The Sunday Conversation: James and Scott Caan


“Mercy” is a new romantic drama that stars Scott Caan, who also wrote and produced it. He plays a novelist and swaggering Lothario who finally ditches his womanizing ways for the right woman — until she’s gone. His father, James Caan, appears in the film as his character’s father, a professor burned out on love. James, 70, and Scott, 33, recently discussed their on-screen and off-screen relationship over lunch at the Chateau Marmont.

Is this the first time you’ve worked together?

James: Once I did something for him and he cut me out of the movie. Isn’t he a rude little.... ? I flew out from Miami, didn’t get paid, worked in 104 degrees and then he cut me out.

But who’s complaining?

Did you feel guilty?

Scott: Me? No.

How did this come about, working together on “Mercy”?

S: When I did the first rewrite, the role wasn’t supposed to be my father. It was just a guy I was friends with. And the director [Patrick Hoelck] said, “I think it’ll be more powerful, more interesting if the character was your father.”

You say this had been a dream of yours to work together. Was it how you imagined it?

J: First of all, I had two scenes in it. It’s different if you have a whole project and you can develop it. The budget was what it was. And I was more nervous. You don’t want to fail for your kid. United Artists or Warner Bros. or Coppola, I can mess up. I don’t want to do it, but for your kid, that’s the worst thing.

How did he do?

S: He was great.

J: What’s he going to say in front of you?

S: I would say it if it were true. First of all, the experience of doing those scenes together was not the most pleasant thing, and it was difficult for me as an actor. It’s sort of the opposite of our relationship. We don’t hate each other. Our instinct is to laugh and punch each other and have fun. We try to fight that.

J: I have a very unique relationship with Scott. He grew up with me.

You took some time off from your career.

J: About six years. Not just for him. I went through some bad times. I lost my sister and I got a little goofy and I got on drugs — coke — and I went through all of that. He was attached to my hip.

Your film is very romantic. And your character [to James] is on the other side of the spectrum.

J: As he is now.

What have you learned about love from your father?

S: He’s obviously had some failed attempts at marriages. But there’s a lot of people that do that and they go, “I’m never doing that again.” My dad is a good example of someone who digs into life and goes, “Yeah, that tore my heart out, but I’m going to try again.”

J: That’s true. If I got to the point that I didn’t feel that existed, I’d kill myself. Even no matter how old I am, I still believe that exists.

So what have you learned from your father’s mistakes professionally?

S: We’re different. People would say you’re an artist, and he would say, “I’m not an artist. Picasso was an artist.” So I’d get on him for that because I think he’s one of the best at what he does and I think it is an art.

J: I’ve softened on that, actually. I think he’s right.

S: I don’t think he’s made any career mistakes, but I take [work] seriously, like really seriously.

I think you learned that by example, didn’t you?

J: I take it very seriously, but I never show it.

S: No, he never made it his priority. Not that he didn’t love it, but his family was more important.

J: I hope that’s true of you too. The best advice I give to young actors … was what comes first is my family and my friends. No matter what heights you achieve in this business, what is inevitable in every single case is there is a slide backwards. Those people who’ve put all their eggs in the basket where it’s everything, those are the people who hurt themselves. They get drugged out, they get really destructive. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be the best. But when things go bad, he’s got to have his dad, his girlfriend. He’s got to have his brothers.

How much did you pay your dad for this movie?

J: Are you nuts?

S: You just saw it. That salad.

J: Are you buying me that salad?

S: I got it. You want anything else?