Bringing a film to the Cannes Film Festival is quite an undertaking. But this year, an unlikely gonzo filmmaking duo, Alec Baldwin and James Toback, have decided to attempt the patently insane: making a movie at Cannes, a “funny and serious” documentary about cinema that also documents their quest to find financing for another movie, which Baldwin is calling a “psychosexual political thriller.” “It’s not the actual title, but we’re calling it Last Tango in Tikrit,” Toback says. “And I’m in the process of writing the script. I write fast, I write beautifully, I write convincingly. You’re going to see a script that is irresistible.”
For over a week, Baldwin and Toback, camera crew in tow, could be found all around the city. “Alec is the biggest star in Cannes!” Toback told me as I joined them for a few hours to document their making this documentary, Seduced and Abandoned—a reference, per Baldwin, to how “film is the worst girlfriend.” Toback paused to complain about one of his legs. “My fucking knee is horrendous. I was watching myself on-camera, and I look like someone who got bashed in the kneecaps.”
Earlier in the morning, they’d had a long conversation with Toback’s old friend Roman Polanski, and they were still on a high. “I’ve known Roman for years, and he’s never been as good in an interview,” said Toback. “Scorsese, too. He talked for two hours!” I hadn’t been invited to witness any interviews with directors, for fear that my presence might interrupt the flow. Fair enough. And I had been given strict instructions not to ask questions directly of Baldwin: “Just blend,” Toback told me.
During an interview with festival bigwig Thierry Frémaux on a balcony overlooking the Riviera, Baldwin listened intently and asked thoughtful questions about history and art versus commerce, while Toback munched on food that seemed to have been placed in the room as a prop. Toback’s phone ent off mid-interview, and he finished the conversation with the same question he’d apparently been asking everyone: “I know you’re happy to be alive and you have a great life now. Are you ready to die?”
Next up: some furious scheduling. Baldwin wanted a “hard fix on tomorrow.” Robert De Niro was complicating things because he’d refused to let them interview him at the Vanity Fair party and was leaving town in a few days. Apparently, he was the one who had just called Toback, but Toback had no idea how to check voice mail on his French cell phone. “Motherfucker. I cannot believe I don’t know how to get messages on this. All it does is bark a bunch of commands in French at me that I don’t understand!” he said, handing it over to me to give it a try.
“I say we’ve got to make choices,” said Baldwin—they could chase financiers like Jean Pigozzi, or filmmakers like De Niro. “And I say let’s commit to the guys who came to us. If you want to blow Pigozzi’s head off and get rid of him for De Niro, you always have that option. If Bobby comes up Wednesday, we bump Pigozzi. If Bobby comes up tomorrow, we bump the Iraqi film commission.” He snapped his fingers. “It’s a fucking no-brainer.”
At the Carlton Hotel, to interview Bernardo Bertolucci’s longtime producer Jeremy Thomas, we hit a snag: Toback couldn’t take the stairs because of his knee and didn’t want to take the elevator because of his claustrophobia. Baldwin kicked everyone else out of the elevator. “Nothing’s ever going to happen to you when you’re with me, Jimmy,” he said. “But if the film comes out and doesn’t do well, I have a lot of anger in me. Until that day, you’re a made guy.”
It was up to Toback to give the final sales pitch of the night, to Ashok Amritraj, chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment. “Can I just pick his pocket right now and get some money?” asked Toback.
As soon as Amritraj—a handsome, white-haired Indian man—walked in the room, Toback started laying it on thick. “I didn’t know what you looked like, but you’re very elegant and magnetic and have a very strong, distinct aura and presence. You look as though you should be an actor,” he said. “I’ll tell you what. If you can arrange the financing for this next movie that we’re talking about doing, you are in the movie. It’s a condition of me taking your money. I know a star when I see one.”