One Night Stand: About The Production

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"One Night Stand is actually like three short films about marriage," director Mike Figgis explains. "The first is a bittersweet, romantic story about a one night stand between two married people. The second is a look at a marriage under strain -- a strain brought about by a career crisis and an emotional crisis -- that leads Max to engage in a tryst. The third story concerns the aftermath of the affair, its effect on the characters and the disturbing paths these people take."

Although infidelity is established as the crux of the story, Figgis is careful as a writer and director not to pass judgment on any of the characters. "One of the things I said to Wesley early on was that I wanted to make a film where everybody is sympathetic," Figgis recalls. "This is not about blame or guilt, both of which I've dealt with a lot in previous films. I wanted to make a film that was an attempt to create the complete texture of someone's life in crisis. People don't just fall in love in a vacuum, things may be happening in their lives; and these things seem to conspire, in a way, making them vulnerable when an opportunity presents itself."

"If you were a lawyer trying to defend a client who committed a crime," Figgis continues, "You'd say, 'Your Honor, he was under stress at the time. His dog had just been run over. He lost his job. His mother had suffered a long illness.' You would try to paint the complete picture rather than simply saying, 'The man's guilty. Lock him up.' Films have become simplistic in that way. All too often they merely pass judgment: good or bad."

But Figgis doesn't anchor his sympathy solely on his central character. "I'm trying to present these characters in a delicate and fragile way so that the audience is sympathetic not only to Max, but to his wife, to Karen and to her husband, Vernon," he says. "I want people to be able to see themselves in these characters and to identify with them."

"The audience will definitely find elements in the story that they can relate to their own lives," says Wesley Snipes, who portrays a man whose passionate affair turns his life upside down. The magnetic attraction and animal instinct that drives him into the arms of another woman forces him to question the validity of his marriage, as well as the void left by his vaguely unsatisfying career. His actions also have implications as he confronts his best friend's impending death. "Max is at a point in his life where he's questioning some of his choices," Snipes explains. "Not that he's disappointed with his choices or angry with anyone, it's just that sometimes in everybody's life, there is a winter. Max finds himself in a winter, and Karen comes as a spark -- that first sign of spring in his life."

In Nastassja Kinski, Figgis found an actress who could embody the character of Karen with both sensuality and compassion. He says, "Often in films, women are portrayed as sexual predators, and Karen isn't a sexual predator at all. That's one of the reasons I was attracted to Nastassja for the part. She has a sympathetic, believable, slightly quirky quality that makes her unique."

"Karen is comfortable in her relationship with her husband," affirms Kinski. "But when she meets Max, she discovers a dormant passion within her. Sometimes you don't know what you are missing until a certain person shows you who you are and who you can really be. That passion and that love is like an awakening."

Max's own awakening is underscored by his renewed relationship with his best friend Charlie, a performance artist who is slowly losing his desperate battle with AIDS. Figgis took special care in casting the role of the film's compassionate catalyst. "The character of Charlie is based on a good friend of mine," Figgis says. "There are qualities about Robert Downey Jr. as an actor and as a person that really hit home with me in terms of his ability to be sympathetic to Charlie and bring that empathy to the screen."

"Through Charlie," Snipes says, "Max becomes increasingly reflective of his life and what he wants to get out of it ... and where he wants to go from here."

"Charlie operates as Max's conscience," adds Downey Jr. "Charlie is Max's reference to reality, a reminder of his roots." Kinski concurs, "Charlie is an important character in the movie because he brings out the truth in everyone and pulls everybody's lives together. Like he says in the film, 'Life is not a dress rehearsal. This is the real thing.'"

One Night Stand was filmed principally on stages and at local locations in Los Angeles, with an additional two weeks of location shooting in New York, where the production shut down 10 blocks on Park Avenue to mount an epic-scale parade scene that would render Manhattan totally gridlocked. It is this traffic jam which ultimately propels Max back to the hotel where he has his fateful encounter with Karen.

Director Figgis utilized hundreds of vehicles -- from commuter cars and taxis to buses and helicopters -- and countless extras to create a realistic traffic jam. Figgis also incorporated local urban legends into the film, such as Can Man, a Big Apple resident who dresses in a suit made entirely of aluminum cans.

Drawing on his own musical training, Figgis also arranged for the renowned Juilliard String Quartet to be flown to Los Angeles to perform two Beethoven pieces for the pivotal concert scene in which Max wages an inner battle between his heart and his conscience. Founded by American composer William Schuman, the Juilliard String Quartet celebrates its 50th year of performing with renditions of Beethoven's "Cavatina" Opus 130 and the "Scherzo" Opus 131 for One Night Stand.

Figgis, who wrote the jazzy score that weaves the fabric of the film together, also relied on his extensive background in experimental theater and improvisation to film a scene at New York's legendary La Mama Theatre. In the scene, Charlie, a performance artist, couples multimedia projections of images onto sheer screens with live performers, dancers and hauntingly dramatic lighting. "I've tried over the years to build up kind of a repertory company and a reputation for being user-friendly with actors," Figgis says.

"I like to work in a very personal way with actors, using the script as a blueprint -- a starting place for us to incorporate nuances which the actors bring to their characters," he explains. "I like to create an atmosphere where the actors feel free to contribute their thoughts and insights, because you can end up with some wonderful surprises."

"For me, the opportunity to work with Mike Figgis was the biggest draw to this project," says Snipes. "Mike comes from theater, so he has a sensitivity that not a lot of film directors have. He can communicate with actors, and he encourages improvisation and experimentation within the story and the characters."

Kinski also enthusiastically embraced Figgis' improvisational directing style. "It's scary," she admits, "but it's also very liberating to work with Mike in this way. It teaches you to be more fearless and to trust your instincts. You learn to break down barriers, and you feel free to live in the moment, to go beyond the written words on the page."

In addition to the talents of Snipes, Kinski and Downey Jr., One Night Stand features a host of gifted supporting players, including members of Figgis' unofficial "repertory company," Julian Sands, who starred in the director's acclaimed films Leaving Las Vegas and The Browning Version, and Ming-Na Wen, Kyle MacLachlan, Glenn Plummer, Amanda Donohoe, Thomas Haden Church, John Ratzenberger and even Figgis himself. In addition to directing, co-writing and scoring the film, Figgis cast himself in a convincing on-camera role as a harried hotel clerk in a pivotal scene with Wesley Snipes where Max first learns he may not be able to make his flight home to Los Angeles. Sony Pictures chief John Calley also makes a cameo appearance as Charlie's father.

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