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In her irreverent, hilarious and heartbreaking story revolving around a modern American family, writer/director Tamara Jenkins (Slums of Beverly Hills) portrays an all-too-common dilemma: After drifting apart emotionally and geographically over the years, two siblings—Wendy (Laura Linney, You Can Count on Me) and Jon (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Capote)—must band together to care for an elderly parent (Philip Bosco) who is beginning to show signs of senility.

 

 

 The Savages

When Philip Bosco walked into the stuffy room where we were casting The Savages, I had already seen a bunch of actors for the part and I was getting depressed because no one seemed right. I had already cast Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a pair of troubled adult siblings and I was looking for someone to play their father.

Lenny Savage is a tough old man struggling with dementia and failing health. He’s not a good father. He’s not a great guy. He’s selfish and old and scared about what lays in store for him.

I hate irascible old geezer-types in movies, television, books and plays. Why can’t an old person just be a bastard without the twinkle in his eye? Why does he ultimately have to be lovable or folksy or wise? Codgers, geezers and grumpy old men upset me and I didn’t want the character of Lenny Savage to be in any way cute.

Bosco came in and sat down on the metal folding chair. “Do you want me to keep my accent?” he asked. With his gorgeous New Jersey drawl, which he can apparently throw on or off like a jacket, he proceeded to read two scenes.

Despite our dead little carpeted room, Bosco was buzzing and very alive. He read naturalistically without the over-emphasis that might occur with a seasoned theater actor famous for his work in the plays of George Bernard Shaw. He was simple and plain and beautifully mundane. It was the first time I heard the dialogue and wasn’t embarrassed to have written it. Without straining for sympathy in his performance, Bosco moved me. It’s sort of a cliché what happened. I just fell in love with the broken bastard.

When he finished, he shrugged and mumbled, “Something like that.” Then he put down the script pages, stood up and excused himself. “I ran out of quarters,” he said. “I only got 15 minutes on the meter and I don’t want a ticket.” He walked out the door, got in his car and headed back to New Jersey.