Stop us if you've heard this one before: A struggling screenwriter spots a famous actor/indie filmmaker in a New York coffee shop and musters up the courage to present a copy of his script. Though hesitant, the star agrees to give it the once-over with the promise/threat of an honest critique. Three weeks later, the thespian calls and says he's not only interested in executive producing the project, but wants to star in it as well!
It sounds like Hollywood hooey, but that's the story behind Roger Dodger, a sharp coming-of-age comedy written and directed by first-time filmmaker Dylan Kidd and starring Campbell Scott. Recalling his coffee klatch with Kidd, Scott says, "Dylan approached me and said, 'I never do this, but can I give you this script?' I think I surprised him by saying, 'Yeah, sure.'"
Scott — known for starring in films such as Singles and The Spanish Prisoner and directing and producing features like Big Night and Hamlet — saw Roger Dodger as an opportunity to break from softie types. He plays the titular character, a cynical womanizer whose world changes when his wide-eyed teen nephew Nick appears on his doorstep looking for tips on how to score with the ladies. The two embark on an evening of skirt-chasing that turns out to be enlightening for both.
"I hate to sound self-centered, but I read it and immediately wanted to play Roger because it's the kind of role people won't give me," says Scott. "For some reason, I don't get offered dark parts. I think it's because everyone assumes I'm a nice guy."
Which is something Roger producer Anne Chaisson is quick to confirm. "The whole movie jumped up a notch directly due to Campbell's involvement," she says. "He sat down with Dylan and asked who he wanted for what roles, then started calling people like Isabella Rossellini and Jennifer Beals right there on the spot. He really was our white knight."
Campbell's gamble paid quick dividends, as Dodger — which co-stars promising newcomer Jesse Eisenberg (big brother of mop-topped Pepsi pitch girl Hallie Eisenberg) as Nick, opposite Rossellini, Beals and Elizabeth Berkley — went on to wow a panel of judges that included Kevin Spacey, Barry Levinson and Meryl Streep at Robert De Niro's first annual Tribeca Film Festival in New York City this past May. The film won the festival's Best Feature Narrative award, which led to a distribution deal with Artisan. It opens nationwide Oct. 25.
Is Campbell worried that budding filmmakers will start combing the streets of New York hoping to hand him scripts? "Not really," laughs Scott. "But maybe I should start carrying a bag with me just in case."