Did you hear the one about the compulsive-gambling TV writer who ventures to Vegas (of all temptations!) to rescue the hooker with a heart of gold? Sneaking into theaters this weekend, Finding Amanda stars Ferris Bueller himself, Matthew Broderick, as said sad screenwriter, with American Dreams girl Brittany Snow playing his casino-walking niece. Rescue Me cocreator Peter Tolan, who wrote and directed the indie comedy, shares the origin of this unorthodox tale. Plus: How he himself won big with a Belmont Stakes gamble!
TVGuide.com: So you've got the prostitute, the trip to Las Vegas, the struggling TV writer... How did those ideas come together? Where's the germ of truth here?
Peter Tolan: I'm luckily not a struggling TV writer, but my wife had gotten a call from a family friend whose child was in trouble in Vegas. And because I'm a gambler and have spent some time in Vegas, my wife said, "Maybe Peter knows somebody who can help us with her." She then said to me, "You might have to go to Vegas," and in that instant I thought, "Oh great, I get to go to Vegas!" It was all about me. It was me going to Vegas to have a good time. And then I thought, "Boy, that is sick,'" and then I thought, "That's a movie." I took that inciting incident and ran with it. Some of the stuff with the husband and wife did happen — I did steal checks from my wife's checkbook. I don't have a credit card and I don't have a checkbook because I'm a compulsive gambler.
TVGuide.com: You bet on just the horses?
Tolan: Just the horses, yeah.
TVGuide.com: What separates the horse bettors from other gamblers?
Tolan: I know for a fact that horse race gamblers are the most difficult to cure, because, a therapist once told me, they are smarter than most gamblers. The reason we like to bet on horses is because it's a puzzle, and you have all sorts of information based on past events to look at and try to prognosticate the future. You think, "If I can crack this in a way nobody else can, I am going to get paid a lot of money." For example, I hit the Belmont Stakes this year. I keyed the winner. [Explaining his thinking.] You can't bet that race and not think that Big Brown is going to win, so he was the "one" horse. And there was a horse that placed third to him in the Kentucky Derby who was coming into the race fresh, and that was the horse I liked. Those were my two that could win the race. But this "six" horse, D'Atar, was what we call "lone speed." There was no horse that was going to go to the lead except D'Atar. Six of the nine horses were deep closers, meaning they come from way back in the field and try to win the race in one move. But in a lone speed race, that horse will hang in the money. For my last bet, a $50 exacta, I won $17,000. Sweet!
TVGuide.com: Which role in Finding Amanda was hardest to cast?
Tolan: Brittany's role. We had a lot of choices. A lot of very well-known girls were anxious to play that part, sending me letters to play that part. And they were not right. I didn't know Brittany's work, but I saw a picture of her and I said, "That's the girl." The character is 20 years old, so I needed somebody who was young woman and a girl. If she's too much of a girl, the movie is creepy; if she's too much of a woman, the movie is just sad. Brittany was perfect for it.
TVGuide.com: And Broderick's character, you had to make sure you had someone likeable, despite his character's many, many flaws.
Tolan: Exactly — I needed somebody who could be charming or had some bank of audience goodwill, and people just love Matthew. He has that in spades.
TVGuide.com: Steve Coogan is quite the scene-stealer here, as a casino manager.
Tolan: Coo-gan! I love Coogan. It was daunting to try and direct him.
TVGuide.com: How much of his shtick was improv?
Tolan: None of it. It was all scripted. Coogan has a production deal at NBC, so I called them and said, "I want to work with Coogan." I get his email address and we start writing back and forth.... While we're casting the movie, I happen to mention my emails with Steve Coogan, and the casting director goes, "We should ask him!" I said there's no way he's going to do this. He lives in the U.K., it's a little indie, he's got two scenes or whatever.... She sends him the script and he says yes.
TVGuide.com: There would seem to be a market for this movie, because the sci-fi/action crowd will want to see Wanted, and Wall-E is for families....
Tolan: Who knows. I'm more cynical about it. This will appeal to an adult audience who is looking for something funny and doesn't mind something a little profane.
TVGuide.com: Did you have to draw the line anywhere with the profanity? Because it sure didn't seem like it!
Tolan: I only did what I thought was correct. Some of it is nasty, but it gets big laughs.
Coming soon, in the TV Previews blog: Peter Tolan previews the new season of Rescue Me, including the one guest-star he simply has to book!
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