Most recognized from his seven-year stint on Saturday Night Live,Jon Lovitz went on to appear in several comedies, including Big, A League of Their Own, The Wedding Singer and City Slickers II.
So it’s a surprise to see him in a dramatic role in Casino Jack. Directed by the late George Hickenlooper, Lovitz portrays Adam Kidan, a disbarred lawyer with a shady past, and possible mob connections, who acts as a front man for a casino deal made by Washington lobbyists Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) and Mike Scanlon (Barry Pepper).
I spoke with Jon Lovitz last week about this new chapter in his career.
Were you aware of the Jack Abramoff scandal?
Yeah I remember, I think it was Time magazine, that he was a super-lobbyist. And there were a lot of stories on the news and how influential this guy was, his access to the White House and the President, and there was this scandal. But I really didn’t know much about it to be honest, except for the headlines.
Adam Kidan seemed to be an unscrupulous businessman who really didn’t care that he was – was that the impression of him that you got?
Yeah, there wasn’t much information on Adam Kidan on the internet, and then George said did I want to talk to him, and I said no because there is the possibility he was involved with the murder of someone, and I didn’t want to associate with people like that.
What did you do to prepare for the role?
At the end of the day you’ve just have to play with what’s written in the script. So I just decided to play that. I saw a picture of him on the internet before the scandal and he was smiling out of the side of his mouth, he looked really cocky and his hair was brown. Then I saw pictures of him when he was arrested and on trial and his hair was white and he looked really worried. It was pretty extreme.
As an actor you go, ‘Why would someone make that [smug] face? What would they be thinking?’ So I kind of used that in the movie at different times.
This is a great role for you, were you surprised to be approached about this as it was dramatic?
I thought it was more of a dramatic movie and I was concerned. I said to George, ‘What about Kevin Spacey?’ I’ve known Kevin for 25 years, but this was a dramatic movie and I wasn’t sure he would want me in it. But he said, ‘No, Kevin really wants you in it.’
And there is a lot of humor in it. When I started playing it I never thought of it as a dramatic role. I did at first, and I wasn’t doing anything so I thought, ‘I’d better start finding the humor in this thing, or I’m just going to be boring.’ Everyone says, ‘Oh you’re such a great dramatic actor in this,’ but I don’t see it.
The scene where you’re beaten up was hard to watch, was it difficult to do?
It was harder to watch than to do. Obviously I didn’t get stabbed with a pen in my face, but when I watched it [I thought] it really seemed extremely violent.
I remember watching a documentary on the making of Braveheart, and showing the people swinging the swords and missing by a mile, it didn’t look like anything, and then you saw the movie and it look horrifically violent. Part of it I think is the sound that they add. There’s one shot to my head where I thought, ‘I’d be dead.’ It was so loud.
What was it like working with George Hickelooper?
I was just with him at the Austin Film Festival, and it’s horrible that he died. Everyone was basically devastated and shocked, he was such a great guy and super nice to all the actors. George made friends with practically everybody in the movie. He and I had become good friends and we were going to write a movie together. He had a good sense of humor and I would make him laugh so hard I thought he was going to have a heart attack, his face would turn beet red. He was great.
I was just lucky to be in this movie. And George left in my scenes. A lot of movies I’ve done, you do a whole character and they’ll cut a scene and I’ll watch the movie and I’ll go, ‘This would be really funny if the audience knew what happened before this, but they don’t because they cut it so it just looks like nothing.’ But George left in all my scenes, and I think the main reason was it was important to the story. So I got to do a whole character.
Was it fun to work with Kevin after knowing him for so long?
Kevin Spacey started his career as a stand up comedian, so he was joking around a lot on the set. When you’re the lead in the movie you set the tone and Kevin was great, it was really fun working with him.
Kevin is such a great actor and what makes him great is he’s very giving. It wasn’t about him; it was always about the scene. In tennis when you play with a pro you’re going to play better; and that’s what it is like working with Kevin Spacey. He’s just terrific.