A staple of New York’s eighties punk scene, Dito Montiel has turned his memoir, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, into a movie with Robert Downey Jr. and Rosario Dawson. He spoke to Emma Rosenblum.
Your memoir chronicles your childhood in Astoria in a highly, um, impressionistic manner.
Yeah, the book doesn’t particularly make all that much sense.
So how did you translate that into a cohesive movie?
Robert Downey Jr. helped. With Robert, you never know what’s going to happen. He kinda speaks cryptic, and he would say things like, “What if the movie’s backwards?” He’s out there, but his ideas work; it’s what makes him an artist, you know?
Once you had a script, did you stick with it?
That person who holds the script to make sure you’re not screwing up … what are they called? How could I forget? Well, they drove me crazy because they kept saying, “That’s not in the script!” And I was like, “It doesn’t matter, it looks good!” Things just sort of happened.
You know the scene in the parked car [Dito, played by Downey Jr., sits talking with his old friend Nerf]. Originally, we had written it as way more comical. Then a few days before filming, this guy that I knew from my neighborhood as a kid—he’s a total crazy crackhead now—he comes walking over and he’s like, “I gotta talk to ya.” And I thought, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna have to exploit him.”