Kissing a Fool: About The Production

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Notorious womanizer Max (David Schwimmer) is in shock. Chicago's favorite TV sportscaster has known the lovely, literary Sam (Mili Avital) less than 24 hours and already they are using pet names. Without a second thought, he packs his football posters to move in with her. He is even more convinced by the fact that he and Sam have nothing in common, that, clearly, it must be love at first sight. Soon, he throws thousands of women into mourning when he announces on air that he is getting married. It looks like the infamous charmer has finally met his match.

There is just one glitch. Three weeks later, Max is confronted with a vision of his future: love, marriage, kidsDEATH. This is the last woman he is ever going to sleep with.

Desperately trying to discover how he can know if he has met the right person before she wreaks havoc on a major portion of his life, he turns to his best friend Jay (Jason Lee). 'What if Sam isn't The One after all?,' he wails. What if she is the first woman who could actually dump Max Abbitt? Max pleads for Jay to help him find out by testing Sam to see if she would cheat on him.

But as Max pursues his scheme, he brings about the very mishaps and miscommunications that will finally make his self-absorbed heart unfold.

A Universal Pictures release starring David Schwimmer, Jason Lee, Mili Avital, and Bonnie Hunt, the romantic comedy Kissing a Fool is directed by Doug Ellin. The film was produced by Tag Mendillo, Andrew Form and Rick Lashbrook from a screenplay by Ellin and James Frey. Tom Del Ruth serves as director of photography and David Finfer as editor, with production design by Charles Breen and music by Joseph Williams.

David Schwimmer relished the role of "guy's guy" Max Abbitt in part because he could "definitely identify with the fears involved in relationships and commitment-everyone can," he says. "Although Max, in particular, is faced with all kinds of new questions: Can I make this kind of commitment? Can I give up my lifestyle of having fun and not being really intimate with anyone?"

A throwback to the somewhat more villainous roles Schwimmer has often played with his Lookingglass Theatre Company in Chicago, Max is "quite different from my role as Ross Geller on Friends-Max is more cynical and more aggressive. He's the kind of guy who would slap Ross in the face-he's definitely not Mr. Sensitivity-so I could flex different acting muscles for this role."

In the midst of the most out-of-control experience a human can have - love - Max finds himself scrambling to be back in control. He shuts down emotionally. An obvious candidate for the title of callous male, Max is not only "out of touch with his feminine side, but he's truly insecure," notes Schwimmer. "He doesn't know himself well at all. Having never had any intimate relationships in his life, he's basically afraid of intimacy. There's only so deep he'll let himself go, then all his defense mechanisms kick in-his humor, and so forth."

Ultimately, this makes Max a touching figure. "He's dated a string of pretty faces, while carrying in his head a picture of the girl he thinks he can marry some day," Schwimmer continues. "Sam fits the picture: intelligent, independent and a strong personality. He's even a little intimidated by her, which makes him all the more attracted to her. She's a living fantasy."

"But it literally never occurred to him that there is more to a relationship and that's why he's a forgivable character," adds Schwimmer. "He has to see it, right in front of him, to finally realize that there is more."

While Max is a fun but shallow womanizer, his best friend Jay is a hypersensitive intellectual whose angst over his failed relationship with Natasha (Vanessa Angel) has driven him to write his first novel.

Jason Lee sees Jay, the role he won based on his work in Chasing Amy, as a guy who spends way too much time missing his ex-girlfriend. "Jay is very neurotic and easily affected by memories of her," says Lee. "Any time he thinks of her, he tries to console himself by listening to corny love songs. I've been through similar things-going insane over the loss of a relationship, then realizing later how pathetic it was and how embarrassing your emotional reactions were. When you're in the middle of it, though, you can't see very clearly."

Natasha, on the other hand, "is a go-getter, whether it's a man or her career," says Angel of her character. "She expects to get what she wants, whatever it takes."

It is lovelorn Jay who sets the story in motion by fixing up Max with the beautiful and worldly Sam, the editor assigned to Jay's book. "Max is the guy who cares too little and Jay cares too much," says Lee. "He sets Max up with Sam because he thinks she's the one that can straighten him out."

But Jay has his own lesson to learn. "He has to open up so he isn't so scared by his deeper impulses," says Lee. "He has to finally see what's right under his nose and open to it or else his fear might mess up a chance at happiness."

For while these two friends look like polar opposites, they actually have a lot in common, maintains the film's director, Doug Ellin. "Neither one of them is in touch with his feelings."

His assessment applies equally to the female characters. The director describes Sam as "a defensive career woman who left the good times behind because a bad break in the past hurt too deeply."

Raised on the Continent where she haunted the cafés of intelligentsia Florence, the smart, worldly Sam has become "very American," comments Israeli Mili Avital, who starred in the film Stargate. "But still, I feel I know her. She's a feminist, while Max is macho, yet they find themselves greatly attracted to one another. They hit it off sexually and physically, I think, and because of the spirit of it all, they get engaged. The character of Sam has a lot for an actress to explore."

In Chicagoan Bonnie Hunt's portrayal, acerbic publishing mogul Linda has seen enough to wear black to a wedding. But just as she clutches her sleeve to cover the vulnerable spot on her wrist, she also tries to cover the sentiment-the chink in her armor that makes even her a little teary-eyed at the wedding of the year.

"Linda is a speeding bullet," says Hunt. "She tears along, succeeding in life and as long as everyone looks at her as successful, she's fine. When she stops every so often, long enough to think about it, then she realizes she is a little lonely."

"Her real excitement," adds Ellin, "is to tell anyone who'll listen about the impact she's had on these people's lives, because no one really cares about her own life story. She has to live vicariously through Max, Jay and Sam."

A lakeside mansion on Chicago's exclusive North Shore was chosen as the site of Linda's home, where she narrates the story in flashback during the outdoor wedding she is hosting. "I got lost in it for three days," says Hunt, describing her character's home.

Hunt maintains that what drew her to the role was "employment. Seriously, I've received a lot of scripts since Jerry Maguire and I found both the character of Linda and the script quite refreshing. It's a very funny story that's instantly relatable to everyone who's ever dated."

In an original draft of the script, the role of Linda was a younger man called Robert, "a debonair fellow," says producer Tag Mendillo. "But in the eleventh hour, someone came up with the idea of having the role played by a woman instead, and Bonnie Hunt's name entered the conversation. She is probably the best improv actor, male or female, around today. I can't imagine anyone but her as Linda."

"This is really a universal story set in a city with a strong pulse of its own," Ellin says. "Chicago is open, friendly, easy and it has an energy-things happening. The city is a character in the film in its own right, with its blues bands, parks, big business, downtown. It's the kind of place where ambitious, creative people like these would be."

Several Chicago landmarks were used during production, including Buckingham Fountain, the historic Green Mill jazz club, the Lincoln Park Zoo and Wrigley Field. Kissing A Fool was the first motion picture allowed to film at Wrigley during an actual Cubs batting practice. The scene where Max interviews Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa also marked the first film appearance for the baseball player.

"Trying to get my lines right was more nerve-wracking than facing a major-league pitcher," Sosa recalls.

Schwimmer is a diehard fan of the Windy City. "I love working in Chicago more than anywhere else," he says. "I've lived here on and off for the past 12 years. My theatre company (Lookingglass Theatre Company) is here, and that's my second family, so this is like coming home. There's a nice energy to Chicago, the people are genuine and down-to-earth. And it's a city that gets completely behind its sports teams, which fit perfectly with my character in the film."

Schwimmer had already worked on several short films with Ellin and wanted to do a feature film with him. "Kissing A Fool is a great story with real characters," Schwimmer says. "I could see aspects of myself in all three of the characters."

"They're people with a lot of heart," adds producer Andrew Form, "and really very touching. They actually say what real people say to each other. The circumstances hit home, too: This is a movie about what can happen when your best friend sets you up with someone. And we all know something always happens."

In this case, "when a guy discovers his softer side, the experience is truly scary," comments Ellin. "Here's a girl who can bring out something that the guy didn't know or even want to know he had and he cracks open. All young men go through it. I found parallels to my own life in this story. After a guy gets engaged, he panics."

Ellin emphasizes, however, that everyone-men and women-goes through both sides of the emotional equation depicted in the film: "Someone touches another person's heart more deeply than ever before and it brings up all kind of realizations."

"And audiences," adds Lee, "will look at this film and realize that at one time or another, we've all overreacted to the end of a relationship."

In the end, Max has to come to terms not only with the nature of love, but with himself.

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