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The Movie Jon Favreau Has 'Seen A Million Times'

Sep 8, 2012
Originally published on September 8, 2012 8:55 pm

The weekends on All Things Considered series Movies I've Seen A Million Times features filmmakers, actors, writers and directors talking about the movies that they never get tired of watching.

For actor-writer-director Jon Favreau, whose credits include Swingers, Rocky Marciano, The Replacements and Iron Man, the movie he could watch a million times is Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets.


INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On when he first saw the film

"I first saw Mean Streets when I was young. It must have been a revival-house down in Greenwich Village. I think my dad took me down there. My dad grew up in an Italian community in the Bronx and had a lot of affection for Scorsese's work and passed that love along to me."

On why he loves Mean Streets

"The thing I really love about the film is just the real moments — the human interaction, the humanity of the characters. Both the struggle of Harvey Keitel as he's looking for some sort of context for his Catholic upbringing and the horrible realities of the street."

On how the movie has influenced him as a filmmaker

"It's a great way to see Scorsese's toolbox because he's such a flashy director without ever drawing attention to himself as the filmmaker. You're always seeing it subjectively through the eyes of the characters. You sometimes forget you're watching a film. You don't really marvel at the spectacle of the film; you're experiencing it emotionally, and I think that takes a tremendous amount of restraint and I try to emulate that."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

On this program, we've been asking filmmakers, actors, writers, directors about the movies that they could watch over and over again, including this one from the star and writer of "Swingers" and the director of the "Iron Man" series.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

JON FAVREAU: I'm Jon Favreau. I'm a writer and a director and an actor. And the movie that I've seen a million times is "Mean Streets" directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FAVREAU: I first saw "Mean Streets" when I was young. It must have been a revival house down in Greenwich Village. I think my dad took me down there. My dad grew up in an Italian community in the Bronx and had a lot of affection for Scorsese's work and passed that love along to me. As a young boy, being able to see a R-rated violent movie with language in it was exciting. But what I didn't realize as I was younger was I was watching a master filmmaker.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (as Character) Hey.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Character) Hey. Joe (unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (as Character) Charles. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (as Character) All right. How are you?

FAVREAU: "Mean Streets" is set in Little Italy in New York in the '70s. It follows Harvey Keitel's character, who's the nephew, I believe, of a midlevel mob figure in Little Italy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (as Character) (Unintelligible).

HARVEY KEITEL: (as Charlie) What are you talking about? (Italian spoken)

FAVREAU: He's doing some small-time work for the boss and is looking out for Johnny Boy, who's played by De Niro, who's a bit of a screwup.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

KEITEL: (as Charlie) Why didn't you make your payment last Thursday?

ROBERT DE NIRO: (as Johnny Boy) What do you mean? I made my payment last Thursday. What are you talking about?

KEITEL: (as Charlie) You paid him last week?

NIRO: (as Johnny Boy) Yeah, I paid him last week. Why? What'd he say? He said I didn't pay him?

KEITEL: (as Charlie) You paid?

NIRO: (as Johnny Boy) Yeah, I paid.

KEITEL: (as Charlie) Last Tuesday?

NIRO: (as Johnny Boy) Yeah.

KEITEL: (as Charlie) Was it last Tuesday?

NIRO: (as Johnny Boy) Yeah, that's the Tuesday - it was last week. That's before the one that's about to come up...

FAVREAU: The thing I really love about the film is just the real moments, the human interactions, humanity of the characters, the struggle of Harvey Keitel as he's looking for some sort of context for his Catholic upbringing and the horrible realities of the street.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

KEITEL: (as Charlie) OK, I just come out of confession, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (as Character) Right.

KEITEL: (as Charlie) And the priest gives me the usual penance, right, 10 Hail Marys, 10 Our Fathers, 10 whatever. Now, you know the next week I'm going to come back, and he'll just going to give me another 10 Hail Marys and another 10 Our Fathers. And those things, they don't mean anything to me. They're just words.

FAVREAU: It's interesting to watch the Catholic upbringing and experience being applied to the real world. And the whole movie opens up with a quote by - it's actually Martin Scorsese's voice, saying:

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

MARTIN SCORSESE: You don't make up for your sins in the church. You do it in the streets.

FAVREAU: You do it in the streets. You do it at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

SCORSESE: The rest is (bleep) and you know it.

FAVREAU: And that's the whole context for the film is like, how do you not just survive day to day in the world that seems, you know, very (unintelligible) and...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: (as Character) (Singing in Foreign Language)

FAVREAU: The dialogue, when everything hits the fan, and you know that Johnny Boy has gone beyond the point that he's going to be able to be able to be saved by Harvey Keitel, he delivers this great monologue where he finally confronts the loan shark that he's been dodging.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

NIRO: (as Johnny boy) You make me laugh, you know that? You know, I borrow money all over this neighborhood, left and right, from everybody, and I never paid them back. So I can't borrow no money from nobody no more, right? So who does that leave me to borrow money from but you? I borrow money from you because you're the only jerk (bleep) around here that I can borrow money from without paying back, right?

FAVREAU: It's insulting enough that he has, I think, a $10 bill, and he refuses to give it to him, but he sets it on fire in front of him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

FAVREAU: You know, so it's hilarious, but it's scary, and it's also really sad at the same time. And then it culminates in this really visceral, awful, unexplained resolution which is him getting shot.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "MEAN STREETS")

(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)

FAVREAU: It's a great way to see Scorsese's toolbox because he's such a flashy director without ever drawing attention to himself as the filmmaker. You're always seeing it subjectively through the eyes of the characters. You sometimes forget you're watching a film. You don't really marvel at the spectacle of the film you're experiencing emotionally. And I think that takes a tremendous amount of restraint. And I try to emulate that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RAZ: That's actor and director Jon Favreau talking about the movie he could watch a million times, Martin Scorsese's "Mean Streets." Favreau's next project will be directing the film adaptation of the Broadway hit "Jersey Boys." And you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.