Paul Sorvino stars with Martin Landau in Abe & Phil’s Last Poker Game about two older men who find friendship late in life when they are facing their own deaths. Working with Landau, Sorvino told uInterview, was an inspiring experience. “His generosity, his ethics, his sincerity, in addition to which he was a very good guy, a very good person. Very much in control of his art,” Sorvino said.

Both Sorvino and Landau are described as method actors, or actors who fully invest themselves in their roles in both their acting and personal lives. “If you know our backgrounds, we’re both method actors… so we’re all of that world. And when you get two guys on the same page, it’s fascinating because there’s no translation needed,” Sorvino explained. “You both know what you’re doing. You can both anticipate, like a jazz group. The guy on piano knows when the guy on sax is coming to a close and he’s read to step when to come in. With really good actors, really well-prepared people, actors who technically have it together, it makes for a much better performance.”

“Also since this is pretty much a two-hander… the whole story about the two of us working off each other becomes what the picture is. You look at two men, purportedly facing the ends of their lives, and dear Martin of course faced his, there’s a lot to be gained,” Sorvino said, referring to Landau’s death in July 2017. “I don’t want to suggest that this movie is a tutorial, it isn’t. It’s funny and also touching. You will be moved by this picture if you have half a heart. But it’s together, it’s a picture you should see. It’s a picture that shows something about people in the advanced ages who have a great deal to contribute in terms of what they are as people, in terms of their wisdom, and their place on the planet, and most pictures do not do that.”

Initially, Sorvino wasn’t convinced about the project, mainly because it was by a new director, Howard Weiner. “I didn’t want to make the movie because when they sent me the script and made the offer, I said it’s a first time director, I don’t even know if I’m gonna read this,” the actor said. “The writer, though he may have been a doctor all his life, is a dyed-in-the-wool creator and writer. He’s a man who understands life on a fundamental, organic, artistic way, and as soon as I read that I was up for it. It shows so much you don’t see about younger people. There’s a sincerity in this movie because the stakes are high. You’re facing death, and that could be any day… Everything could be the end. So in a certain sense, these fellows, Abe and Phil, cleave to each other because it’s very valuable to find a real friendship at any age, and to find it at this late stage, it’s really unusual.”

Sorvino jumped at the chance to play a character that is more like himself than any other. “As you may know if you’ve watched my career at all, I’m often playing very far-out characters, people who have little to do with me, like Henry Kissinger,” he said. “I allowed myself, with Howard’s blessing, to play pretty much myself. So the guy in the movie is pretty much Paul Sorvino.”

Full interview transcript below:

Paul Sorvino

Q: What was it like working with Martin Landau?

A: His generosity, his ethics, his sincerity, in addition to which he was a very good guy, a very
good person. He was very much in control of his art.

Q: What do you remember most about the experience?

A: No, I think it’s all there. You’d have to say that if you know our background as both method actors, that is that we come from people who have started this way of work, like Stanard Lovsky, Sanfred Mizer, people of the group theater, Ca-zam, so we’re all of that world. And when you get two guys on the same page, it’s fascinating because there’s no translation needed, you both know what you’re doing. You can both anticipate, like a jazz group. The guy on the piano knows when the guy on the sax is coming a close, and he is ready to step in. With really good actors, really well-prepared people, actors who technically have it together, it makes for a much better performance. Also, since this is pretty much a two-hander, although Maria Dizzia was very, very good in the picture, but she’s the possible daughter, one of us is here father and that’s part of what the picture’s about. But the whole story about the two of us working off each other becomes what the picture is. When you look at two men, reportedly facing the end of their lives and Dear Martin of course faced his, there is a lot to be gained. I don’t want to suggest this movie is a tutorial, it certainly isn’t. It’s very entertaining. It’s funny, and it’s also touching.

You will be moved by this picture if you have half a heart, but it’s together. It’s a picture you should see. It’s a picture that shows something about people in the advance ages who have a great deal to contribute, in terms of what they are as people, in terms of their wisdom, and their place on the planet. Most pictures do not do that. Most movies do not show us that, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do it was because this picture shows us that. It gives us the opportunity to do that.

Q: Why did you decide to make this movie?

A: When I first read the script I didn’t want to make the movie because when they sent me the script and made the offer, I said “it’s a first time, director, I don’t even know if I’m gonna read this.” And I said “alright, let me read this, it comes from legitimate people.” I read it, and I said, “the writer, though he may have been a doctor all his life is a dyed-in-the-wool creator and writer. He’s a man who understands life on a fundamental, organic, artistic way.” And as soon as I read that I was up for it. I said, “he’ll be a fine director.” And so, it showed so many things you don’t see about younger people. It showed there’s a sincerity in this movie because you know the stakes are high, they’re facing death and that could be any day. You looked across the way and Aloe Wishes is not at his usual seat and you know why, he took the big dirt nap. So, the stakes are high, everything could be the last. Everything could be the end. And so, in a certain sense, these fellsa, Abe and Phil, cling to each other because this is very valuable, to find a real friendship at any age. And to find it at this late stage, so these guys can really relate, this is unusual. It’s very entertaining. I put him up to a sexual escapade, it’s so fascinating. I just found it to be also, the opportunity was for me to play more of myself.

As you may know if you’ve watched my career at all, I’m often playing very far out characters, people have nothing to do with me, like Henry Kissinger. You know I’m not Dr. Kissinger. I’m nothing like Dr. Kissinger, except that we’re both human beings. The point is, I allowed myself, with Howard’s blessing, to play pretty much myself. So, the guy in the movie is pretty much Paul Sorvino. I am a best- selling author, I had a mad agency, I’m more sophisticated than Phil was, but he’s not less intelligent or accomplished mentally, so I wanted that. I said, “Look, Howard if it’s okay with you can we make him bright?” Go right ahead. So rather than a roughneck, he’s a bright guy. He
just took a kind of a heatheness path, not bad, not evil.