What do you do when your son accidentally kills a made man and the mafia puts out a hit on him? You hire an actor to stand in, of course. And what do you do if you’re an aspiring actor in LA? You take any job you can get. Welcome to the twisted world of Stevie D, the directorial debut from writer and actor Chris Cordone, also starring as both the titular fortunate son and the hapless actor who takes his place. Winner of the Best Independent Spirit award at the 2016 Sedona Film Festival, Stevie D makes its Florida premiere tonight at the Sarasota Film Festival.
“The last two things I thought I would ever write about would be the movie industry and organized crime,” says Cordone laughing, “because I’m an Italian and I’ve seen all that before.” But for all the trappings of the story, the film is at its heart “a father and son story,” he says. “What the story brings and how the film connects to people is through the authenticity of the characters.” Cordone would play Stevie D and his doppelganger, and actor John Aprea (Bullitt, The Godfather Part II) signed on to play the father, a role written specifically for him, but Cordone would still need the help of a few key players to make the film possible.
“I was blown away by the script,” says producer Kuldeep Malkani, who served as something of a one-man support system for Cordone as the actor took on roles as both director and producer. “It’s really witty and it resonates.” Helping Cordone navigate the world of film financing, Malkani made introductions and sent him to the right people. “And he knew the questions to ask,” says Cordone, citing the day-to-day duties of a producer as the most challenging aspect of the shoot. “It’s a different side of the brain,” he says, “and that would really take me out of the moment I wanted to be in as a director or actor.”
“With all the hats he had to wear, he was like one of those guys in the circus spinning plates in the air,” says actor Spencer Garrett (Aquarius, Blackhat, Yes Man) who took on the role of a slick lawyer straddling the line between legitimate Hollywood business and criminal enterprise. Neighbor to Cordone, Garrett followed the script since first reading a draft four years ago. “And I said to him, ‘This is filmable right now. Let’s shoot it,’” says Garrett. “I loved it that much – I loved the character.”
With a strong team assembling, Cordone was able to round out his cast with Kevin Chapman (Person of Interest, Mystic River), his first choice for Lenny the unscrupulous bagman, and Torrey DeVitto (Pretty Little Liars) as Garrett’s daughter and the love interest of the film. “Having [Garrett’s] name on the project enabled me to go to Kevin and Torrey,” says Cordone, offering a glimpse into the politics of pre-production. “And we were right on both counts.”
After an at-times arduous shoot on a shoestring budget, the group looks back with pride. “I’m very happy with the final product,” says Malkani, with Cordone adding, “It’s not a broad comedy, but I didn’t want that.” Garrett chimes in. “He made the film he wanted to make,” he says. “With an indie film like this, it’s really a labor of love. And when you love the material, it’s not work.”
Stevie D screens tonight at the Sarasota Film Festival at 6:45pm and again tomorrow, April 5, at 9:30pm.
Pictured: Chris Cordone, Spencer Garrett and Kuldeep Malkani. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.