How two misfits made a great film

    Guardian: How many projects have you been working on?

    Richard Bean: Several. Currently I’ve got about five that I’m working one. Prior to making “”Tattoo,”” we had tried one other project that we had tried putting into production and quickly realized that, financially it was out of our range. So “”Tattoo”” was born out of the idea that we needed to do something that was smaller and more controllable and something that we could shoot on a budget. That’s kind of where I started thinking, not in terms of the story, but let’s keep around people that I know, actors I want to work with that I know can do it and that sort of thing, and that’s where I thought of Virgil.

    G: So you guys have known each other for a while?

    Virgil Mignanelli: Well, Rick was a resident advisor in the dorm that I lived in freshman year. Actually, the first time we met we were sitting in the hall outside the auditions for the fall play at Boise State University, and there were parts for 12 or 13 girls and there were two male parts. And there were 15 to 20 guys out there. At the time, I had just walked off the football team, and my hair was cut into a mohawk. I had the word “”tattoo”” tattooed on the side of my head. I was wearing cutoffs, and I looked like a complete and total misfit and the general feeling was “”What the heck is this guy doing here? He has no shot,”” and of course I walked off with one of the two male parts in that show.

    RB: I just want to note, for the record, that I was not actually trying to get a part. I had to audition for my acting class that I was in; it was a requirement.

    VM: [laughs] But he was still there.

    RB: But yeah he walked around the corner, and it was like “”Who is this freak?”” was the basic response; that also is the whole idea behind tattoo — that initial response when you see someone. You know, like big scary guy, you think big scary guy, and actually you come to realize that he’s not; that’s the basic premise of the film.

    G: What made you want to do a romantic comedy?

    RB: Well, again, coming up with the idea of doing something more low budget and around people that I knew. I knew that I wanted to work with Virgil; it’s like ‘where does he fit in terms of the character and then what would be fun to pull off?”” And trying to make him a romantic lead was one of the primary challenges. Because there are lots of tattooed guys in the world, and they’re not all lonely guys. There definitely is a match for everybody, and that’s a challenge. That’s a romantic comedy I haven’t seen. You know, I’ve seen the beautiful people in New York who fall in love; I haven’t seen just normal people who are not your typical A-list, gorgeous, Brad Pitt, blonde, you know, people who have a story.

    VM: Not that we have anything against Brad Pitt.

    RB: We don’t.

    Both: We love Brad Pitt.

    G: But even so, everyone in your movie is beautiful.

    VM: Aw, no geez.

    RB: They are, in their own way certainly. But in terms of the way Hollywood filmmakers see the world, it does not have that vast array of people. It’s always the very chiseled beauty. Like Virgil would be the bad guy, the heavy in those movies, not the romantic lead.

    G: So was that a challenge for you [Virgil]?

    VM: No I’d love to be the bad guy.

    RB: She’s talking about the other one.

    VM: Oh the romantic lead … It’s not like it was a challenge for me. Because my real life, for a while, really mimicked a romantic comedy. The way I met, courted, swept my wife off her feet and slapped a ring on her finger. That was very much a comedy … Here’s a guy who is able to court a girl who is by all standards completely and totally way out of his league. I really liked that aspect of the story.

    G: So all of your supporting cast is brilliant, all of the characters. So how did you come up with like the weird hippie stoner guy who’s always asleep?

    Both: Real guy, real guy.

    VM: An extremely talented and gifted tattoo artist that I worked with a while. For him it is 1969 every year, and he lives his life like he is a hippie. He’s probably the most talented tattoo artist that I have ever met, and I have learned so much from being around him … but his personality is so far out there that you have just got to love the guy.

    G: Does he really have a kid?

    VM: Yeah. He’s a single father with two kids who are amazingly intelligent and very well-adjusted considering … He’s just got this way about him that is so incredibly laid back. I think the first word in every sentence is preceded by “”Hey, man.””

    RB: But basically what it comes down to is the same thing, these characters that we do know, how do they function in terms of the story? That character Chris, he is very much the warning tale. If you stick to this life and buy into what the perceived notion of it is, then this is who you could be. Or you could go the other way and be the total perv like his roommate. He’s not happy either. And the same thing with the characters that surround Sara [the female lead] in her life. Her sister and Annie and just these people who are not happy in their world.

    G: So why an elementary school teacher as the heroine?

    RB: It went back and forth when I was working on it. I stuck to the school teacher pretty early on, and I’m not sure why. But it was more about the innocence. She was living in this world of innocence. And of course I came up with the whole show-and-tell theme. I couldn’t think of any better way to put this guy in a situation where he probably doesn’t belong and create some controversy for her. And also the whole art aspect with the kids and their flowers and not being able to explore in the ways that he’s not able to explore while working in the shop. Like the people who come in pick something off the wall and you do it. There were all kinds of ways to make parallels between their two worlds.

    G: In all the sequences where someone is being tattooed, is someone really being tattooed?

    VM: Well, in all the extreme close-ups yes … and the piercing was also real. We had a stunt navel. I love that scene. It always gets the same reaction. When the needle goes through, there is this collective gasp. And then when I take the clamp off and people actually see that bar sticking through, and everyone’s all “”Ah, eww!”” Every single time, I get such a thrill.

    G: How does it make you feel to see such a wide range of people enjoying your film?

    RB: That is great. That’s our goal. Typically romantic comedies are targeted strictly at women … The wider audience you can attract to it the better. You don’t have to alienate one audience to accommodate another. And that is the perfect example, where you could be young and into tattoos and know what the culture is about, or you could be older and not really into the fad of tattooing but still there are elements that can bring the audience into this world.

    VM: I find it incredibly funny when people walk out of this theater after seeing it, and I happen to be in the lobby or standing on the sidewalk or even walking across a parking lot a mile and a half away, people who the next day would normally cross the street in order to avoid me if they saw me coming, are running across the parking lot to greet me and tell me how much they love the film.

    And to me, that’s just amazing that it has that kind of effect on people. People that would normally see me and take their kids and push them to the side and now they are running up shaking my hand wanting to meet me. Their perception has been altered by seeing something they weren’t expecting …

    I was actually in the audience for that first screening … and after the screening this guy came up to me and said “”I sat behind you and I had to laugh because as the movie started you kept sinking lower and lower into your seat then everybody would laugh, and you’d pop back up and after a few minutes you’d go back down””… and after about 20 minutes I was able to relax. After that first premiere little old ladies were coming up to me to tell me how much they loved it and really cute girls and really burly cool guys who had been dragged there against their wills saying “”I didn’t want to see a romantic movie, but I had a great time.”” I had a guy actually offer to give me his Harley for the weekend.

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