How Barry Sonnenfeld and Danny DeVito Adapted “Get Shorty”
The 1995 comedy almost looked very different
In 1995, director Barry Sonnenfeld directed the acclaimed film adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel Get Shorty. Looking back on it now, an already-impressive cast looks even better with time. The posters hailed the quartet of John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito (who also produced). Throw in James Gandolfini, Delroy Lindo and Dennis Farina — plus cameos by Harvey Keitel and Bette Midler — and you have the makings of something great.
What brought these disparate elements together? A new article at The Guardian offers firsthand accounts by Sonnenfeld and DeVito on how the film developed — and how it was almost a very different movie from what later reached the screen.
For starters, DeVito wanted to play Chili Palmer, the role Travolta ended up making his own. “I saw Danny as Chili Palmer because, for me, the strength of Chili and the strength of Danny is self-confidence,” Sonnenfeld recalled, though he also notes that actor Martin Weir (apparently based on Dustin Hoffman) was “the role [DeVito] was born to play.”
Both Sonnenfeld and DeVito are generous with their praise, particularly of Travolta and Hackman. DeVito also speaks of his respect for Sonnenfeld, whose enthusiasm about Leonard’s novel prompted DeVito to option the book before he’d read it.
The filmmakers also had help securing Travolta after he turned down the film twice. Quentin Tarantino stepped in, advocating that the actor take the role. “John was perfect as Chili Palmer,” Sonnenfeld recalled. “He is one of the greatest actors with a walk.” A lot of things had to go right for Get Shorty to click — but thankfully, they all did.
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