“Deal” is a fun romp through the world of Las Vegas poker. Story centers on an ex-gambler (Academy Award nominee Burt Reynolds) who teaches a hot-shot college kid (Bret Harrison) some things about playing cards. Gambler finds himself pulled back into the world series of poker, where his young protégé becomes his toughest competition.
Also co-starring is Shannon Elizabeth (American Pie), Charles Durning, Oscar-nominated actress/poker enthusiast Jennifer Tilly and making brief appearances from the World Poker Tournaments: Phil Laak, Chris Moneymaker, Joe Hachem, Vincent Van Patten. Gil Cates, Jr. continues to grow as a filmmaker on his fourth film. His visuals are more confident, camera work is slick and ‘Vegas’-y without being distracting. Production design fits the story well. As with all of Cates’ movies, the casting is strong. Reynolds is comfortable in his role, newcomer Harrison holds his own with youthful arrogance. Elizabeth does such a fine job, we wish there was more of her.
Recently, LA’s the Place had the opportunity to sit with Gil Cates, Jr:
LA’s the Place: How did this project begin?
Gil Cates, Jr.: I had just finished a documentary [Life After Tomorrow] and my good friend Marc [Weinstock] was talking about how there were no good poker movies, so we set out to make one. We came up with the story and then wrote the script together. When we finished the script World Poker Tournament [WPT] was interested.
LATP: After having directed four films, what are the biggest differences in the process?
GC: Well, each one had a different budget, so time and money tell a lot about the experience. The biggest change for me was dealing with the actors. I’m an actor’s director. I majored in theater at Syracuse [University] and I love actors. So each movie I get to spend more time with the actors.
LATP: Tell me about your casting process.
GC: Burt was always our top choice. He’s a great actor. He saw something in the character that he likes or related to. From the beginning we got along great. When Mimi Rogers helped us with the WPT, she also introduced us to Bret. She was on a television show that he starred in [The Loop]. Bret came in, did a table read and did a great job.
LATP: Your costuming fit well with the production.
GC: Burt wanted to wear simple. Black. Cool. [Things that] show his arc. Middle of the road. As the game goes on, he returns to confidence. Slicker outfits. Bret wore more kid stuff and then he grows up as well.
LATP: And the ending?
GC: The end is the big twist. How things end up, but also down to the last few minutes. Who’s going to win? The kid [Harrison] makes a read on Burt’s life. What’s going to be better, not just the game, but for their lives.
LATP: Talk about the production a little bit.
GC: We shot in two casinos and then built a third. Everything was in New Orleans, post [Hurricane] Katrina. People were so appreciative that we were there, spending money and eating food. It was a great time.
LATP: Talk about your crew. Many of them you’ve worked with in the past.
GC: It’s easier. You develop a short-hand. Things go a lot faster. I’ve worked with [DP] Tom Harting several times. He’s great. With Peter [Rafelson, the composer]
we aimed for an in-between combination of contemporary and blues. And of course with [editor and brother] Jonathan Cates it’s always good when you can work with family.
LATP: What’s next for you?
GC: I’m looking at a few projects. There’s a studio comedy that will hopefully come together.
LATP: Our readers consist of many actors, actresses and directors. Any advice for them?
GC: Be persistent. Everyone’s dream is to go to Sundance, sell your movie and be a huge hit. But reality is, it’s about the journey. Learn as you go, keep moving, keep learning and keep trying.
“Deal” premieres April 25th. It opens in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and Miami. For more information, visit: www.dealthemovie.com
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Written by Joe Wehinger