Dennis Quaid, who plays aging and injured football quarterback Cap Rooney in Oliver Stone’s newest film, Any Given Sunday, is the first to bring it up. And he does so quite casually. First he says he’s long wanted to work for the maverick director. A minute or so later he refers to him as a “loose cannon.” Then he comes out with his description of what it’s like to be on an Oliver Stone set.
“It’s total chaos,” he says. “And that’s fine with me. It’s not necessarily the way I would work as a director. But that’s what works for him.”
This kind of statement shouldn’t really come as a surprise. Stone has made his mark writing and directing big picture films about war (Platoon) and politics (Nixon) and mass murderers (Natural Born Killers) and rock ‘n’ roll (The Doors), all of which promised and delivered heady doses of freewheeling energy that was somehow caught and tamed and turned into slick and handsome entertainment.
Now he’s tackled football, the sport that’s become something of an American religion, the sport that he likes to call “ritualized violence.”
“If anybody was going to do a modern-day football movie it should be Oliver Stone,” says Quaid. “Basically this is a war film, and he knows how to shoot that. He got the cameras right down on the field in places I’d never seen them before.”
Stone had up to nine cameras shooting at once, some of them actually placed atop the helmets of the men who were crashing into and dragging each other down to the ground. That’s just the technical part of it. He also pretty much just threw his actors into their parts, too.
John C. McGinley has worked for Stone now on six occasions, starting as far back as Platoon. McGinley, who plays sports reporter Jack Rose in the film, completely understands why working on a set like the seemingly crazed one for Any Given Sunday is not so crazy.
“I don’t know of any film set that’s not chaotic,” he says. “But Oliver thrives in chaos. I just dig it. I love being on sets with him. I’ll tell you what the difference is. On Oliver’s sets you can get an answer. On some sets you’ve gotta run it up the flagpole and let seven people have a committee meeting. If you want an answer on Oliver’s set, you go ask him. It’s gonna be yes or no, and you may not agree with the no, but there’s one artistic voice there and that’s not the case on most sets.”
Coming from a whole different perspective is Cameron Diaz, who plays Christina Pagniacci, the team’s often loud and nasty owner. She felt that she was being more protected by Stone, that it was like she was “in a big soft pillow and I said, ‘Oooh, this is nice. I have a director who’s here holding on to me.’
“But,” she adds, “I was expecting at any moment for it to turn, because I knew it was definitely chaotic with all the cameras and a cast of thousands. Oliver was the real coach to the entire crew and cast. Plus, he’s up all night writing everything, he’s pasting everything together, he editing while he’s doing it. He’s got so much going on. And he lives the story. He puts that energy into his real life. He’s the most driven person I’ve ever seen. He is so in control of what he’s doing and knows exactly where he’s going, and he knows what he needs to get that.”
After hearing about all of the remarks that his actors have directed at him and his style of working, Stone defends and explains himself.
“Chaos can be a fertile thing,” he says. “But it can also be a destructive thing. You must not let the chaos get out of control. It was a typical set for me, although it was a bigger and harder set in the sense that you’re not only keeping 200 or 300 men who are highly fueled testosterone animals who are ready to kill in line, and having them play for 12 to 15 hours a day—remember, it’s not a three-hour game out there. But the biggest problem is having 70,000 people watching the game in the stands. You don’t have that in a war film. In a war film you can pretty much let anything go because it’s pure chaos, and I’ve done that. But this was very rule-ridden. Four downs, 10 yards, orchestrated chaos.”
Stone is a wily veteran when calling the shots, and he even has a couple of solid cameos in Any Given Sunday as a sports commentator. But he won’t go down in history as a great actor. Al Pacino already has, and here he offers up yet another terrific role, as team coach Tony D’Amato, a man who’s living in the past and not directing his team in the contemporary manner that management is demanding. But as an actor, he not only understands why Stone craves turbulence on the set, he also enjoys being a part of it.
“As an actor it gives you an energy which you don’t normally have,” explains Pacino. “Because he supplies you with circumstances that are usually very intense and unpredictable. And it feeds an actor.
“Working with Oliver is almost like working on live television,” he adds. “You’re like thrown into a situation and you get a sense of that. It’s happening for the first time, it’s happening right here, so it generates this kind of life. And you’re not gonna get a chance to do it again. Oliver likes to do that, which allows you to have to think and find ways to fill in the lack of whatever it’s been, like the lack of time to rehearse and work it out.
“I think it’s always a good idea,” he continues, now laughing a bit, “if you’re an actor in an Oliver Stone picture, to prepare and be ready to meet the day because you’re gonna have a lot of surprises.”