MID­NIGHT RUN

As Mid­night Run hits 30, its writer, Ge­orge Gallo, re­flects upon writ­ing a mod­ern clas­sic

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - CHRIS HE­WITT

Here come two words for you: writer Ge­orge Gallo talks about the mak­ing of a mod­ern clas­sic.

THERE’S NO SUCH thing as a per­fect film — well, maybe Padding­ton 2 — but Mid­night Run comes pretty damn close. Martin Brest’s 1988 movie, about Jack Walsh, a bounty hunter (Robert De

Niro), trans­port­ing Jonathan ‘The Duke’ Mar­dukas, an ab­sconded Mob ac­coun­tant (Charles Grodin), across coun­try un­der the nose of the Mafia and the Feds, is part road-trip, part-buddy com­edy, part-ac­tion movie, and is ut­terly mag­nif­i­cent. It’s in­cred­i­bly in­flu­en­tial — many movies, in­clud­ing the Ger­ard But­ler/jen­nifer Anis­ton com­edy The Bounty Hunter, Reese Wither­spoon’s Hot Pur­suit and the Ryan Reynolds/sa­muel L. Jack­son mis­fire The Hitman’s Body­guard, have at­tempted to match its blend of char­ac­ter-based com­edy, potty-mouthed hu­mour and chaotic ac­tion, but none have come close. Its ap­peal lies in the in­cred­i­bly quotable di­a­logue, the mem­o­rable, well-drawn sup­port­ing cast, and its lead duo, whose caus­tic, can­tan­ker­ous chem­istry never gets old. Those char­ac­ters, and that di­a­logue, was writ­ten by Ge­orge Gallo, who spoke to us about set­ting off on that mid­night run.

Mid­night Run was a hit on re­lease, and gained even more trac­tion over time. At what point did you no­tice that?

I don’t know. Here we are, years later, and I still hear it all the time. It hit a chord with peo­ple, some sweet spot, and I have to tell you, the most in­ter­est­ing thing to me is that Marty Brest and Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, ev­ery­one who worked on it, got the joke. Jack Walsh was quite an an­gry guy and every line in his script was, “Fuck you”, “Mother­fucker, fuck you, I’ll stick your fuck­ing head in the fuck­ing toi­let.” It’s very an­gry and there’s a lot of nasty talk, but there’s a warm cen­tre to the movie. Walon Green, who wrote The Wild

Bunch, once said to me, “There are ba­si­cally two kinds of movies. One is a candy-cov­ered turd, and one is a turd with candy at the cen­tre.” It was a turd with candy at the cen­tre, Mid­night Run.

How did you dis­cover bounty hunt­ing? Mid­night Run came out of a dis­cus­sion — the whole fear of fly­ing thing. There’s a friend of mine who’s a cop, Stan­ley White, who was a highly dec­o­rated cop in the sher­iff’s de­part­ment in Los An­ge­les, and a friend of mine. He was my tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor when I was writ­ing Bad Boys, which was orig­i­nally called ‘Bul­let­proof Hearts’, for Paramount. We were hav­ing lunch and I said, “I have this thing, I don’t like to fly, and I got this thing about ❯

a crim­i­nal.” We started talk­ing about how the guy won’t get on an air­plane. He said, “Any­body with any po­lice train­ing knows you can’t force a crim­i­nal to fly. It’s against the crim­i­nal’s civil rights.” We started dis­cussing it and some­how got onto bounty hun­ters. That was that.

How did you pitch it to Martin Brest? Marty had read Bad Boys but didn’t want to do an­other cop movie af­ter Bev­erly Hills Cop. I ran into him and that was to­tal fate. I was on the Paramount lot and for­got some­thing and went back to get it. Com­ing back the sec­ond time I saw Marty com­ing, and I said, “I got this thing I’m work­ing on about a bounty hunter.” He made a face and said, “Do they still have bounty hun­ters?” That re­ally wasn’t in the lex­i­con in the 1980s. It is now. I said, “Don’t ask me how it ends, I have no idea.” He read some pages and said, “I want to do this.”

So The Duke’s fear of fly­ing ac­tu­ally comes from you?

Ab­so­lutely. I don’t fly. I have a very le­git­i­mate fear of fly­ing. When there was word Mid­dle Men [a 2009 film Gallo wrote and di­rected] was go­ing to be at Cannes, I was pray­ing at night that it would not get into the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val just so I wouldn’t have to fly there. A friend of mine, Chris Mal­lick, the pro­ducer, sent me to a place where you get over pho­bias. I went to it and got on the plane and then flew home, but I think that could be the end of me fly­ing. I don’t like it. I just don’t like it.

Did you al­ways want to in­cor­po­rate that? How much of you is in Jack and The Duke? I al­most did what The Duke did once. I was on a plane go­ing to Florida to visit my par­ents, and I was like, “I’m over this shit.” They started to close the doors and I said, “Fuck this, I can’t do it.” I lit­er­ally jumped out of my seat. I ran off the plane and my lug­gage went to Florida. I started to think that there’s some­thing very funny about a guy who just re­fuses to fly. He just won’t do it, and that’s where it started in my head.

When did you come up with the no­tion that The Duke was fak­ing it?

Some­where dur­ing the writ­ing process I thought to my­self, “He’s full of shit, he can fly.” Part of the writ­ing for me is the sur­prise, to see where it’s go­ing to go. You have these ideas as you’re work­ing. With Mid­night Run I made it up. I just started writ­ing. The whole third act, I had painted my­self into a cor­ner where Dor­fler [John Ash­ton’s ri­val bounty hunter] has The Duke hand­cuffed to the sink in

Ve­gas and he takes the pic­ture of The Duke and walks away. I was stuck there for weeks. A friend of mine kept say­ing, “Let’s go to Las Ve­gas.” He handed me a brochure of Cae­sars Palace and I was flick­ing through and in the bath­room there were all these tow­els that said “Cae­sars”. I went, “Fuck! That’s what Dor­fler did! He took a pic­ture of the towel!” And that’s how I came up with that. That was weeks of pulling my hair out.

Was Martin Brest wor­ried that you were tak­ing so long?

I al­most got fired at one point. Orig­i­nally Dor­fler died in the script, and he got shot in that park­ing lot scene. It was a lit­tle darker, the way it was orig­i­nally writ­ten. I brought that up. “I don’t think we can

kill Dor­fler.” In a funny way I knew I was ask­ing for trou­ble. Then Marty said to me, “I’m think­ing the same thing. Go fig­ure it out.” So I started work­ing on it and never liked what I was com­ing up with. Over the Christ­mas hol­i­day, we still didn’t have the end­ing. I knew they had other writ­ers they were talk­ing to, to try to come up with an end­ing. Then it hit me over the hol­i­days — Dor­fler shows up at the air­port be­cause he wants to go home. That’s when the whole thing came in my head. I wrote it and drove over to Marty’s house in Pa­cific Pal­isades. I gave it to him and went to wait out­side. That was back when I used to chainsmoke, I was chainsmok­ing out­side. He came through the door and said, “This is fuck­ing great.” I said, “Thanks, man.” He said, “Do you know how close you came?” I said, “I can just imag­ine.”

It’s such a quotable film. One of the great lines is, “Here come two words for you: shut the fuck up.”

That was a to­tal ac­ci­dent in the writ­ing. I write very quickly, the di­a­logue. I don’t think about it, I just pour it out. And I remember when I got to it, I was go­ing to say, “Fuck you,” but I went, “No, he’s so mad that he can’t get his brain straight.” That was a to­tal ac­ci­dent. It also has one of the great last lines. “Looks like I’m walk­ing?” It just came to me. I have the sec­ond-to-last line in the movie. The cab driver who says, “What are you, a co­me­dian? Get out of here!” That’s my voice. I looped that line. To me, “Looks like I’m walk­ing,” was the whole movie, but Jack was walk­ing in a dif­fer­ent way in the end. He was walk­ing with pride, he was get­ting a 10-year mon­key off his back with Ser­rano [Dennis

Fa­rina], he was walk­ing with money in his pocket for the first time in a long time, he had his dream.

Did you write Jack Walsh with De Niro in mind?

No, I didn’t. To tell you the truth, I wrote about my father, who was a very wound-up sort of guy. He had an in­cred­i­bly short fuse. I kinda wrote my dad. In a way, The Duke was me as a kid be­cause I could set my father off bet­ter than any­body. [llaughs] My father and I, we al­most had a Wile E. Coy­ote-road Run­ner re­la­tion­ship.

It’s such an amaz­ing re­la­tion­ship, with The Duke con­stantly needling Jack de­spite their cir­cum­stances. He can’t help him­self. I’m both sides of that guy too, as peo­ple will tell you who know me. I can be Jack Walsh and I can be The Duke. I’ve got­ten more mel­low with age. I don’t have an evil bone in my body, but if I can find some soft un­der­belly, which I was pretty good at fig­ur­ing out, I would do it just to start needling you. I would do it for the sheer fuck­ing en­ter­tain­ment value of do­ing it.

Grodin seems gre­gar­i­ous. Was there a cer­tain amount of im­prov?

I could never tell where Chuck ended and The Duke be­gan, or vice versa. He used to break my balls re­ally bad. Talk about a guy find­ing your un­der­belly and go­ing af­ter you — he did that to me con­stantly. De Niro and I were go­ing out to din­ner all the time, so I said, “Hey Chuck, you wanna go out to din­ner?” He said, “Call me, I’ll be in my room, call me at eight.” I called him at eight. “Hey Chuck, it’s Ge­orge, you wanna go out to din­ner?” He said, “Ah, Ge­orge… no. I was just think­ing, we don’t have a lot in com­mon.” I was fuck­ing crushed. Then he was, “Ge­orge, I’m jok­ing.” [Laughs] He would let it go to the point where you were re­ally start­ing to get hurt and then he would let you know. To think, the stu­dio wanted Cher and Robin Wil­liams.

It would have been a very dif­fer­ent film. Ku­dos to Marty Brest for hav­ing the guts to say, “No, we’re mak­ing the movie the way I want to make it.” He de­serves all the credit for that. It was his guts and his vi­sion and his stub­born­ness.

I tip my hat to him.

MID­NIGHT RUN IS OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY

Bounty hunter Jack Walsh (De Niro) has a hold of his prize: blue col­lar crim­i­nal Jonathan ‘The Duke’ Mar­dukas (Charles Grodin).

Clock­wise from top left: A cof­fee break with a view for crim­i­nal Jimmy Ser­rano (Dennis Fa­rina); Gun club: Bounty hunter Marvin Dor­fler (John Ash­ton), Jack Walsh and Jonathan Mar­dukas; Screen­writer Ge­orge Gallo on set; Walsh didn’t get the ‘sun­glasses manda­tory’ memo; No cars were hurt in the mak­ing of this movie...; Di­rec­tor Martin Brest chats to Yaphet Kotto, who plays Spe­cial Agent Alonzo Mosely.

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