Film: Danny the Man goes futuristic

Danny DeVito moves into science fiction with his new film, `Gattaca'. Martyn Palmer talked to the pint-sized Titan

It would be easy, of course, when discussing Danny DeVito's considerable power base in Hollywood, to note that size isn't everything.

Here he is, strikingly small at 5ft nothing, chomping on a cigar in the strictly no-smoking confines of a Beverly Hills hotel. But hey, this is Dan the Man. He can do what he damn well pleases. Because DeVito, tiny fella that he is, is a very big cheese indeed, a player of heavyweight proportions who can deliver on all fronts: acting, directing and producing.

In fact, what pleases the 53-year-old DeVito, what he shows an undiminished passion for, is making movies, lots of them. He's almost childlike in his devotion to it, and to his production house, Jersey Films, a company perceived as both cool and successful, with the likes of Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Reality Bites and now Gattaca, a futurist thriller starring Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, to its name.

"I love making movies," he says. "Sometimes I want to make movies with a message, like Gattaca, but I wouldn't kick a big-hit popcorn movie out of bed either.

"I want them to challenge, but I want them to entertain, and for people to have a good time. You know, have a couple of characters going through a dilemma, the same old thing they used to do in the old days - chase 'em up a tree, shake a stick at 'em and chase 'em back down again ..."

And it's true; while movies such as Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty have won critical acclaim, DeVito is no slouch when it comes to delivering high-quality box office via Jersey - such as Matilda, the screen adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel, which he directed and starred in.

He formed Jersey Films in 1992, with the producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher, and kicked off with the cumbersome Hoffa, again directing and starring alongside his close pal Jack Nicholson.

His other big Hollywood buddy is Michael Douglas, and it was, perhaps, Mikey, as he affectionately calls him, who pointed the way that DeVito's career would go. They were reunited for Romancing the Stone, The Jewel of the Nile and The War of the Roses (all featuring Kathleen Turner).

And DeVito got to see close up just how hard it is to produce a Hollywood picture. It is, he likes to tell you with a stab of that fat cigar, like a war.

"I was with Mikey on Cuckoo's Nest and it won all those academy awards, but it was five years before he did it again with China Syndrome, and people said to him, `why did it take you so long?' But it's like a war doing this. Maybe you do win academy awards, but the next time out somebody is still hitting you over the head with a ball pin hammer and trying to tie your hands and feet."

DeVito stresses that the key to his company's success is that there are three partners to share the load, and that they get along with plenty of give and take.

It all starts with a script, he says. Jersey is inundated with screenplays and, just like any other production house, has a team of readers to try to spot a winner. Any with potential are passed on to the bosses.

"You try to find something that emotionally connects," says DeVito. "And it doesn't matter who brings it to you - a writer, a director or an actor - you want to see the passion they show to the idea.

"Gattaca was like that, Andrew [Niccol, the writer and director] wrote a wonderful script called The Truman Show, but that was out of our grasp and we couldn't have it. But we knew that we wanted to get together with Andrew, and Gattaca is the result."

Niccol, a New-Zealand-born former London-based advertising executive, says that working with Jersey - in a town where creative control is heavily influenced by the marketing men in suits - was an absolute joy. He was given total freedom.

A stylised thriller set in the near future of genetically perfect humans - called "valids" - Gattaca is the story of Vincent, a man who was born the old fashioned way ("in-valid") and takes on the identity of another man, Jerome (Jude Law) in order to work at the giant Gattaca corporation and realise his dream of becoming an astronaut.

By painstakingly fooling every test designed to weed out the in-valids, Vincent survives and thrives, until a murder throws his plan into chaos and the Gattaca corporation discovers it has an intruder in its ranks.

"I think this is the near future; genetic engineering is happening already," says DeVito. "Andrew has a wonderful, twisted, paranoid mind and he is a visionary. When we first read this script we all thought, `this is incredible', but now you read about this stuff every day."

Jersey has several other projects about to hit the screen. Following the success of Get Shorty, there's another adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel, Out of Sight, with George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez, and one provisionally titled The Kiss - based on a Chekhov short story - in which DeVito will star with Holly Hunter.

Not bad for a man who started out on the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey. And a man who was once told by a Los Angeles casting agent to look for an alternative career because "no one would hire a 5ft-tall character actor".

DeVito's career has included plenty of big-budget, high-profile blockbusters, including Batman Returns and Twins, and some less predictable bittersweet comedies such as Throw Mama From the Train, which he also directed, and Tin Men. And last year he starred in the excellent LA Confidential and The Rainmaker.

He now lives, with Rhea and their three children, high in the Hollywood Hills, a long, long way from Asbury New Jersey. He acts, he directs and he helps keep Jersey Films on the right track. They are all important jobs, he says, but it's the actors and writers who should be nurtured.

"Discovering new talent is part of what we do," he says.

Then he adds, with a smile, "But really we just want to make a few films and be happy; sip our wine, kiss our women and once in a while throw out a grenade ..."

Sport
Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
football
News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

    £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

    Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

    C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

    Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home