Colin Farrell and Salma Hayek co-star in a romantic drama set in Los Angeles during the Great Economic Depression, adapted from a landmark novel by John Fante, Alan Silverman has a look at Ask The Dust.
Aspiring author Arturo Bandini has arrived in the desert-dusty, sun-drenched boom town that was Los Angeles in the 1930s. The palm tree outside his rooming house window lets him know he's not in his Rocky Mountain home state of Colorado any more. Unpacking his portable typewriter, Bandini sets out to write the next great American novel; or, at least, he would write it if he didn't get so distracted.
But the woman who turns out to be his great inspiration doesn't quite fit that description. Waitress Camilla is a raven-haired Mexican-American beauty whose fierce determination and adventurous spirit seem the exact opposite of Bandini, who, it seems, would rather write about life than experience it.
Camilla knows, but Arturo doesn't yet realize that they have met the great love of their lives.
"It's an incredible love story. It's about a time in American history - and the history, particularly, of Los Angeles as a city - that is fascinating," Farrell says.
Colin Farrell stars as Bandini; and the Irish-born actor studied 1930s movies to find the character.
"I watched a lot of old movies and some actors in particular. There was a different physicality and different energy on the streets ... different sense of purpose ... whether it was as a result of or in spite of the Depression economics," he says. "The clothes changed the way people moved. The way I envisioned Arturo Bandini was quite different from anything in Dublin that I'm used to. So I watched John Garfield a lot and listened to William Holden, who had such a beautiful, rich voice."
Salma Hayek plays Camilla and the Mexican-born actress says the character really got to her.
"When I was doing the movie I really loved this character because of her spirit and the naivety in her; but when it really got to me was when the movie was over and she became sort of alive ... as if she was a friend," she says. "I know this is weird stuff. You never get to be that person again and spend time with her or get into her head. It became like a relative of mine.
"The movie is very different than the book," she explains. "It has a lot more of my character than the book itself, so I couldn't have gotten a lot of things from the book in that respect; but I got so involved with this character and I was so sad when the movie was over, that when I got home and tried to read the book, I got really emotional and started crying. It was like I was living it all over again and missing it. It was almost painful because it was too recent. I really enjoyed playing this character."
Ask The Dust is adapted for the screen by Robert Towne, who also directs the film.
Towne says he first read the novel while researching his Oscar-winning script for the thriller Chinatown, a 1974 film also set in Depression-era Los Angeles. Towne befriended author John Fante and began a three-decade effort to bring his book to the screen. Ironically, when he finally got to make the film, Towne wound up shooting it, not in his native Los Angeles, but in and around Cape Town, South Africa.
"What was wonderful about South Africa was I was quite unprepared for the climate, which is so much like Los Angeles: the quality of the light, the ancillary locations like the Laguna Beach location," he says. "There was nothing in Laguna that looked like it did then, but that did ... and it even had ice plant on the sand, which is like Laguna. The desert was absolutely perfect for the Mojave. All you had to do was keep a few baboons out of the shot and we could afford to build downtown L.A. We found two empty football fields in the middle of Cape Town and then built, from the ground up, Bunker Hill."
Ask The Dust also features Donald Sutherland and Idina Menzel. The look of vintage L.A. is captured by veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel.