David Levien and Brian Koppelman are just before releasing the new film Solitary Man, which Koppelman wrote and the duo directed together. A drama about a used-car magnate whose life descends into a series of self-destructive relationships, the film marks a departure from the criminal tomes and con man stories, including Rounders, Runaway Jury and Ocean's Thirteen, for which they're best known. During a recent interview with the screenwriters and directors, however, they offered some updates on a number of projects they're working on, including a long-gestating sequel to Rounders, their first produced script, a number of other adaptations, and a prequel to The Untouchables which at one point was to be directed by the helmer of the original film, Brian De Palma himself.
Cinematical: I saw you guys have a couple of things coming up that are sort of more directly, sort of that sort of con, criminal, underworld kind of stuff. Did you sort of undertake Solitary Man to sort of get away from that or are you guys pretty comfortable continuing to work on material like that?
David Levien: It wasn't that calculated, actually. Just coincidentally we'd sort of gone through this little phase where we did a couple of small indie movies that didn't focus in that stuff. But then, you know, we saw this great crime book, Beat the Reaper, and we wanted to do it [and] jumped in there. But that character's different, I don't know if you've read that book or heard that book. He's not your typical noble hero, I mean, he's a sharp guy with a real hidden sort of agenda and past.
Brian Koppelman: But he's trying, he's genuinely trying to go the other way.
Levien: He's trying to shed that and become pure.
Koppelman: In a real way, in a Scorsese sort of a, you know, sins, sacrifice, and redemption sort of a way. I mean, that's a movie that has the possibility of redemption at its core. I guess when we were younger, when we look at Rounders we liked the idea that you could cast off what society says is the right thing to do and follow a dream for yourself. But in our early 40s now, you know, you have to reckon with, well, forget what society wants, but what is actually the right thing, and what's actually the best for you and those that you care about?
But that can even, that can function in any genre. It's whatever projects we find that are fascinating to us. And we want to make a movie out of David's first crime book, City of the Sun, just because Frank Behr could be an all-time great cinematic character. And, you know, I think that'll probably be the next thing that we do, write the script.
Cinematical: What's the name of that again?
Koppelman: The first one's called City of the Sun, and the second one's called Where The Dead Lay, and he's hard at work on the third one, somehow.
Cinematical: Well, with Beat the Reaper, do you have to be concerned at all about A History of Violence and the fact that that has at least vaguely similar plot?
Levien: Well, since it was based on a novel, that was less our concern. You know, this thing's a standalone, it's a very different world. And History of Violence wasn't the first time that somebody's past has come back to haunt them.
Cinematical: Of course, but it certainly is the most recent example on film.
Levien: It was an excellent and it's really well executed, it's well done, and it found a decent-sized audience.
Koppelman: There were things in this book, tonally it's very different from History of Violence. This movie is very straight ahead and adrenalized and much more in the Scorsese camp. It's presented realistically. In New York, and he's younger, you know, it's Leo, and hopefully it's supposed to be Leonardo DiCaprio, and I think it's a different take on that material. And you also know in this movie much sooner who he really is and what he is. This really doesn't play with what the audience believes as much.
[But] that's a movie you can watch over and over and over again, which is really what we try. I mean, more than anything else, that's the only thing that we calculate in this stuff. We always wanted to make moves that guys would quote to each other like the way we quoted our favorite movies and still do. Movies that are, and it's probably not wise, necessarily, in Hollywood or commercially, but our movies tend to work better the third time that you watch them. And maybe on this one we get closer to one that you can get the first time. But a History of Violence, that's a movie I watched 10 times.
Levien: We moved from a third timer to like a way homer.
Koppelman: On [Solitary Man].
Levien: Soon, maybe it'll just be full satisfaction in the action scenes. That was Ocean's Thirteen, I guess.
Cinematical: I know you guys at least at one point were working on the Untouchables prequel. Are you still working on that, or what's the status of that?
Koppelman: Yeah, who knows? We're not working on it, we don't know what's going to happen. I mean, it's one of those, we'd love it to get made.
Levien: Art Linson is the producer. We wrote the script, you know, several years ago, he was making Black Dahlia with [Brian] DePalma, and put DePalma on as director. And, you know, that's sort of where it sits. [But] something's going to have to change in the world, the outside world, to make that a viable scenario.
Koppelman: We love this thing we wrote called Winter of Frankie Machine, we adapted it, by Don Winslow. [Robert] DeNiro is still committed to making it and I think of the things that we've done that are, haven't happened yet, that feels like one that has a real chance. Winslow wrote a real corker of a book and we tried to be faithful to it in a way that would get what was great about it across. And Bob DeNiro, Robert DeNiro is like, it would be really the dream of our professional lives. Like Michael Douglas was, to get DeNiro to do something.
Cinematical: I also saw that you guys are potentially working on Rounders 2. Is that any sort of reality?
Levien: Well, that was something that we've been talking about for a little while because all the guys who were in it, and John Dahl and everybody wants to do it. So it's just a question of figuring out, like, you know, Miramax obviously is no more. So it's sort of like a project without a studio.
Koppelman: Yeah, we won't do it on the, I mean, we won't do it unless it's Matt [Damon] and Edward [Norton] and John Malkovich. And John Dahl.
Cinematical: You wouldn't do a Port of Call New Orleans?
Koppelman: We have to all decide that we think there's really an idea that's worthy of it.
Levien: I mean, we got a way into the story, I think, in that we all started talking about it and then somehow, I think maybe Matt said something in an interview and that's how it became news or news fact. But it's something that we all want to do and hopefully will happen at some point.
Koppelman: I mean, Matt's told us many times that that's the movie still that he gets stopped on the street about the most. Which is weird, because, you know, it only took $22 million at the box office. But I think every, every guy who's ever gone to college, at some point during those four years, watched that movie 15 times with his friends. And so we don't want to, you know, Bill Simmons, the sports guy, would kill us if we f*cked it up.