EXCLUSIVE: Closing the Directors’ Fortnight here at the Cannes Film Festival is Paul Schrader’s crime noir Dog Eat Dog starring Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe as ex-cons who involve themselves in a kidnapping job that goes south. It’s based on Edward Bunker’s novel, and the pic marks the third collaboration between Schrader and Cage after Schrader directed Cage in the 2014 CIA terrorist title Dying Of The Light, and then with Schrader as scribe on Martin Scorsese’s 1999 Bringing Out The Dead.
The big takeaway in this clip is Schrader making his on-screen acting debut as Grecco the Greek, the notorious Cleveland mob boss who offers Cage’s Troy an offer he can’t refuse. Cage tells Grecco about his heist team which includes Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook), a guy who is on the mob’s payroll, and his interest in his suburban home and his nagging wife is waning. Then there’s Mad Dog (Dafoe) the loose cannon.
Says Schrader about his turn in Dog Eat Dog, “I had no intention of playing The Greek. Over pre-production, I approached Michael Douglas, Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, Nick Nolte, Chris Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Michael Winncot and Rupert Everett to play the Greek as a transgender Cleveland gangster. For one reason or another, none of them worked. I was the only actor we could afford. ‘I may not be good,’ I thought, ‘but at least I’ll be interesting.’ “
Schrader and Cage had been looking to reteam since Dying Of The Light, which was “a frustrating experience” per the director, “I said to him, ‘If we live long enough, we should work together again. We’ll get final cut and do it right.’ ‘Absolutely,’ he replied.”
Schrader received the script from producer Mark Burman. The director thought Cage was a good fit for Mad Dog, but the Oscar-winning actor chose Troy instead.
Adds Schrader, who switched the novel’s locale from Los Angeles to Cleveland: “The task then was to make Bunker’s story feel contemporary. Ed Bunker’s sensibility was forged in the ’70s, Dog was set in the ’90s — so what to do? Matt Wilder’s beautifully manic script showed the way. I assembled a young creative team cut to bring energy to Ed Bunker’s dark story. It was the first solo credit for each department head: cinematography, production design, wardrobe, editorial, associate producer, composer. These were members of what I called the postrules generation. They didn’t want to break rules. They didn’t even know there were rules. I instructed them: ‘We don’t have the money to make this film in a studio fashion. That’s the bad news. The good news is we can make any damn film we want. Surprise me. The only thing forbidden is to be boring.’ “