An excerpt from Glenn Kenny‘s Phaidon/Cahiers Du Cinema’s “Anatomy of an Actor” book about Robert De Niro. Except that…well, the portion I’m interested in is lifted from the N.Y. Times. No biggie. Just saying.
“It was understood [during the shooting of Midnight Run] that Charles Grodin might have some opportunity to improvise. The ‘night boxcar scene,’ as Grodin calls it, was, he said, improvised entirely. The situation begins with Grodin shutting a boxcar door on De Niro’s face in an effort to escape him. De Niro, in the role of Jack Walsh, promptly boards the car from the other side — enraged.
“But, Grodin said of the scene, ‘We knew it had to end with De Niro revealing something personal about himself’ — the history of a wristwatch that has sentimental value. ‘How do you get to that point in a couple of minutes where he’s going to reveal himself? What do you say?’
“Grodin went back to his motel and wrote down about 15 lines he thought might change the mood of De Niro, who tends to stay enraged when he becomes enraged. Back to the boxcar, with a crew of about 40 people looking on: comes the crucial moment. Mr. Grodin tries line No. 1: ‘When you get your money for turning me in, you might want to spend some on your wardrobe.’ Not a glimmer of a smile…nothing. [Director Martin] Brest comes over: ‘I love you [but] you’ve got to find a way.’
“‘It took me ten days to get ready for Take 1,’ Grodin said. ‘All those people in the boxcar. It was a tough situation. Out of desperation I said, ‘What could I say to Robert De Niro to get him off the mood he was in?’
“‘That’s when, on Take 2, I asked him if he’d ever had sex with an animal.’”
You know what makes some of those emotional scenes in Midnight Run work really well? Danny Elfman‘s score — don’t kid yourself.