ryan Phillipe) accused of raping and beating a prostitute. At first, the case seems pretty straightforward until Haller starts noticing parallels to a previous case years earlier of a murdered prostitute where the wrong man may have been sent to jail for the crime.
Whether you’ve read the book, it’s quite an impressive second feature for Furman not only in the way he makes Los Angeles look great, but there are a lot of characters and pieces that have to come together in the right way and he assembled a terrific cast to do so, including Marisa Tomei, William Macy, John Leguizamo and many more.
ComingSoon.net got on the phone with Furman a few weeks back.
ComingSoon.net: I’ve seen your first movie “The Take,” but when I was looking for information on you, I could barely find anything out there. You’re a mystery.
Brad Furman: Right. (Laughs) Maybe that’s good. I don’t know.
CS: So how does a guy from the East Coast end up directing two LA-based crime stories in a row? That’s what I want to know.
Furman: I know, pretty funny, huh? I just really love movies. I fell into these things. I always had a fascination with Mexico and sort of Latin culture. Los Angeles really embodies that in a lot of ways. In “The Take,” I felt like Boyle Heights was like a little Tijuana, and I wanted to capture that. Funny enough, when Lakeshore wanted to hire me for “Lincoln Lawyer,” both my parents are lawyers, my grandfather’s a lawyer. What actually got me into the world of “The Take” was really the world, and then the story of how this simple guy–but, simple in a good way–has the rug of his life pulled out from under him. What got me into “Lincoln Lawyer” was the world of the law, so I came in sort of a different route, and they kept telling me how because I did “The Take” I was so right for this movie. I didn’t really see it. I knew I’d know how to make “Lincoln Lawyer,” but I didn’t really see that I was right. Then, funny enough, I was looking at some of the dailies of “Lincoln Lawyer,” and I said, “Man, some of this stuff feels like ‘The Take.'” I didn’t really do that on purpose. (laughs) It was a little bit accidental in that I said, “Well, oh, all right, so I guess they knew what they were talking about then.”
CS: So “The Take” you did fairly cheaply, so is it a lot easier to make a movie in L.A. when you have substantially more money?
Furman: With more money comes more problems, so in some ways, yeah, it’s so much easier and it’s a smoother train, but in any type of filmmaking, pretty much once the train leaves the station, it’s gone. So, you know, it’s just a different set of hurdles and challenges in the big money game versus the little money game. Filmmaking is such a tough medium to execute, the challenge is that the paradigm of what they are just shifts tremendously.
CS: What was the timeframe for making this movie? How long after “The Take” came out did they contact you for this and how long have you been working on this?
Furman: Well, let’s see, that’s a good question. I had about two years I think. I had about two studio offers, a movie that I didn’t really want to do, and I was bouncing around with meetings trying to hustle to get a movie. I was contemplating doing another indie. I had met Matthew on a movie–his passion project called “Bone Game”–which was a really cool rodeo movie. But, I was struggling. I think if I just wanted to make a movie, I could’ve done that. No, I don’t think it would’ve been easy, but there were some offers, and there was opportunity. I think if I would’ve directed anything, that would’ve worked. But I didn’t want to do that, I was very particular in really knowing that I wanted to carve out a very specific type of career. “Lincoln Lawyer” came my way because Matthew decided he wanted to do that and recommended me to Lakeshore to do it. It was based off a Michael Connelly novel, it was a best-seller, I thought it was a terrifically-written book. I thought there was a world that he created which is fascinating to me. From his stories, he became a writer because of “The Long Goodbye” and because of movies. That’s sort of what got him into novels, so he created this world that I felt like, “Wow, I know this world.” Not only did I know it, I go all the way in. When I made “The Take,” I was basically living in Boyle Heights. I just ensconced myself in there, and I wanted to show what I considered the other side of LA, the side of LA that we don’t typically see, and I tried to do that on this movie as well.
CS: You said Matthew was already attached and he got you on board. Had either of you met with Michael Connelly? Did he have any involvement whatsoever or did he mostly want to stay away?
Furman: Yeah, I came in in sort of the fifth inning of this experience in the sense that this script had been around for years. There had been other filmmakers attached, so they had bounced around and I know that Connelly and McConaughey had spoken. Obviously, (Lakeshore Entertainment producer) Tom Rosenberg did a ton of development and work with Matthew and Connelly, and they got the script to where they wanted. The beauty was for me, by the time they were in search of a filmmaker–and obviously Tom gave me the opportunity to work with him on the script and give my two cents and stuff like that–but the process was pretty far along. I mean, they weren’t looking to reinvent the wheel on the thing. My involvement with Connelly was him just coming to set, telling me how he loved “The Take” and was so excited that I was doing it, which that was like, the coolest moment of the whole experience. I was really taken aback by that because Clint Eastwood directed his last one, and I was just like, “Wow, who the hell am I?” (Laughs) I was really thrown, I was like, “Thank you so much, man. I hope I can live up to your standards,” because he’s pretty darn talented, and to think so highly of me, it really meant a lot.
CS: Even though Clint is a great filmmaker, I wasn’t really a fan of “Blood Work,” so congratulations for doing a better job with the material, I guess.
Furman: Thank you. No, he is obviously a great filmmaker. I mean, I don’t know, I guess that one just didn’t work for him, and not everybody’s perfect. But, yeah, I know Connelly, and that was a tough one for him, so I know he feels pretty good about this one. My name in the same sentence as Clint Eastwood doesn’t really make sense to me. (Laughs) I’m just focusing about trying to get this movie made, but to think about that, yeah, it’s the ultimate compliment, but I don’t know. It’s far from deserved. I just made a second movie, that’s about it.
CS: One of the things I found impressive is that there are a lot of pieces to this story, and a lot of characters, a lot of things you had to keep track of and make sure they all worked together. But it’s also impressive that it’s a straight drama. Usually, when they make movies like this in Hollywood they usually will have to put in car chases or explosions, and you really kept it very, very subdued in that sense. Can you talk about trying to get all these pieces from the novel together into the movie without making it seem cumbersome, and how you went about doing that?
Furman: Yeah, the great thing and it really starts with this: at this time, this is not a movie that Hollywood would make. This just happened to be a movie that Tom Rosenberg would make, and that’s the beauty of Tom, that he’s a guy that when he’s passionate about something, or has something in his heart, he would go out and make it. He doesn’t care. He believes in something, he will get it done. The fact is that Tom felt that there was a market for this kind of movie, and he felt that this is the kind of movie he would want to see, and therefore, he wanted to go make it. Basically, that’s where it starts, and then, the follow up on that is, when you’re dealing with somebody who’s financing the movie and that’s how they feel, he’s not going to be telling me, “Oh, we gotta make this more commercial by putting in this.” I wasn’t dealing with the drama of having to put nonsense in the movie just to try to put it in a box. What I was dealing with was a guy who wanted to make the best movie he could, wanted to honor the novel, and he felt that I was the filmmaker to do it. Collaboratively, I had somebody who was willing to listen and even though he had his opinions as well, we weren’t in that kind of box. As far as the complexity of the story and the adaptation and all these things, I think John Romano and everybody collectively did a nice job to piece those things together. But, I always believe you really make your movie in the edit in the sense that you capture everything you can, and then you put it together. I worked very diligently with my editor Jeff McEvoy. They did a brilliant job. We just made sure that there were no stones unturned and no loose ends that hadn’t been tied up. We were obviously very careful about that, but I think that all really started from the get-go when Tom just made the decision across the board, I’m making this movie and I’m gonna make it sort of an unfiltered version. I think as a result, that’s what we end up with.
CS: One of the big parts is obviously the cast. Besides Matt, you’ve obviously worked with John Leguizamo before, and Marisa’s always great, but also some of the smaller parts like Shea Whigham and Laurence Mason. How long did it take to get this cast together?
Furman: It took some time. I mean, no matter if it’s a role that has one line, I am absolutely crazy about cast. I mean, for Ryan Phillippe for example, he was not an offer. I auditioned 211 actors, so that gives you some insight into I knew that the role of Louis Roulet, it was just crucial, and I just felt like it was the kind of role you could easily offer to someone. There were names being thrown around to offer, and again, it was Tom and Gary Lucchesi’s support where I had said, “Listen, we can’t just offer this to an actor. We have to know the actor will deliver.” Gary had been involved in “Primal Fear,” they had trouble finding the role that Ed Norton ended up landing. For that movie, I think they auditioned 1,000 people to find Ed Norton. The story goes that we were at like 185, and Phillippe was coming in, and I saw his name, and I remember I said I wanted to audition him. Then, on my cast list for the day it said, “Ryan Phillippe general.” I turned to Lucchesi and I said, “What’s this?” He said, “Oh, we were gonna have a general today with Ryan.” My response was, “Why? (Laughs) Like, what’s the point of sitting down and talking to him? He’s got to audition.” Gary said, “I spoke to his agent directly, they’d like us to meet with him.” I was really thrown. It was a curveball to me. Ryan and I were laughing about this just the other day. So, Phillippe comes in, and I sit and chat with him, and Gary’s in the room. I’m from Philadelphia, and he’s from Philadelphia, and we’re talking sports. I’m thinking, “This guy’s pretty cool. I like this guy. He’s really different than what his public persona is” – not whether it’s good or bad, but I just knew very little about him. At the end of that, I looked at him, I said, “Listen man, I think you’re cool and all, but to be frank with you, I’m still remembering you from ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ days, and I just think it’s written all over the face that you’re the bad guy. I’m not sure I really see this. On top of it, I can never hire you without having you audition.” I don’t know if it was a great actor moment, and he was completely full of sh*t, or if he was serious, but he looked at me and he was like, “That’s why I came here.” He’s like, “I wanted to meet with you to learn as much as I could about the role so that I could prepare myself and be ready to audition.” He said, “So, if you give me one week, I got some stuff to take care of with my kids, I’ll be in here next Tuesday to audition.” At that time, we were on like I said 184, 185 and it wasn’t going too great. Supposedly, I was seeing the best actors in town, and I was pretty amazed because I thought the pool was pretty weak. Ryan came in, he was like, I think it was pretty close, like 211, and he hit a grand slam. I mean, his audition was just incredible. I mean, I didn’t care what I thought about him, I was like, “That’s the guy.” Everybody said, “That’s the guy.” Shea Whigham, I saw in “All the Real Girls” years ago and I was like, “I’d cut my arm off to work with that guy,” so I was hustling to find him a role. I always loved Michael Paré from back in the day, so I wanted to find something for him. I saw “Adventureland” and I thought Margarita Levieva was the movie.
CS: That’s so funny. That name sounded really familiar but I didn’t remember where it was from. I’ve actually met her because I interviewed her for “Adventureland.”
Furman: Yeah, I thought she was “Adventureland,” I thought she stole the movie. For Reggie Campo, we saw around 100 women, and again having real trouble finding the right person. I saw one girl we were interested in. I had some reservations her dates weren’t working. I was sort of happy the dates weren’t working because it gave me a reason, an out. Like, when we got into the 50’s and fixed this, I said, “What about this girl Margarita Levieva? She sorta looks Latin.” Everybody said, “No, she’s really specific. She’s very particular. She passes on material all the time. This is probably too small for her.” I was like, “Really?” Then, somehow, some way, Patricia Wood and Deb Aquila did a killer job, and they got her in the room on the tail end. She auditioned for two roles, and she just crushed it. That was our Reggie Campo. So, but that was somebody again, who in the back of my mind I’m like, “This girl’s crazy talented. Like, she’s the real deal.”
CS: Were a lot of the bigger name actors already fans of the book and knew the book when they came on board besides Matthew?
Furman: Not as much as I would’ve expected. I mean, that was actually a big part of my process when I met will Bill Macy, I brought him the book. When I met with Frances Fisher, I brought her the book. I would’ve given the book to everybody because I really wanted them to read it. Like, Phillippe, I said, “Dude, you gotta read the book.” I felt that that would really, really inform them on the depth of their character and their preparation. So, not as much as I would’ve expected, so I had not read the book when the script was brought to me. It was just sort of happenstance, but now, I’m a huge fan of Connelly. He’s pretty incredible.
CS: When we meet Mick Haller, he’s already been doing this for a while. Were you able to find out anymore about Mick Haller from Connelly that wasn’t in the book or the script that you could put in the movie?
Furman: Well, because I didn’t end up meeting Connelly until he came to set that day, I never really had that opportunity. I mean, I think it’s a brilliant question you asked because the fact is, who wouldn’t love to sit with the writer and really talk about who this guy is, and how he’s lived in his head and his vision of him? But just the way it was structured – this train was off and running. I mean, once they had hired me, it was like, a sprint to the finish line. They had the release date. I think Tom Rosenberg felt he really had a hold on what he wanted him to be, and Matthew, obviously, in making it come alive. So I could talk to Connelly till the cows come home, and I think it would be amazing and fun for me, but at the end of the day, as far as making the movie, I knew the number one and only person who needed to know was Matthew, so I focused on that.
CS: I want to ask about music because I think the music works really well. Not groundbreaking or anything but some cool hip-hop tunes and not what you’d normally see in a courtroom drama. Can you talk about how you ended up with the direction of the music you took with this?
Furman: Yeah, I appreciate you picking up on that because for me, music is everything. When I write, I’m listening to music. Just typically, when I’m being creative it’s tied to pieces of music. I think music defines our nostalgic memories. We hear a piece of music, and we get nostalgic when we think back to that time and place where we were when we heard that song, and what we were doing, or that period in our lives. When I read the novel, and when I read the screenplay, to me it all was about Earl and Laurence Mason, who I had worked with on “The Take.” I felt like I wanted to – and again, this is where you’re making the movie, and even though you’re honoring the book, you have to find a way in on it. My way in on this was really through the music and through Laurence. So, my concept was, Earl was this east coast guy. He’s sort of a five boroughs, Queens, Brooklyn kinda guy. He was crazy into like, 90’s rap and hip-hop. So, he’s listening to Gang Starr, and Mobb Deep, and Erik B and Rakim and all this very, very particular, specific music. ‘Cause in the novel, it’s all about Tupac. First off, I was like, well A, I thought you would never get the rights to the Tupac stuff, and B, I had a lotta ideas of how I want to use Tupac’s music in future stuff I do, and C, I’m not knocking Michael Connelly – but I always felt like for this movie, that was off. I felt like that was the obvious choice, and I wanted to go in a different place. By creating Earl’s back story – and by the way, just for clarity purposes, when I say off, what I mean is that for the novel, I think it works brilliantly, the way that Connelly uses Tupac’s lyrics and all. I think it’s amazing. But, when it was translated to the page, I don’t think the time or attention in the adaptation – the knowledge of the rap world wasn’t there. I don’t think (screenwriter) John Romano is a rap guy, Tom Rosenberg, admittedly, they’re not. Respectfully, I was like, “Well, how do you flip this on your head and make it something unique?” I did it through the eyes of Earl. I felt like what Earl was always saying to Mickey Haller was, “That stuff you’re listening to, that pop radio, that’s not music. This is music. You gotta hear this. You want to run in the streets? This is where it all started. This is where it began,” and that’s the kinda music he was playing. I literally from day one started making with Seth Harris, who is sort of like my music partner and I do all the music supervision stuff with–we worked on “The Take” together. We had begun creating play lists from day one. Funny enough, I was giving CDs to Matthew, and obviously, he’s a fan of all types of music, but he had not heard of a lot of this stuff. He was loving it. Like, it really inspired him for character. It really helped him get into the world. He was signing his emails back to me and text messages like, “Don’t sweat the technique,” and like, he was getting really, really into it. We still joke about it because to him, that’s Mickey Haller. He signs everything like, “Just keep living,” or “JKL,” then he was like, “Don’t sweat the technique.” Then, I have a scene we shot for the movie where he’s in a car with Marisa, and he’s playing “Mind Playing Tricks On Me” by The Geto Boys. He’s singing it in the car, and she’s driving, and he’s drunk, and he’s annoying her so much. She’s like, “What is this music?” because they’re in the Lincoln and it’s on Earl’s tape set. It’s a great scene, but it didn’t advance the plot, and it didn’t streamline the movie, so it hit the cutting room floor. It’s funny, it’s a scene that I think could be viral.
CS: If you advertise that as being on the DVD, that’ll sell your DVD right there.
Furman: I know, I know. No, it’s unfortunate. I said that to Lionsgate. I said, “You want to sell your DVD like hotcakes, have Matthew rapping.” They didn’t get it, so they didn’t get the rights to it, so it didn’t make the extra scenes. It’s the only scene I shot that didn’t make the extra scenes. It’s crazy to me. If it’s something that were on YouTube it would get millions and millions of hits.
CS: I think you’re absolutely right. So it sounds like you had a great time making this movie. Obviously, doing another movie with these characters is always dependent upon how this one does, but have you and Tom and Matthew talked at all about adapting another one of the books with Mick?
Furman: I mean, I hear some whisperings, but I think everybody’s holding their breath. If you start talking about number two before number one comes out, (Laughs) I think nobody wants to jinx themselves, not that I believe in that stuff. But I’ve heard some whisperings about it, for sure.
CS: Would you be interested in doing it though or do you feel like you’ve already done this movie and it’s your definitive courtroom drama?
Furman: I mean, if I did it, the only thing that I would want to do is, I’d want to do it better, and on top of wanting to do it better, I’d feel like when I was a kid, when “Temple of Doom” was coming out. Like, you knew when Spielberg was doing a sequel it was gonna be as good if not better than the first. I feel like we’ve lost our way in Hollywood with making sure that sequels are really strong movies. What would be exciting for me is, if I did the sequel, I’d be coming in from the ground up. I wouldn’t be inserted in the middle. That’s why I feel that the possibility of making an even better movie would be there. Plus, trust and confidence in filmmaking like life, is everything. I’ve earned the trust of Matthew and Tom Rosenberg,and everybody involved now. Collectively, I think it would be a pretty darn rewarding experience because we all know how each other thinks and works. I’m not the established guy in all of this, and had to obviously work hard to earn everybody’s respect, and I believe I was able to do that. As a result, I think it’d be pretty fruitful to make a second one, but again, I have a lotta big ideas and movies I’ve written. I’ve got tons of movies running through my head, so I gotta find a way in this lifetime to accomplish it all. On the one hand, I’m pretty hungry to do some other stuff, but on the other hand, I would never say never.
CS: Do you have other things you want to develop yourself? “The Take” was a script that had already been written and was already done when you came on board as director, right?
Furman: Yeah, that was a movie, again, that was by Jonas and Josh Pate, they had written it, and that had been at Warner Independent and didn’t get made. It bounced around for a while. My mother likes stories, she’s one of the first female litigators in Philadelphia. She’s a novelist, so we actually wrote that screenplay together, which is pretty crazy, so it’s sort of a flip on say, “Norma Rae” or “Erin Brockovich.” It’s a pretty cool story. So, funny enough, it’s a legal movie, but it’s a high concept thriller that I believe is really special. Then, I’ve got a character drama. I’ve got some really interesting stuff, so I’m looking to get up to bat again and taking a crack at some of it.
CS: Well, hopefully this does well, and then maybe Tom will let you maybe make one of those movies in between. That’d be pretty awesome.
Furman: Yeah, no, I mean, I have this other movie “Love and Other Ways to Die,” and I was telling Tom about it, and he was like, “Oh, we gotta make that movie.” So yeah, I feel like I’m in the driver’s seat. I just gotta figure out what’s the right next situation, but we’re two weeks shy of the release of this movie, and just really hoping it performs, and hope people enjoy it, so we’ll see.
As Brad mentioned, The Lincoln Lawyer opens nationwide on Friday, March 18.