L.A. Confidential: About The Production

Buy this video from Reel.com

Books from Amazon.com:
Buy The Book.

Buy The Screenplay.

Music from Amazon.com:
Buy The Score.

Buy The Soundtrack.

Ellroy and His Book

Says director Curtis Hanson, "'L.A. Confidential' the movie started with L.A. Confidential the book. I read it because I'm a fan of Ellroy's writing. I've lived my life all over the Los Angeles area and it's my love of the city and my continual fascination with it that drew me to Ellroy's work. To me, his is the quintessential voice of L.A.: knowing, tortured, twisted, optimistic and funny."

Many of the characteristics of Los Angeles in the 1950s -- a police department in turmoil, a runaway population explosion, the glorification of Hollywood and the pleasure-seeking California lifestyle through television and movies -- are still emblematic of the city today. The seeds for Los Angeles' present way of life were being directly planted during the post-World War II era. Ellroy makes that clear in his distinctive hard-boiled literary style.

The task of translating this to the screen was a challenge that director Curtis Hanson wanted to meet. "The task of adapting this epic, labyrinthine novel was enormous. The challenge was to consolidate the plot, tell it in movie terms, yet try to preserve Ellroy's unique voice, and be true to the characters." Hanson turned to screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

"Brian was brilliant, indefatigable, totally devoted to the project.."

It helped immensely that Helgeland was also a great fan of Ellroy's work. "I've read everything he's done," states the screenwriter, "and the chance to adapt one of his best works was a challenge I couldn't pass up."

L.A. Confidential author James Ellroy returns the compliment. "The book is extraordinarily dense and complexly structured; the screenplay weaves together most of the key plot elements with remarkable concision."


Among the challenges of bringing "L.A. Confidential" to the screen was the task of casting the gallery of complex characters who populate the story. The eclectic ensemble of stars ranges assembled ranges from Academy Award-winners and nominees to relative newcomers to American movies.

For the roles of Jack Vincennes and Sid Hudgens, Hanson turned to Academy Award-winner Kevin Spacey and actor/producer/director Danny DeVito. "Kevin Spacey is someone I wanted to work with long before he was on every studio's 'hot' list," states Hanson. "The part of Hollywood Jack gave Kevin the chance to play a new type of role for him: cool, suave, hip attitude, with unexpected emotion and intelligence underneath."

DeVito is someone Hanson has admired as an actor and a filmmaker for a very long time. "Danny invests Sid, the Thomas Edison of tabloid journalism, with cunning invention and corrosive wit," says Hanson. "This character could easily be portrayed as a gutter-crawling rat, but Danny brought to the part the enthusiasm of a reporter on a hot story, a man on a quest."

In an unusual decision, Hanson cast two actors from Australia in the pivotal and quintessentially American roles of Bud White and Ed Exley.

It didn't bother Hanson that both Crowe and Pearce were relatively unknown to American audiences. "I wanted the audience to accept Bud and Exley at face value. Then, as the story goes along, they begin to wonder if their first impressions were accurate or not. "Therefore, it's an advantage that Russell and Guy are somewhat new faces; the audience doesn't make assumptions on the basis of roles they've played before."

Hanson knew Crowe's work and particularly admired the actor's turn in the Australian film "Romper Stomper." The character of Bud White required, in the director's words, "an actor who could portray the brutal side of Bud and yet at the same time make you care about him." Guy Pearce, on the other hand, was an unknown quantity to Hanson. "But," Hanson remembers, "he so knocked me out when (casting director) Mali Finn brought him in to read that I couldn't consider anyone else for the part."

Hanson adds appreciatively that Arnon Milchan's shared vision for the film was invaluable, especially when casting was in its earliest stages. "I went to Arnon's house with a tape of Russell doing a scene," recalls the director. "He was the first actor I wanted, someone in a pivotal role, and Arnon simply looked at the tape and agreed that Russell was the guy to play Bud White.

"Soon after, I brought him a tape of Guy Pearce reading. Arnon had never seen Guy before, and again he was knocked out by Guy's interpretation. I was impressed by Arnon's faith in the power of the story and his belief that quality acting would carry this film. It empowered us in every decision thereafter."

Producer Milchan emphasizes, "I thought that Russell and Guy were superb choices for the roles of Bud and Exley. Their exceptional talent was essential to the film, much more than our need to have household names in those parts. We've been fortunate in the past to introduce new faces -- Matthew McConaughey in 'A Time to Kill' and Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman' come to mind -- and to see them become stars almost overnight. I think the same thing is possible for Russell and Guy, based on their work in this film."

Pearce and Crowe did extensive research, each striving to make his role as authentic as possible.

"I found the best material to be the old training films the department used in the '50s," remembers Pearce. "You know," he explains, "the films they showed to young enthusiastic recruits on how to be a good cop."

Crowe agrees. "I got a lot of great stuff from those films," he said. "Plus, I did a little traveling around with current police officers, just to get the smell of it, but not too much, because the information the police were imparting -- division of precincts, policing districts, available weaponry, Miranda rights -- didn't exist in the movie's time period. The LAPD is now in a totally different position in the community. However, I did use tapes and transcripts from the Rodney King trial.

"Reading the history of the LAPD from the '30s to the present, watching films like Stanley Kubrick's 'The Killing' and focusing on actors like Sterling Hayden were essential to my research. My relationship with Ellroy was a goldmine and the rhyming hepcat messages he left on my answering machine were inspirational."

To Hanson, the decision to cast Kim Basinger as the "Veronica Lake look-alike" Lynn Bracken was an easy one. "First and foremost, she's a gifted actress. Additionally, Kim is one of the great beauties of our time. She's one of the very few contemporary actresses that you imagine in a George Hurrell photograph ­p; as glamorous as any star in the old studio system. Kim loved the masquerade aspect of the role; she immediately understood who Lynn Bracken was and brought depth and naturalness to the character."

And what of the character of Dudley Smith, the Chief of Detectives? "We cast James Cromwell as Dudley because, like Russell and Guy, he's still a fresh face to audiences in this kind of movie," explains producer Michael Nathanson.

Hanson elaborates, "Each character appears to be one thing when you first meet him or her, but is, in fact, something else, which can also be said of L.A. It's not called the 'city of dreams' for nothing."

Creating the L.A. of "L.A. Confidential"

It could be argued that the biggest star in "L.A. Confidential" is the city itself. Just as getting the characterizations of the key players right was extremely important, so, too, was getting the look, the feel, the sound of the 1950s in a city that is famous for destroying its past.

To faithfully recreate the boom-town feel of post-war Los Angeles, the filmmakers assembled a superlative team of behind-the-scenes talent, including production designer JEANNINE OPPEWALL, director of photography DANTE SPINOTTI and costume designer RUTH MYERS.

Production designer Oppewall was responsible for the physical re-creation of the city. "I wanted to work with Jeannine because of her intelligence, her attention to detail and her regard for historical accuracy," says Hanson.

With more than 60 locations, sometimes two or three being shot in a single day, Oppewall's task was a daunting one. Whether it was recreating the Sunset Strip's Mocambo Room, restoring the historic Formosa Café on Hollywood's Santa Monica Blvd., or building the Victory Motel from the ground up and then aging it 40 years, Oppewall and her crew were up to the challenge.

Costume designer Ruth Myers faithfully recreated the fashions of the '50s, from the elegant tuxedos and ball gowns of high society to the sportcoats of the L.A.P.D. detectives. "Ruth never ceased to amaze me with the inventiveness and care she lavished on each and every costume, whether it was worn by an extra or a movie star," says director Hanson. "She dressed them all with wit and imagination."

To make sure that the work of these artists would be shown to greatest advantage, Hanson brought on renowned cinematographer Dante Spinotti. "Ellroy's Los Angeles is both sparkling and grim," says Hanson. "I wanted Dante because when it comes to lighting, he's a genius. I knew he could give me the color and, at the same time, give me the darkness. It was an essential factor in making this film come to life."

Producer Arnon Milchan agrees. "This is the third time I've worked with Dante," he says, "and every time his contributions to the project have been visually eloquent. His style in lighting this movie is a definite aid to the distinctive mood of the storytelling."

Author James Ellroy reflects on the completed film, saying, "My characters are now Hanson's and Helgeland's characters -- and a brilliant ensemble of actors have turned them into flesh and blood. I have long contended that hard-boiled crime fiction is the history of bad white men doing bad things in the name of authority. This film states that case plain."

Ask Curtis Hanson just what kind of movie he and his collaborators have made and he'll tell you this: "I'm not sure in what genre you'd put 'L.A. Confidential.'. It's a cop story, it's a mystery, it has suspense and romance. But mostly, I guess, it's a story of characters trying to find their way in a turbulent, frightening, vital and sometimes humorous world."

Back to "L.A. Confidential"

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.