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The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of Fading Gigolo.

Let’s talk about the story. What inspired this script?

I’ve always liked movies about streetwalkers. I mean, there’s been so many of them, from every culture—from Frank Capra, to Mizoguchi, to Buñuel, Fellini, Pakula… on and on and on. Midnight Cowboy, of course. So, my first idea was that Woody and I would be good as…a team…of some sort. I thought that we’d maybe have good chemistry together. I didn’t know for sure, but I thought it was possible: We were different enough that something might be there. And I had a friend who owned a bookstore (and who also had an African-American girlfriend who had some kids), and he lost his store. And I thought about how people have to reinvent themselves… and what if Woody and I had to reinvent ourselves in the sex business! Woody thought that was a good idea, as it happened. And he offered to give me feedback on the script, and we went from there. He liked the character of Avigal—I originally had a nun, an old nun, and a Hasidic woman. I thought that a movie about sex should have religion. That’s how I think! I like movies about nuns. So I did a lot of research about Hasidic people in New York, and really tried to understand the women who grow up in those communities.

I thought that a movie about sex should have religion

The scenes with Vanessa Paradis were so moving. Can you talk about working with her?

Well, you never try to go for the result of a scene; you try to create the environment where something like that can occur. She was nervous about the scene on the massage table. I told her, “Don’t worry about it. What kind of music do you want to listen to?” And I put the music in her ear and said, “Wait until we do your close-up, you’ll see what happens.” She was great. Many times in movies you see people cry, but you can also see them working towards it. Watch a documentary, and the person is doing everything not to do that. And what you see in the movie, that’s her first take, that close-up. It’s like a car accident, like watching her face fall apart. And then she was able to repeat it, but I wanted to catch the moment when there was this conflict of things going on and you don’t see her trying. You see her just taking it in and trying not to. That happened one time. And she can do it again, but not quite in the same way. I felt, when we were shooting that, I actually felt like I maybe even wanted to stop filming, it was almost too much.

And she also trusted you as a director?

Oh yeah, we have a great relationship. You know, she’s been famous since she was 14 years old, and she doesn’t have a spoiled bone in her body. It’s really something. You just don’t see people like that. And everyone on set felt that way about her. She just embodied everything about the character – the wig, the shoes, the stockings. I had that coat made for her because I wanted her to be like Joan of Arc. And I always thought from the beginning, the scene with the wig would be a big moment. It’s almost like taking someone’s clothes off. My older son and Woody loved that in the first draft, and when they both liked that, I knew I had to develop her character.