”There once were five crazy brothers who grew up on the Lower East Side. Four turned into my uncles. One became my father.” So begins Unstrung Heroes, the 1991 memoir by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED writer Franz Lidz about how his eccentric uncles helped him cope with his mother’s terminal cancer. Now his book has turned into a movie, and actor John Turturro has become his father. And it was Turturro, 38, who helped Lidz, 43, cope with Diane Keaton’s sentimental take on what was a distinctly unsentimental book.
Turturro and Lidz recently met up in a Manhattan diner to brace themselves for Lidz’s first-ever look at the movie. ”I’m not sitting next to you,” Turturro warns a nervous Lidz. ”I don’t want to see your reaction.” The two became good friends when Turturro was cast as Sid Lidz, a maddeningly remote inventor. ”Turturro’s the only one in the cast who resembles anyone in the book,” claims Lidz, who was not involved in the making of Heroes. (His contract forbids him to slam the movie, but he will say this: ”The script was very neatly typed.”)
When Turturro landed the role, he wasn’t even aware the film was based on a book. ”I would never have known Franz existed,” he says, ”if I hadn’t bumped into his agent on the subway and she recognized me.” Although Lidz — taking after his conspiracy-theorist Uncle Danny — believes Keaton didn’t want the cast to know a book existed, Turturro disagrees. ”Nobody told me that there wasn’t a book,” he says. Lidz rolls his eyes and counters, ”Well, they didn’t tell you there was a book, either.”
Go figure. In any case, the two hit it off after Turturro read Heroes and called Lidz wanting to know more about Sid. It turned out they had a lot in common: Both are feisty and contentious, and they grew up near each other in Long Island and Queens. ”We both also have these mildly subversive tendencies,” says Lidz.
”He keeps bringing up that word subversive!” complains Turturro. ”I never use that word, ever!”
Hmmm, their banter sounds suspiciously like that of Heroes‘ Uncle Harry and Uncle Arthur, whom Lidz describes in his book as existing in a sort of ”muttering disharmony.” Nevertheless, Lidz and Turturro lent each other great support: Lidz gave Turturro a photograph of his father to help him capture the character, while Turturro tried to restore some of the book’s puns by slyly appearing to improvise some of his lines.
Though Lidz says the finished product may seem ”as if they turned my life into Old Yeller,” he admits that his friendship with Turturro has made it all worthwhile. ”I had trouble talking to my real father,” he says. ”I’ve had a second chance with John.”