“…I have a great admiration for Seymour not protecting himself and being able to work in the fine line of being that person, not acting that person, but really being that person. When that is achieved, the actor is terrific. Really good. Amazing!” John Cassavetes on Seymour Cassel in ‘Minnie And Moskowitz’
As both an Independent Filmmaker, and as a writer for Examiner covering Independent Film in Los Angeles, this reporter recently had the exceptional opportunity to work with veteran actor Seymour Cassel, when Cassel joined the production of the independently produced feature ‘At The Maple Grove’ in a cameo role.
Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1935, Seymour Cassel currently has over 200 titles in film and television credited to his name; a body of work that had the cast and crew of ‘At The Maple Grove’ thrilled to collaborate with an actor whom they’d admired and respected for so many years. Even those who didn’t initially know of Cassel were quickly won over. Whether by his amicable personality―it seems he’s spent time in every part of the country that anyone has ever come from―or his humorous energy on set, which involved various antics with his cane, using it as an extension of his hand to alternatively get your attention or keep you at bay, even sometimes gleefully thumping out some tribal sounding drum beat. There was also his natural flare for improvisation―adding layers, details and relationships to characters―traits that never existed before he instinctively spoke a few choice words. And then, in between camera set-ups, there was his tendency for storytelling.
Those stories stretched back to the beginning of his career, and the first time he met actor and independent filmmaker John Cassavetes, resulting in what Cassel described as the best friendship of his life, and becoming part of the regular troupe of actors that Cassavetes’ would work with throughout his filmography, which also included Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara and Gena Rowlands. The collaboration between the two men led to a range of character portraits, beginning with Cassel’s involvement as a producer, and with an uncredited acting role, in Cassavetes’ debut feature ‘Shadows’ (1959). Cassavetes then went on to cast him as the hippie named Chet in ‘Faces’ (1968), for which Cassel was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Then in Cassavetes’ mismatched love story of ‘Minnie and Moskowitz’ (1971), Cassel played the title role of parking-lot-attendant Seymour Moskowitz, opposite Gena Rowlands’ lovelorn Minnie Moore. In ‘The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie’ (1976), Cassel was Mort Weil, the owner of an underground poker club with ties to the mob, looking to take over a night club owned by Ben Gazzara’s Cosmo Vittelli. And in Cassavetes’ penultimate film ‘Love Streams’ (1984), Cassel co-starred again with Rowlands, as well as with John Cassavetes himself, in his final acting role.
In 1989, Cassavetes’ died at the age of 59 from cirrhosis of the liver, but his pioneering work in American independent film has had a lasting effect on generations of filmmakers, and Seymour Cassel has done his part to support those efforts as well, including frequent collaborations with two notable filmmakers; the first being Wes Anderson, in his films ‘Rushmore’ (1998), ‘The Royal Tenenbaums’ (2001) and ‘The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou’ (2004); and the second filmmaker being Steve Buscemi, whom Cassel first worked with as an actor on ‘In The Soup’ (1992), for which Cassel won the Special Jury Recognition Award for his outstanding performance at the 1992 Sundance Film Festival. After this, Cassel and Buscemi collaborated on Buscemi’s debut feature as a director ‘Trees Lounge’ (1996), and again in both directorial follow-ups ‘Animal Factory’ (2000) and ‘Lonesome Jim’ (2005).
In addition to his ties and history with independent film and filmmakers, Seymour Cassel’s presence on ‘At The Maple Grove’ was significant in that the film and its development were heavily inspired by the work of Cassavetes and his approach to filmmaking. In particular, ‘The Killing Of A Chinese Bookie’ served as a direct influence on the story, as here Seymour Cassel fills the role of Boyle, an aging gangster-type looking to take over a night club called The Maple Grove. It’s a role that could be described as an older version of Mort Weil, the character Cassel played in ‘Chinese Bookie.’ A fitting contribution to the production, by a supportive and legendary actor of independent film.
“With independent film, [filmmakers] are forced to make a story that’s important to them, a personal story that people can relate to, where you can see the love of the characters.” Seymour Cassel
More info, photos and updates on the L.A.-based independent film ‘At The Maple Grove’ can be found on the film’s Official Website, Facebook and Twitter pages.