Dan Futterman says something was definately "Fish"-y about rehearsals for con comedy
So you got the lead in a movie about a conspicuously charming con artist. How do you research a part like that?
Working several scams himself might not have been Dan Futterman's first choice. But he had been cast in "Shooting Fish," a upbeat screwball comedy about two friends saving for a house by bilking the rich, and that's how producers wanted him to learn his part.
"During rehearsals we were forced to do some scams in real life," Futterman said with a fox's hint of shame. "But the lesson we learned from that was strength of conviction. If you're absolutely straight about the fact that you're selling some ridiculous product, people will believe you."
But the 30-ish actor, who has met the challenge of working opposite the likes of Robin Williams (playing his son in "The Birdcage") and Mickey Rourke (in the TNT movie "Thicker Than Blood"), found becoming a real-life con artist, even for a day or two, a little disconcerting.
Perhaps having been taken for a pretty smart sum himself some years back on a New York street corner made the angularly handsome Futterman a bit leery.
"There was this very disheveled, drunk guy hanging around 23rd Street and 6th Avenue, and he had this page of rare coins," Futterman explained, not sure he really wanted to tell this story. "Written on the bottom (was) their dollar value with 'If lost please call,' and a phone number.
"I call the number and this woman says 'Oh, thank you so much, would you please get the coins from him?'"
"Obviously what ends up happening is that I buy the coins off the guy, which turn out to be worth nothing, and call the woman back, and there's no answer."
In "Shooting Fish," Futterman plays a boyishly beguiling confidence man who partners with his best friend from his orphanage days in London to finance themselves a mansion through inventive scams.
Together they fleece corporate suits with fake voice recognition computers, run a insulation scam on suburban housewives and peddle miracle light bulbs to gullible investors. All with the unwitting help of the girl they've both fallen for, who may not be as naive as she appears.
Asked if the rehearsal scams were the biggest lies he'd ever told, Futterman sunk back into a dark shadow on the plush couch in his San Francisco hotel room.
"Well, I used to lie a lot," he whispered.
"I did a semester at school in England and I hated it. So I told the people that were running the school that my brother had Leukemia and was being treated in Paris, and that I was going to go stay with him.
"My brother was sort of aghast when he found out, and it was many years later when my parents found out why they got their money back."
This is Futterman's first lead role, and he's relieved to not be sharing the spotlight with double-espresso personalities like Williams and Nathan Lane.
"If feels great to have a part in a movie where you get to take part in the fun. In 'The Birdcage,' my part was definitely functional."
But, he said, it's a great learning experience working with someone like Williams. "He's a guy who has enormous freedom about him. Such a lack of self-consciousness, which is a great place to be as an actor."
"Shooting Fish" was a box-office success in England last year, so is Futterman huge now on the other side of the Atlantic?
"Oh, yeah, I'm the hugest Jew from New York," he mocks. "But the film did terrifically well there, so hopefully it catches here. I hope (the humor) translates."