As the director of some of the most acclaimed dramas and comedies of the last 40 years, Peter Bogdanovich is well aware that when he takes the occasional acting role, his mere presence or basic questions can be problems for whoever is directing the project.
Imagine being a young, emerging director and having someone like Bogdanovich in your cast. He’s not just any other actor. He’s the Oscar-nominated director of “The Last Picture Show,” “Paper Moon,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Mask.”
So when Bogdanovich asks about how a particular scene should go, the question takes on a little more weight.
“I’m conscious of that. I try not to get involved in the shooting of things, but sometimes it’s difficult not to,” Bogdanovich said in a telephone interview.
The latest example came in his leading role in Will Slocombe’s “Pasadena,” which has its world premiere screening at 3:30 p.m. April 13 at the Sarasota Film Festival.
Bogdanovich plays Poppy, a college professor father of three diverse kids, each of whom comes to him seeking money during a trying Thanksgiving weekend. Cheryl Hines, of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Suburgatory” plays his younger, opinionated wife, trying to fit in with the “insane” daughter, Nina, who has returned home after many years, creating havoc in her wake.
Bogdanovich, who began his career as an actor, has played numerous roles in the last 10 years, most prominently, perhaps, as Dr. Elliot Kupferberg, the psychotherapist providing guidance to Dr. Melfi, the therapist for Tony Soprano on “The Sopranos.”
While he never tries to intimidate another director, “sometimes it’s difficult not to if it affects me as an actor. I might complain or ask, ‘What do you need this for?’ ”
Sometimes, he says things intentionally, and at other times, he realizes too late the impact of a simple question, such as when he was appearing in Noah Baumbach’s 1997 film “Mr. Jealousy.” (Baumbach is the director of the festival’s closing-night film, “Frances Ha.”)
“I was on the set and I said to the director of photography, ‘What kind of lens have you got on the camera?’ He said it was a 35 millimeter and I said, ‘I don’t like 35,’ and a complete hush fell over the set. It was a moment of great tension. I quickly realized it and said, ‘It’s a good lens.’ I tried to get out of it. That taught me a lesson, that if I say it, it carries more weight, and this was really just a passing comment. It’s not like I was putting down what he was doing.”
There were some of those inadvertent moments during the filming of “Pasadena,” but that was mostly due to the tight, two-week shooting period. “I was a little edgy at times because it was such a short shoot and there were a lot of lines,” he said.
But Bogdanovich thought Slocombe wrote a good script. “It’s touching and human and interesting and I was flattered that he thought I could play the part. It’s complicated. Somewhat based on his father, so the whole thing is rather personal to him, and I just thought it had a lot of heart and seemed real to me. It’s rare for me to get such a meaty part,” he said from Winston-Salem, N.C., where he in his third year teaching at the University of North Carolina School for the Arts.
He also said there’s a potential benefit from quick film shoots. “You get a certain amount of dedication coming from the actors, who are all pulling for it to be good. There’s not a lot of wasted time, so everyone can stay focused.”
At 73, he finds the film business frustrating. A film historian who became friends with Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles, he realizes he came along too late for the “Golden Age,” which he described as 1915 to 1962.
“I didn’t realize it was dead or dying when I first went out there, but it was on its way out of the old studio system, which people didn’t like at the time. But it was quite brilliant in retrospect. There were a lot of bad movies made in that period, too, but it was much richer.”
He has published more than a dozen books, mostly about directors and filmmakers, including Welles, Hitchcock, Howard Hawkes and Fritz Lang, and he does an impressive imitation of Hitch while talking about the British director.
Today is generally a bad time for filmmakers, he said, “because the studios are all making these ridiculous cartoon movies, superhero movies that appeal to young boys, and they’re spending a fortune on pictures. So it’s more likely that you can make a $150 million movie than a $20-$25 million movie. The intermediate budgets are hard to get done.”
“The Last Picture Show” cost $1.3 million to make in 1970, and would probably never get made today, because the story is adult and it was made in black and white. (The film went on to earn two Academy Awards, and he was nominated for best director and best screenplay.) “Paper Moon,” filmed a couple of years later, was made for $2.8 million, and even “What’s Up, Doc?”, a comedy that starred Barbra Streisand, Ryan O’Neal and Madeline Kahn, was made for $4.6 million, and had 71 days of shooting, primarily for a hilarious, 12-minute chase scene through the streets of San Francisco.
As a sign of how things have changed over the years, Bogdanovich noted that he’s preparing to direct a new film called “Squirrels to the Nuts,” a “kind of screwball comedy” that will star Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson “and a couple of other names not quite tied down yet. It’s unusual because it’s an ensemble comedy in a way, so was ‘What’s Up, Doc?”, but it’s not easy to get money for it, even though it’s a flat-out comedy with two big names.”
That’s why events like the Sarasota Film Festival are important, because a small, independent film like “Pasadena” has a chance to be seen.
The film, which will have its California premiere April 27 at the Newport Beach Film Festival, “is for people who like independent films and like stories about people, stories about the human comedy, so to speak,” he said.
And festivals tend to thrive on such films.
“They give a chance for people to show their films in pleasant surroundings and good venues and they’re important. There are precious few places where you can break out with a film. The more places to show them at festivals, the better it is.”
But Bogdanovich isn’t a great fan of festivals in general.
“There’s too much talk about movies and it gets old fast,” he said.
Still, Bogdanovich will be talking about movies and his life during one of the festival’s Conversation series programs at 1 p.m. April 14 in the Court Cabaret at Florida Studio Theatre.
PETER BOGDANOVICH AT SARASOTA FILM FESTIVAL
"Pasadena,” starring Peter Bogdanovich, Cheryl Hines, Alicia Witt and Ashton Holmsffes and directed by Will Slocombe will be screened at 3:30 p.m. April 13 at Hollywood 20 Cinemas. Bogdanovich will take part in an “In Conversation” program at 1 p.m. April 14 at the Court Cabaret at Florida Studio Theatre, 1247 First St., Sarasota. For ticket information: 366-6200; sarasotafilmfestival.com