"Love don't make things nice, it ruins everything, it breaks your heart, it makes things a mess. We're not here to make things perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and love the wrong people and die!"
Convinced by these lines of seduction spoken by Nicolas Cage in a scene from "Moonstruck," co-star Cher risks a mess --at least--by following Cage out of the freezing Brooklyn night and, in the next scene, into bed.
Cage's verbal cascade, said director Norman Jewison during a break in shooting, is one of many "arias" in John Patrick Shanley's original screenplay. Jewison terms it an "operatic multi-generational romantic comedy" set in the Italo-American communities of Brooklyn and Manhattan. "The language certainly attracted me to the project--I like to call Shanley 'The Bard of the Bronx.' "
Shanley is an Irish-American who grew up chockablock with the borough's Italo-Americans and their folkways. Best known as an off-Broadway playwright ("Danny and the Deep Blue Sea"), he turned to movies last year with "Five Corners," written, like "Moonstruck," on spec, and filmed under Tony Bill's direction.
"And," Jewison continued, "I was drawn to the people, who are so beautifully rounded." A reading of the script suggests that Jewison's praise isn't just interviewese. For example, the "supporting" character of Cosmo Castorini (Cher's father, played by Vincent Gardenia of "Little Shop of Horrors") is seen alternately as dad, husband, philanderer and businessman.
"But what really interested me," the director said, "is the central idea of betrayal, which, now that I think of it, has figured in a lot of my films"--"The Thomas Crown Affair" and "A Soldier's Story," for instance. "Loretta (Cher) falls in love with Ronnie (Cage), who is the brother of her fiance (Danny Aiello); Cosmo is betraying Rose (his wife, played by Olympia Dukakis) by stepping out with Mona (Anita Gillette); Rose walks home with Prof. Perry (John Mahoney) and kisses him good night.
"And all of this seems to be out of the characters' control. They're all affected by la luna --there's a full moon hanging over Manhattan and Brooklyn." And lest this be taken only as an operatic-poetic conceit, the compact, sensible 60-year-old director is quick to point out: "I'm a farmer, so I know the moon affects animals." The Canadian native raises cattle on a spread outside Toronto, where "Moonstruck's" studio interiors were wrapped recently. "And I think the moon affects humans to a greater extent than most of us recognize.
"Steve McQueen"--Jewison's "Cincinnati Kid" and "Thomas Crown" star--"was really affected by the full moon. He did become very strange--irrational behavior, like calling at 3 in the morning and saying: 'I feel threatened,' and running away, usually to an open place, usually out on the desert somewhere. . . . "
Though the perceived wisdom around the set is that Cher was moonstruck by the script, the raven-haired star will admit that she was pragmatically wary of it--partly out of some fear of betraying audience expectations of her. "As much as I liked it," she said, "it wasn't like 'Mask,' which I felt I just had to do. I was a little frightened because there seemed to be all kinds of possibilities and all kinds of risks here. I wondered if, at this point in my career when there might be some people out there interested in seeing my movies, they would accept me in this role."
Cher spent most of last summer and fall starring with Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Susan Sarandon in "The Witches of Eastwick," director George Miller's film version of John Updike's novel about necromancy in present-day New England.
Her "Witches" role required her to bed down with 1,500 (non-poisonous) snakes, something she "didn't really mind. If they'd been insects . . . . "
Next Cher's signed to play the role of an attorney in Tri-Star Pictures and Peter Yates' "Suspect," "which I hate to call a thriller because that sounds so standard and I don't think this is standard."
She had in fact already signed when "Moonstruck" came along with a production date before "Suspect's" and--proof of her ascent, at age 40, into that small circle of bankable female stars--was MGM/UA's willingness to finance the $11-million project if only she'd say yes. The studio was also willing, according to longtime Jewison producer Patrick Palmer, to submit to an agreement with Tri-Star not to release "Moonstruck" until eight weeks after "Suspect" comes out.
This could mean that "Moonstruck," which will be edited, scored and dubbed by July, may not come out until February, 1988. And unless Palmer can renegotiate the agreement with Tri-Star it could also mean that "Moonstruck" will miss out on the 1987 Oscar nominations that he is already convinced the film merits. One of the potential nominations he mentions specifically is Best Actress--for Cher's Loretta.
Loretta is a dowdy, prematurely gray-streaked 37-year old widow who lives with her parents and grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin Jr. of "The Name of the Rose") and works as a free-lance bookkeeper.
"She shares the dilemma of many women in their 30s today," said screenwriter Shanley. "She wants to have children, but has little time left to do that. So does she marry someone for whom she feels no passion but who will fulfill that wish? Or does she hold out for the right man and perhaps risk not fulfilling the wish? Loretta decides not to wait--but just as she becomes engaged, the right man comes along." All this, of course, causes the character an agony of indecision and guilt as well as giving her a sense of freedom.
"But I much prefer playing her 'Before' than 'After,' " Cher said. "The freedom is not interesting to me because that's something I know, usually. Yet I don't think of her as being constrained, exactly. My idea was to play her more as bossy and controlled.
"I don't know where I get these ideas," Cher said wonderingly, "but I usually have one for each scene, and if it's right, if it works well, it ends up carrying the whole scene." For the actress, who is "still trying to figure out what the fun part of making movies is," experimenting with these ideas is probably the closest thing to an answer. "I know that in watching movies, my own or anybody else's, it's the little ideas, the stray moments of behavior that don't seem 'acted' that interest me the most."
Not being allowed to experiment with her ideas is apparently one of her greatest frustrations in making movies: She once complained in an interview that Peter Bogdanovich gave her line readings.
"I think I must be very difficult to work with because I don't just put myself in a director's hands. If they pick me, they have to know that I'll have ideas--that that's what I can give. That was a problem in getting my first job as an actress."
Speaking of her own side of the actor-director equation, Cher said: "I happen to think crazy people make good actors because they can suspend their belief systems so easily--and at making movies you have to go in and out of different realities very quickly. Like I'm talking to you right now and in a few minutes I have to go out there and. . . ." For the last few words she lapsed into the New Yorkese in which she has been coached by co-actor Julie Bovasso (Travolta's mother in "Saturday Night Fever") and which has been reinforced by an unnamed "boyfriend," who's from Queens.
By this time, the actress had used some form of the word crazy perhaps 20 times--clinically, pejoratively and as a badge of honor denoting a fine and free family. Yet she is sane enough to add: "If everyone was like me, if everyone did what they wanted, who would there be to work the toll booths?"
She is quoted in the film's production notes as having said: "My father is Armenian and my mother French and Cherokee Indian, and the truth is the characters in the film aren't like my family at all." But on the set, in a more expansive and less official mood, Cher revised that somewhat, providing a wistful review of where she's been and how far she's come. "It kind of reminded me," she said, "of Sonny's family. Everybody eating and talking and shouting--but you have such good times. . . ."