I’m casting a movie, LET IT RIDE. The original script was a buddy movie. The attitude I had about the characters was based on Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN.
That story involves two unlikely friends, one intelligent, the other of limited capabilities. The script had been criticized with people saying that the two characters would never be friends. I replied that if it worked for Steinbeck it could work for me.
Richard Dreyfuss was the reason the movie was being made and was the de facto executive producer. He was the reason I wanted to do the film. I had been offered another film awhile back and the script wasn’t that good. Dreyfuss did the film and I wondered why. I screened the film and Dreyfuss did an incredible job with the material. I never forgot that. When LET IT RIDE came around with him attached I committed, especially since the script was so unconventional, reminding me of an obscure film, THE FIREMAN’S BALL.
A problem with the film was the casting of Dreyfuss’ ‘buddy.’ In the book and the script, they were almost onscreen equals and the guy had to stand up to Dreyfuss in performance. At that time Richard was a top tier talent, having somewhat recently being the youngest actor to ever receive an Academy Award.
The casting director was having a tough time finding that character and those that were presented weren’t strong enough for the part, most being journeymen. I wanted a star. I had high hopes for Joe Pesci. The casting director was less than thrilled when I suggested him.
Pesci shows up for a meeting with the producer, Dreyfuss, and me. We begin to chat and it’s not long before I’m in stitches at his stories. Pesci was a part of a comedic duo with Frank Vincent, another character in RAGING BULL. They played mostly clubs in the Bronx. Robert de Niro knew of them and suggested Pesci for the part of Jake la Motta’s brother in the movie. The stories of de Niro trying to contact Pesci would make an hysterical film and the other stories of the various processes during the filming of RAGING BULL were insanely funny as well.
The meeting ended, Pesci left, and the producer and Dreyfuss were stonefaced. I was ecstatic. I looked at them.
‘He’s not funny.’
And that was that. I guess they didn’t see the humor in Pesci that I did. At that time, Pesci hadn’t done anything that lived up to his performance in RAGING BULL. No one, including the casting director, liked him. Maybe it was that he was a New Yorker. Maybe something else that I didn’t know. I continued to lobby for him until I was told that it was a dead issue and no one wanted to hear of it any more. As the script was being ‘polished’ the character diminished until it became just a foil for the Dreyfuss character, not a ‘partner’ as in the earlier drafts and the book.
Not getting the part was the best thing that could happen to Pesci. He got a part in LETHAL WEAPON, a huge hit movie, then a succession of other hit movies that led to his Oscar for GOODFELLAS.
Years go by and he does a ‘voice’ for a very successful Pepsi campaign.
‘The best laid plans ‘o mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.’ —Robert Burns