The Fabulous Baker Boys
TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX FILM CORPORATION
“The Fabulous Baker Boys” is the story of two brothers, cocktail-lounge piano players, who find their lives disrupted when a beautiful young woman joins their failing act and unexpectedly revitalizes their career.
Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges star in the title roles of Jack and Frank Baker, marking the first occasion that the two real-life brothers have acted together in a major motion picture. Michelle Pfeiffer stars as Susie Diamond, the woman who enters and irrevocably changes the lives of “The Fabulous Baker Boys.”
The film, which combines romance, drama, music and comedy, chronicles the changes in the personal and professional lives of the Baker brothers following the arrival of Susie. Hired to bring a touch of glamour to the duo’s long-established and charmless act, Susie also causes Jack and Frank to examine their relationship to each other and to their music. When Jack and Susie find themselves drawn into a tentative love affair, the changes intensify in the lives of “The Fabulous Baker Boys”: a touching, funny salute to friendship, family and following your dreams.
A three-time Academy Award nominee (“The Last Picture Show,” 1971; “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” 1974, and “Starman,” 1984), Jeff Bridges most recently starred in the title role of Francis Coppola’s “Tucker The Man and His Dream” and in Alan
Pakula’s “See You in the Morning.” He is currently starring in Peter Bogdanovich’s “Texasville,” the sequel to “The Last Picture Show.”
The role of Susie Diamond marks the latest in a series of diverse screen characterizations brought memorably to life by Michelle Pfeiffer. One of America’s most sought-after young actresses, she starred in three, films during the past year: as the saintly Madame de Tourvel in Stephen Frears’ “Dangerous Liasons,” for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress; as wealthy restauranteur Jo Ann Vallenari in Robert Towne’s drama “Tequila Sunrise,” starring
opposite Mel Gibson and Kurt Russell, and as Angela deMarco, the wife of a Mafia enforcer trying to regain control of her life in Joanthan Demme’s “Married to the Mob,” for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award.
Since making his film debut at age four in “The Red Pony,” Beau Bridges has portrayed such disparate characters as a wounded soldier who stands up to terrorists in Larry Peerce’s “The Incident”; cub reporter Ben Hecht in Norman Jewison’s “Gaily, Gaily”; Sonny Webster, the devoted husband who sticks by his controversial wife in Martin Ritt’s “Norma Rae”; and most recently, a powerful judge who suffers through his wife’s kidnapping in “Seven Hours to Judgement,” which also marked Bridges’ feature film directorial debut.
A Gladden Entertainment Presentation of a Mirage Production for Twentieth Century Fox release, “The Fabulous Baker Boys” is written by Steve Kloves (“Racing With the Moon”), who is making his directorial debut with this film.
“The Fabulous Baker Boys” is produced by Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg. Sydney Pollack is the executive producer.
Bill Finnegan co-produces the picture, which was filmed in Los Angeles and Seattle. Among the distinguished production team are director of photography Michael Ballhaus (“Broadcast News,” “Working Girl”), production designer Jeffrey Townsend (“After Hours”), film editor William Steinkamp (“Tootsie,” “Out of Africa”) and costume designer Lisa Jensen (“Mannequin”). The music is by Dave Grusin, a five-time Academy Award nominee who won the Oscar for Best Original
Score for “The Milagro Beanfield War.”
History of the project
In the spring of 1985, screenwriter Steve Kloves, fresh from seeing his script “Racing With The Moon” realized as a motion picture, sold his next work, “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” to producers Paula Weinstein and Gareth Wigan of WW Productions. They in turn made a deal with Mark Rosenberg, then president of worldwide production at Warner Bros., to make the film.
Several years later, as often happens in Hollywood, WW Productions had disbanded and Weinstein was named executive consultant to the worldwide film division of MGM by chairman and CEO Alan Ladd, Jr., with whom she had previously been associated at The Ladd Company. Rosenberg had since left Warners to form Mirage Productions in partnership with producer-director Sydney Pollack. Weinstein approached Mirage, who quickly and happily agreed to partner in the project at Metro. When Ladd left MGM, the producing partners looked for a new berth for their project, which now had siblings Jeff and Beau Bridge’s lined up to star.
Three years after the screenplay was first acquired for production, the picture was greenlighted by Gladden Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox with Kloves directing.
“What initially appealed to me about Steve’s script,” says Rosenberg, “was the incredibly well-observed, high quality of the writing. I had not read dialogue like that in many years. Also, the fact that the story was a love story between brothers. I was wild about the character of Susie Diamond and loved the idea of making a quasi-musical.”
For Sydney Pollack, too, it was the writing which first attracted him to the project. “It was always a peript that was fresh, original, full of talent — and eccentric in its own positive way. It had an understatement to it. The first thing that struck me was its sense of atmosphere, mood and leanness. Steve is a minimalist, and there is something extremely evocative in the understatedness of the way he writes.”
Paula Weinstein, who had known Kloves since before “Racing With The Moon,” felt that “here is a full-blown writer who understands people and who understands how to write for the screen using few words to evoke every feeling. What amazed me when I put the script down was that had anyone read a line to me later, I would have known immediately which character had said it. There was a uniqueness of voice to each of Steve’s characters.”
Initially it was decided to have a more experienced filmmaker direct. However, as Rosenberg recalls: “Over the course of the three years, Steve became a close friend of Paula’s and mine, and what we perceived was a kind of esthetic judgement, an unflagging ability to know what he wants, and a level of taste that led us to believe that he should direct his screenplay. That Steve at the age of 23 had written a story with elements, feelings, emotions and characteristics
well beyond his years, made us sense he might be somebody special. There is something in Steve that allows him to see, in cinematic language, the drama he wrote — a kind of camera in his brain.”
Says Weinstein: “Steve doesn’t write in paragraphs, in a literary way. He writes for actors, leaving room for them to act, so it’s not hard to have faith if someone like that wishes to direct.”
And so, four years after initiating a deal for “The Fabulous Baker Boys” as the screenwriter, Kloves saw his dream of directing his script become a reality.
“The entertainment business per se doesn’t interest me,” says Kloves, recalling the origins of the screenplay and the film, “but the Baker Boys are really blue-collar entertainers.
They’re like guys who work in a Ford factory who put on bumpers 350 days a year, because they play the same songs 250 nights a year. There’s a certain generation where everyone’s mother gave them piano lessons, and it came as a kind of
curse, because if they really did love it, there’s no place to do it, other than lounges.
“Obviously Jack and Frank are two brothers who took piano lessons together from the time they were very young. And I think they’ve known each other so long that they no longer know each other. It takes another person to come in and shake them up. Because when you’ve known someone that long, you almost don’t see him anymore — you make up your own caricature of him. It takes someone else to come in and shed a new light, and that’s Susie.”
When Kloves was imagining a cast for his movie, Jeff Bridges was his first choice for the role of Jack Baker, and after meeting with Jeff’s brother, Beau Bridges, he knew he had found his “Baker Boys.” Michelle Pfeiffer, a friend, had read the script soon after it was written and had expressed interest in portraying Susie, and so “I was able to get exactly what I wanted,” explains the young writer-director.
“Jeff, for me, is like the old-time actors who you never know are acting; he’s seamless — you just never see him working at it. Once we started rehearsals, the natural camaraderie he has with Beau came across perfectly. Beau has the most wonderful knack of making memorable moments out of simple gestures. And Michelle is the icing on the cake. Her’Susie Diamond’ is right on the mark — and she is a wonderful singer. Michelle is an actress with unlimited range.”
“I personally think it’s one of the greatest female roles I’ve ever read,” adds producer Rosenberg. “It always reminded me, in an odd way, of Marilyn Monroe in ‘Some Like It Hot.’
Susie is the motor of the piece — a woman who knows the world, has a bit of cynicism, has been hurt before. Her relationship with Jack is A kind of minuet between two people who don’t want to go through the pain of a love affair and do anyway. But as Michelle plays her, she’s so spicy, so colorful and full of life that even Jack, dispirited as he is, has to perk up and pay attention.”
“Susie’s a wise lady,” comments Sydney Pollack. “I think she’s wiser than she’s able to articulate, and she intuits a lot. She creates a kind of raw situation among the three of them that forces the two brothers to confront an unspoken
emotional distance that has grown between them.”
For Michelle Pfeiffer, Susie Diamond “is one of the most alive characters that I’ve played. She’s kind of a life force, and there’s something of the gypsy about her. She’s a purely emotional creature, which gets her into trouble, but she’s also smart — trashy, cocky and real smart. She’s not afraid to take risks, and she doesn’t lie to herself. If she makes a mistake, she doesn’t blame anybody else. There’s a purity in her honesty that I really respect.”
“The role of Frank Baker had all the elements I look for when reading a script,” says Beau Bridges. “I like humor, even in tragedies, because I think that happens in real life.
I think this is a growth process for Frank. When we first meet him, he enjoys his work because it allows him to support his family and he’s proud of that: He and his brother have been playing piano together for over thirty years, so there’s
a consistency to his life. He’s concerned about his brother, sees himself sort of as his brother’s keeper, and part of the growth in the movie is when he realizes just how much he loves his brother, how much Jack means to him, and also how much he needs to let him go.
“One of the things that interested me is that you don’t hear these brothers telling each other how wonderful they are they tell other people. There’s such a closeness, and sometimes when you get that close, you stop communicating you figure, ‘Who needs to talk anymore.’ But that’s not true.
For one thing, when there’s such a strong family bond, you can get stifled to the point of losing your own identity, and I think that’s also part of the story — particularly when it comes to Jack’s situation.”
Explains Kloves, “Frank has a life beyond the lounges. He’s married, he has two children and a house in the suburbs. He’s a real 9-to-5er in a sense, whereas Jack has nothing. He lives in a ratty apartment with a sick dog; one of the few relationships he has is with a little girl who lives upstairs and takes refuge in his apartment while her mother ‘entertains.’ When he works he plays completely by rote — he’s nearly comatose. It’s only the few times that he escapes to the jazz club and can play from his soul that he becomes alive. And Susie recognizes that.”
“You know, we really can control our destiny,” comments Jeff Bridges. “It’s just that sometimes the choices seem overpowering. Steve once said about Jack that he had two things in his life, music and sex. To keep his creative
juices at bay, Jack has made a second career of being a ladies’ man. Then he meets Susie, someone who can put him up against the wall — someone who makes him take a good hard look at his life and face how empty it is. Susie really sees through Jack Baker, and that appeals to him in a way.
“Jack is very complicated. What you don’t see at first is that he’s also frightened — he’s terrified of getting close and becoming committed to anyone or anything. He’s even, in some strange way, afraid of his talent: If he doesn’t succeed, he can’t fail.”
Says Steve Kloves: “Susie and Frank are really very similar, because Frank never lets anything defeat him, and Susie is the same way. They both have a strength that Jack does not possess. And Susie sizes Jack up as a loser right away. She’s a former escort girl, where her whole job was to size up guys, and she can read this guy a mile away. Then she hears this incredible beauty coming out of him when she walks down to the ballroom and overhears him playing things he never plays on stage.
“So she’s willing to give it’a chance, because she’s always willing to take a chance. But she regrets it almost immediately, because it means the act is over.”
“This is a story about brothers who come to terms with the limitations of their-own lives,” says producer Pollack.
“These guys are not going to be famous or world-class on any level. Susie is the catalyst, moving in and out of their lives. Inadvertently, she creates a type of peace between them, a coming to terms with who they are.”
“And yet,” continues Weinstein, “these are people who actually, without ever talking about it, have great insight about themselves. And that’s what is revealed, like peeling off layers of an onion, all the way through the movie. It’s like a Greek theatre. Each character has his distinct voice an aria, if you will. And without each other, they couldn’t survive.”
The casting for “The Fabulous Baker Boys” was inspired on another level as well, for this is the first time that brothers Jeff and Beau Bridges have appeared together professionally. The sons of noted actor Lloyd Bridges, they did, at ages 16 and 24 respectively, rent a flatbed truck and drive to various supermarket parking lots throughout Los Angeles, summon a crowd with a bullhorn and enact scenes from Neil Simon’s “Come Blow Your Horn.” They have not worked together since, despite the fact that they were once referred to as “the most promising talents and appealing movie brothers since Groucho, Harpo and Chico.” (Well-known director Hal Ashby died during the production of”Baker Boys.” A curious but sad side note is the fact that Beau Bridges starred in Ashby’s first film, “The Landlord,” while Jeff starred in his last, “8 Million Ways to Die.”)
“One of the things that’s interesting about the characters of Jack and Frank Baker is that they are different in many of the same ways that my brother Jeff and I are,” notes Beau Bridges. “The obvious thing that attracted me to the role was the opportunity of working with Jeff. I think the best way to do that, as brothers, is to take advantage of who we are to each other.”
“Of course,” says younger brother Jeff, “the fact that we’re playing brothers — that’s about as real-life as you can get. We have all that history that goes beyond language, all those experiences we’ve shared. And there are things that
we’re probably working on from our subconscious that we’re not even aware of. Of course, it’s made for some riotous moments on the set.
“It’s been a little strange for me as an actor, because normally in the process of making a movie, I’m still discovering the character all the way through the shooting.
The real-life element in this film throws a monkey wrench into that process. On the other hand, we’ve both been drawing on the same memories, and how often do you get to cash in on that?”
Director Kloves concurs wholeheartedly: “I’m amazed that I’m the first to ever cast them together, and delighted that I got the opportunity to do that. It’s been fascinating to watch them work together, because the character moments, the way Jeff and Beau are together physically, is wonderful. And they’re both just tremendous actors.”
“Jeff and I both had the same teacher, my dad,” says Beau. “One of the main lessons he taught us was: ‘Before anything else, your responsibility is to tell the truth. Go with your heart and gut instinct and let that be the statement, because anything else is going to be a lie and people will recognize that.'”
“Working on this film,” says Jeff, “reminds me of the days when Beau and I would create and improvise shows on .the flatbed truck. It’s been fun playing together like that again, and Michelle has been so terrific to work with. Beau and I like to surprise each other during scenes, and it turns
out Michelle likes to work that way, too.”
“I thought it might be a problem working opposite brothers,” Pfeiffer comments. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to connect as quickly or solidly as I would want to.
But they have been the best. It’s been like playing with really good ball players — whatever I threw at them, they threw it back to me. And that helps me because it encourages me to be spontaneous — knowing that if I really go out there on a ledge, they’ll be there for me.”
Steve Kloves, she says, “was always so open to new ideas.
He doesn’t believe that anything is trivial. One day I said that I thought I should be eating caviar in a scene, and Steve and Wally our prop man came up with it. Any small thing, any small movement, any small piece of business is important to
him. We’ve got kids, we’ve got dogs, we’ve got pianos, we’ve got playback — it’s amazing what we have in this movie, and he hasn’t compromised once.”
“A great thing about Steve,” says Beau Bridges, ‘is that he doesn’t feel overly protective of his own vision. He sees everything as teamwork, which, to an actor, is very important.”
“When you respect a director as much as I do Steve,” adds Jeff Bridges, “you want to please him and give him his vision, so if I’m not entirely comfortable with a piece of dialogue, I’ll think about it before I change it. I try to make it work
because often that very thing that makes you uncomfortable can be a key to the scene, can be that thing that separates you from the character.”
As for Steve Kloves, the choice is very easy. On the set, directing from his own script, what does the writer in him say about the action? “He’s not allowed on the set,” laughs the writer-director.