How did you first become involved in telling the story of Richard Kuklinski?
I found something very interesting about it, telling the story of that guy. I was very fascinated about how this guy was hiding his truth for so many years. There was another rival project that started. To make a long story short, it was more of an entrepreneurial initiative of mine from the beginning. It was not like somebody found me and attached me to the project. The war of trying to make the film, and win the race with the other rival project, was a story in itself.
How did you and Morgan Land write the screenplay together?
Morgan is my buddy from film school. We wrote our first film together, Rx, and we stayed friends. I love working with Morgan. It’s a non-ego procedure. The way we work, Morgan takes the first attempt, then he sends me the pages. I change them, then he doesn’t like it and he changes it. We play ping pong. We’re like tennis players. It’s like the U.S. Open of scripts. [laughs] Then eventually something comes together and it’s presentable. Now Morgan is on his own so he writes on his own. I’m trying to take a step away from writing. I have about six projects at the same time.
What kind of research went into adapting this true story?
We bought the rights to the first HBO documentary [The Iceman Tapes: Conversations with a Killer] so I had all the outtakes, like 20 hours of outtakes. Manuscripts, interviews with retired cops, the book [The Iceman: The True Story of a Cold-Blooded Killer by Anthony Bruno], people that spent time with Kuklinski. A lot of information, but at the end of the day you want to be a fly on the wall in Kuklinski’s living room. I’m very happy that his family came to the premiere and were really moved by Michael Shannon’s performance. It really reminded them of their dad. As much as they might have some anger, they still admired and loved him. That’s something that’s really dear to me and I totally understand that. It’s pretty amazing.
How did Michael Shannon first become attached?
He came on board a couple years before the project even went into production. I was a Michael Shannon fan, I was obsessed with him. I convinced him to shoot a test scene for me so I could show the investors that he could do it. It was a long process to get the movie financed with Michael. By the same token, Michael was one of the main reasons that such a high level of casting was even interested in coming on board. People ask me sometimes my opinion on casting and it’s so hard right now. The names that can actually make a movie happen are so limited. Who’s a bullet-proof actor and who’s not? I always say, cast the best actor you can for the role and the rest will follow.
James Franco was originally set to play Mr. Freezy, which became Chris Evans’ role. Franco turned up in a much smaller role. What happened?
James was attached for a year, but we had to push the production for a year because Michael was already committed to an off-Broadway play by the time we raised the financing. Michael is a theatre fanatic. To him, theater is more important than anything else. By the end of the year, James couldn’t wait anymore. Benicio Del Toro, who was attached at that point, couldn’t wait. Maggie Gyllenhaal was attached, but got pregnant. Three months before production, I’m sitting with a movie that is financed, stars Michael Shannon, but I have no cast. [laughs] So what do you do then? You start begging, you start making calls.
One interesting thing about Kuklinksi, with his “no women or children” code as depicted in the film, is whether or not he was a true sociopath. What do you think?
I know for a fact, just from all the information we got, he never killed any women or children. I think his code came from the fact that he viewed killing as a job. That was his job. He had rules for what he would do and what he would not. He was very greedy and loved money and at the end of the day that was a big motivation for him. Being a sociopath, per se, there are so many different levels. In fact, most people who are sociopaths probably don’t know they are. And, as we know, sociopaths are great hiders. They hide their incapabilities so well.
And I think back then especially, it was something nobody talked about. Today we’re much more open about having any mental issues. ADD, bipolar, or anything, is now treated immediately with psychiatry and medicine. Part of the sadness and regret for Kuklinski was that he was sick and didn’t even know it. In that world, I think he created for himself a certain red line of what he would do and what he wouldn’t. I think towards the end he kind of let go of everything.
Thanks to Ariel Vromen for his participation in this interview. The Iceman is currently available on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital download at retail outlets everywhere.