‘American Hustle’: Behind The Scenes With Gary Craig
The call came in from Boston Casting. They wanted me to read for a role in the David O. Russell project. All I knew is that I was auditioning for a role as a mobster.
I get up to Boston, and sitting in the lobby was every kind of Goomba looking actor you can think of. There were great character guys I recognized from other projects, and actors I knew from other projects I had read for.
Apparently, there was no script, and whatever you were going to do in the audition room was to be improvised. A lot of guys are afraid of that. If it ain’t on the page, that’s a problem. Not for me. I ad-lib all the time in my radio career, and have performed on stage all my life. I would RATHER be challenged with an improvisation than have dialogue to memorize.
One of the casting directors comes out of the room, and starts walking up and down the line talking to the actors making sure they know what they’re doing when they go in.
“You guys know the scenario that you’re working with when you go in to audition?”, she says. When she gets to me, I said “I don’t want to know anything. I’ll react to whatever when I get in there”
Turns out, as the mobster, another guy is coming to me for a big chunk of money, and at the end I make a remark about his wife. Not knowing exactly how this scene fits into the film, or at all, I make up the entire scene on the spot. Casting director has me do it again, only wants me to me more scary. Do it again and was told, “Great job thanks for coming in”.
And that’s it.
You do the audition, and then you forget about it. You can’t obsess how you’ve performed because it will drive you crazy. After the audition, I flew down to Florida for vacation. Sure enough, I get a call the following week, “We’d like you to come in this Thursday for a call back”.
“Sorry, I’m on vacation and won’t be back for a week,” I said. I guess there would be actors who would interrupt whatever they were doing for that callback. But I was on vacation dammit! Plus in my little twisted mind I thought, “well, if they really want me, they’ll wait till I get back!”
I get back on the following Saturday, and on Monday, they call and want me to audition again on Saturday. This time there were only a few actors waiting to go in.
I walk into the room, There’s a long table with a lot of people sitting at there, and Angela Peri, the owner said, “Ok, you’re going to do the same thing you did the last time.” Well I absolutely was NOT going to do the same thing I did last time. The first time I auditioned, my approach, although mobbed up, was rather mild. This time I pulled out all the stops and radical with F-bombs and threats to the imaginary character I was playing against.
She said, are you ready?
After the scene I hear someone say, “Cut,..now there’s a gold star face.” I look up, and sitting at the table was David O Russell!
I didn’t even realize he was there. He seemed to like what I did, and again it was “thanks for coming in”.
About a week later, I got a call from the agency, and they said I’m being considered for a role in the film so don’t leave town, don’t leave the country, what’s your union number, and we’ll let you know by Friday.
Turns out I got the part, playing a character named Jerry Catone!
Then the flurry of phone calls came in from every department.
Hair and makeup called. They wanted me to grow my sideburns long because it’s a time piece from the 1970’s. Even before I knew I landed the role, I was growing them out in anticipation. I had to send them pictures showing the progress. Wardrobe wanted to know all of my sizes, and the production director had the details of where I would have to be and when.
It was a three day shoot up in Boston at The Wang center which was converted to various sets. I arrived at base camp early in the morning, and was escorted to my trailer where I waited for further instructions.
Off to makeup, then my tuxedo was brought to me. Wardrobe gave me the final once over before walking down to the set.
The entire three days I was working with a torn meniscus in my left knee. But there was no time to do anything about it, I just had to suck it up. I was popping Advil like candy because it was 10 hour days on my feet.
The first scene was taking place in an old grand hall. I walk over to some chairs in front of the stage and sit down. Sitting to my right was Amy Adams, next to her was Jennifer Lawrence, sitting to my left was Bradley Cooper, standing in the corner was Christian Bale, and up on stage waiting for the scene to begin was Jeremy Renner.
For me, just for a moment, this was surreal. Was I really here? I have admired the work of all of these actors, and now I was working with them. Would I love to tell them how I appreciated their work? Sure. But there’s an unwritten rule on a set. Act professional. Don’t invade another actor’s space unless you’re invited.
The whole first day we worked on a scene where I escorted Jennifer and Jack Huston into the hall, with a ton of other dignitaries. Over and over again till we got it right. Jennifer was wearing a slinky satin dress that looked like she was poured into it.
David O. Russell has an incredible method, very run and gun and opens a space in which you can improvise. The next day, I was in the makeup trailer, and there was the entire cast. Bradley Cooper with curlers in his hair, Jennifer Lawrence on her cell, and the complicated transformation of Christian Bale was taking place.
I sat down next to Christian and said good morning. “Hi mate, how’s it going?” Bale said.
“Can’t be better,” I shot back. “How long in the chair?”
“About 2 hours.”
Two hours, just on his hair! Every day.
The next 2 days we worked on the bar scene, where the entire cast visit the mob guys who run Atlantic City. We’re all in the scene together, and frankly I can honestly say, I don’t remember any knee pain. I was having too much fun. Bradley and I shook hands when we finally completed the scene. He said, “Great Job” and, at least for me, it was a wrap.