Stanley Kubrick's Apprentice Did Gay Film Research, Auditioned Dozens Before Casting Alan Cumming in Eyes Wide Shut

Filmworker

Film buffs and costume-drama lovers will likely remember actor Leon Vitali as Lord Bullington from Stanley Kubrick's lush, yet underrated, 1975 epic Barry Lyndon. Yet only fangirls and industry insiders may know what came next for Vitali. Deeply enamored of Kubrick's process on the Barry Lyndon set, Vitali abandoned his promising acting career to become Kubrick's obsessively devoted right hand, a transition that sparked a rare male bond that would span 30 years and four feature films, including LyndonThe ShiningFull Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.

For the latter, 1999's polarizing drama of marital mistrust and sordid sexcapades (starring the then-married duo of Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise), Vitali—who also became Kubrick's go-to casting director—says he poured himself into gay cinema of the 1980s and '90s to help cast the specific role of a queer male hotel clerk. “I can't even remember the names of all the films I watched—there was tremendous number of them that focused on that side of life,” says Vitali, who's now 69 and the central subject of Tony Zierra's Filmworker, a singular documentary opening today in Los Angeles and now playing in New York. “I auditioned more than 30 people for that part before finally finding the perfect person.”

That person was ultimately Alan Cumming, whose effete hotel clerk has a flirtatious, yet foreboding exchange with Cruise's character, Bill, who goes searching for a friend in the aftermath of the film's famously eerie and erotic orgy sequence. (A sequence in which, if you look closely enough, a nude male escort is dancing with a masked male attendee, alongside a throng of nude female escorts entertaining their own clients.) In a 2015 interview with Indiwire, Cumming disclosed that he waited months for multiple callbacks before finally appearing in Eyes Wide Shut, but ultimately said that he “had so much fun,” and that he “was hanging out and doing a lot of drugs” and had plenty of time to take part in the project.

Leon Vitali in a scene from 'Filmworker'

Leon Vitali in a scene from Filmworker.


Vitali, who—as is revealed in Filmworker—also played the role of the red-robed overseer of the ritualistic orgy, says Kubrick didn't try too heavily to make issue of the queer content in his movies, from the ghostly shot of one masked man fellating another in The Shining to two gay soldiers escaping for a private tryst in Barry Lyndon. “It's part of human behavior, and human behavior is at least one thread that runs through all of Stanley's movies,” Vitali says. “Everything that we pass judgment on as a society has always been part of the fabric of life, and homosexuality has been present through so many periods. Before the last 50 or 60 years, they were hidden, but they were there, and Stanley knew that. He always thought of it as part of the social fabric—it was simply suppressed. He never saw it as controversial. And there was no judgment one way or the other—it was simply two men who found attraction to one another.”

And in a different sense, the same idea applies to Vitali and Kubrick. In addition to lauding the unyielding passion of an unsung man whose love for cinema coursed through him like blood, Filmworker depicts its own love story, of sorts. These two men—one an inimitable and exacting visionary behind some of cinema's greatest triumphs, and the other a fan turned indispensable ally who ushered those triumphs to fruition—found an attraction to one another that bore surreal, sexy, perplexing, and fascinating fruit that continues to evolve long after Stanley's death. As Vitali himself put it, “You'll see something different every time you watch one of Stanley's movies.”

Filmworker opens today in Los Angeles and is now playing at the Metrograph in New York City. Learn more at www.filmworker.com.


 

All images courtesy of Kino Lorber 

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