Gerard Damiano was a fascinating guy. The director of Deep Throat and other FSR favorites — Naked Goddess, Splendor in the Ass, and The Devil in Miss Jones – warrants a bio film of his own. Damiano, who directed under the name Jerry Damiano, joined the Navy at the age of 17, worked as a hairdresser, and then turned to making pornography. Needless to say, he had a diverse body of work.
We only see a little of the character in the Linda Lovelace bio film Lovelace, but actor Hank Azaria assures that we see an accurate portrayal of the purveyor of porn. Azaria and his scenes with Bobby Cannavale almost make for a movie of its own, bringing levity to some tough material.
Naturally it makes for a great double feature with The Smurfs 2 — the other movie currently in theaters that features Azaria. We spoke with him about the similarities between his turn as porno king and mole-bearing wizard Gargamel.
The Jerry we see in the film considers himself an artist. Did he see himself that way?
He really did see himself that way. The way Jerry Damiano is portrayed in this movie is very true to what he was like, including the crazy toupee. He was really enthusiastic and passionate about filmmaking and pornography. He really wanted to make those films heartfelt and stimulating, so he put his heart and soul into it. I don’t know if he knew why the film was so successful. I don’t think he got the joke, but he was a lovely guy who believed in what he did.
Do you consider him an artist?
Absolutely. I wouldn’t call him a great artist, but he’s an artist. If you define “artist” by someone who tries to reflect life and offer up truths, then you are one.
Did you talk to any friends of his?
I did not. You know, there was a lot of footage of Jerry Damiano being interviewed, so there was a lot of him talking about his life and experience on the movie. I got a lot of it from the horse’s mouth. Not only did I get a lot of information about the guy, but I learned how to sound, move, and talk like him. The main thing was what a nice guy he was. He just had a sweet, warm, and open vibe about him; he was nonthreatening.
It’s funny seeing this and Smurfs 2 coming out so close together…
Yeah, I never planned that these movies would come out around the same time. This might be the most stark example…
[Laughs] You think so?
[Laughs] Yeah, I can’t recall any two more opposing films coming out. They’re two different ways to work blue, if you will. It’s fun to be able to do things like that, though. We’ve been working on those Smurfs movies for a while, so it was a nice refresher for me to jump into a dark, edgy, truthful art film.
Are there any similarities between them at all?
The environment is quite different, but the work is the same. Lovelace is an ensemble drama, where you can sit back and let the other actors do the work for you. Just paying attention to the wonderful performances from Peter [Sarsgaard] and Amanda [Seyfried] was half the battle, but I can’t do that over on The Smurfs because they don’t even exist.
Working on those films is almost like a living cartoon performance or vocal performance. Honestly, underneath that it’s the same thing, because you’re just trying to be as emotionally honest as you can. The rules are different, but within those rules you’re trying to be believable, passionate, and funny, whether it’s a guy trying to do the best he can or a wizard trying to capture some Smurfs.
The trick with those movies is, and it’s something The Simspons is famous for, is making both adults and kids laugh.
You know, it depends on the thing you’re in. With The Smurfs, kids are going to laugh at all the physical stuff. They’ll laugh when you fall down, get an egg on your face, or get stabbed on the butt with a pin. Making mom and dad laugh is more difficult [Laughs], because you have to work within parameters on a movie like that.
The Smurfs is purposefully corny, but so was the television show; it’s endearingly silly. I saw it as my job to make mom and dad laugh as well, and I know Neil [Patrick Harris] felt that way, too. You know, I saw the movie the other night and some of the things the Smurfs said really cracked me up. I think there’s some genuinely clever things. There’s some corny stuff too, but it’s all in good fun.
A movie of yours that still cracks me up is Mystery Men, but I’ve heard that wasn’t the easiest movie to make.
It was partially a technical challenge. That movie was in the early days of the big CGI movies, which is down to a science nowadays. When you go into The Smurfs, everyone knows what that movie is. You know what you have to do. Back then, it was really tedious. People didn’t really know what they were doing and it was not at all actor friendly.
Everybody on that film had a different idea of how it was suppose to play. Me, Ben [Stiller], William [H. Macy], and Janeane [Garafolo] had different points of view. We’d be standing there arguing with each other like crazy, but then we’d go, “Wait a second. I’m dressed with a turban on and throwing forks. You’re dressed as a bowler. Are we really going to argue?” That movie should’ve been more fun to make.
How do you think the movie should’ve played?
I think we all agreed what the film was supposed to be, but the ways we were trying to be funny really had to fit in with each other. Honestly, the main problem was the director, Kinka [Usher], was a visually talented guy who had done a lot of successful commercials, but he really didn’t know how to wrangle in a bunch of comedic egos at the same time. In short, there was no strong daddy [Laughs].
No one was ending disputes, keeping an eye on the greater whole of the film, or knowing how to utilize everybody’s strengths. Listen, he’d be the first one to say that, because was so fed up with the process he happily went back to making billion-dollar commercials. Without someone at the center of that movie to wrangle us all in, it was tough.
Lovelace opens in theaters August 9th. The Smurfs 2 is out now.