Despite what you've often seen before, John Turturro can be a sexy man.
Not the jittery genius, doofus or weasel Turturro plays so well, in a career spanning from Coen brothers country to Michael Bay, but an honest-to-goodness gigolo.
And goodness has nothing to do with it.
Turturro takes one of his infrequent but always welcome turns as writer, director and, yes, star of Fading Gigolo, an oddly romantic comedy with a late-'80s Woody Allen vibe.
Which figures since the screenplay was written for Allen, co-starring as an unlikely pimp, with clientele including Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone as threesome enthusiasts and Vanessa Paradis as a Hasidic widow. The movie isn't as much fun as that sounds but it's thoughtful.
Fading Gigolo opened Friday at Regency 20 in Brandon, Veterans 24 in Tampa, Woodlands Square 20 in Oldsmar and Sundial 18 in St. Petersburg.
Turturro, 57, wonders why anyone would suggest he can't play a character like Fioravante, nudged by recession into the world's oldest profession by his bookstore friend Murray, played by Allen.
"I've never had trouble with women in my life," Turturro recently said by telephone from Los Angeles. "But I never thought of myself as a gorgeous guy, either. Maybe that's the key (laughs). The guys who aren't gorgeous know what it takes to hold someone's attention."
Fioravante is a common man with an off-screen gift for pleasuring women, not shy but not a Lothario.
"Just a regular guy who never committed," Turturro said. "The whole idea is that he says: 'I'm not the right guy.' "
It's the same level of sexual contradiction that Allen often includes in his movies. Turturro had been a passing acquaintance of the filmmaker since a small role in Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters, a bond solidified by collaborating on Relatively Speaking, a trio of one-act plays by Allen, Elaine May and Ethan Coen. "And we do share a hair cutter," Turturro said.
After directing a handful of critically admired and widely ignored movies — check out Romance and Cigarettes sometime — Turturro shaped Fading Gigolo in Allen's image, with inspiration looking over his shoulder.
"I'd write and he would give me his very merciless criticism, editorial criticism, what he liked, what he didn't like," Turturro said. "The sensibility of the film is very much my own but I was writing for Woody.
"At first I didn't know how I was going to do the comedy, really broad or not, and I was kind of feeling him out. He encouraged me, saying: 'John, there's a lot of rich things in here and I think it could be really sophisticated.'
"So, I'd do another draft, he'd give me feedback. He never told me what to do but he told me what he liked, and what he didn't think was that successful."
Allen obviously agreed with Turturro's casting instincts. If a middle-aged actor-director needs to amorously roll around in a movie, then Vergara, Stone and Paradis aren't bad choices.
"Well, listen," Turturro said, "one, you want to have people who are appealing and, two, who are right for the roles and, three, you know you can have different representations of femininity in movies.
"I needed women of a certain age, who weren't, like, kids. And people were interested because there aren't a lot of roles for women. Not that interesting, at least."
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.