By Barbara Vancheri
TORONTO — “The Drop” will forever be known as James Gandolfini’s final performance, and fellow actor Matthias Schoenaerts finds the actor’s death “insanely difficult to talk about.”
“I had two scenes with him. I can’t really say I know this person. I only remember him as a very gentle and truly generous person and artist, and I’m not saying it because he’s not here anymore. That’s truly who he was,” the Flemish actor from “Rust and Bone” and “Bullhead” told a table of writers during the Toronto International Film Festival.
“He had this natural ability to make you feel good, even though he was quite intimidating as a person, for some reason he made you feel comfortable. And he was always friendly and committed and witty and a true actor.
“I remember the very first scene we were shooting was with him and right from the first rehearsal we started improvising. So we were like immediately responding to one another and listening to one another and apparently for some actors, that’s not done.”
Gandolfini’s 14-year-old son, Michael, and his first wife, Marcy Gandolfini, came to Toronto for the premiere, and Belgian director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”) said it was a chance for a farewell to the actor who suffered a massive heart attack in Italy.
“It’s a way of saying goodbye to Jim, because I’ve been working on the screen all the time with him. Even when he passed away, we were still in a full editing period,” he said.
“It was a way of letting it go. I said, listen if I call James Gandolfini, he might not show up on stage but he will show up in the hearts and minds of everybody. … It was very emotional. It was nice, it was my personal way of saying bye and to let him go now.”
In “The Drop,” Gandolfini operates Cousin Marv’s bar in Brooklyn although he has lost control of the neighborhood watering hole to Chechen gangsters.
Tom Hardy is his cousin and bartender who takes a shine to Nadia (Noomi Rapace), a stranger who helps him care for an abandoned, abused puppy. Schoenaerts is the menacing man who is still in love with Nadia although the past of virtually all of the characters comes roaring back in dangerous ways.
One constant away from the camera was the affection for the three blue pit bulls sharing the role of Rocco. “We were like a bunch of soft-boiled eggs whenever that dog was around,” said the bearded Schoenaerts who speaks Dutch, English and French. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, just go get a coffee, I’ll take care of the dog.”
Schoenaerts talked with reporters alone while Hardy was paired with the Swedish-born Rapace, also known as “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” She has no tattoos but on this day had her dyed blond hair fashioned into a sideswept braid, with hints of pink, that was oddly reminiscent of Elsa in “Frozen.”
She’s talkative and energetic, and “The Drop” is the first of two movies pairing her with Hardy. The Soviet-era thriller “Child 44” is due in 2015.
“I love working, and for me, work and life kind of goes together,” the actress said. “I actually had 10 days off this summer, but then I came up with two ideas for two different films that are being written now. I think you’re the same, you’re always working on something even though you’re not filming that day,” she said to her co-star.
Hardy was clad casually in a Velocity Systems T-shirt and jeans as he took a drag from an e-cigarette and drew on a free hotel pad during interviews. He said he likes characters who are desperate and not normally looked at under a microscope such as hustlers, pimps, villains, losers and (Ms. Rapace added) “people on the edge, people that are not so successful, it’s not a happy-lucky group.”
“I like a tone which is ambiguous,” Hardy said. “It’s dealing with ethics as opposed to morals. ‘Thou shall not kill,’ OK, that doesn’t work for everybody,” and yet Hardy said he has to find the soft center of a character and what he calls the layers of denial and faces and masks and make the bartender likable.
The actor, famous for such roles as the masked Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises,” says he has to function almost like a defense lawyer for the character. “Do I know where this guy is coming from? Can I empathize with him and then kind of show and tell that to an audience? That’s my job.”
The movie is based on the short story “Animal Rescue” by Dennis Lehane, who spun it into a screenplay. It’s far simpler to go in that direction than for Lehane to adapt one of his novels such as “Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River” and “Shutter Island.”
“It’s a much easier journey than to cut them. The reason I don’t write the adaptations of my own novels is I don’t feel like I’m the person to be trusted. It’s like that line about you don’t trust a surgeon to operate on his own child, no matter how brilliant he may be,” the novelist said.
“ ‘Mystic River’ is 401 pages. If I could have bought it in at 399, believe me, I would have. It’s whatever it actually takes to write that novel,” he said. He cannot then take 401 pages and squeeze it into a 120-page screenplay, as he told director Clint Eastwood.
This was the opposite concept and a welcome one. “I can take 20 pages and turn them into 120. That’s cool, I bet I can go some nice places with this. That’s what I did.”