The making of ''Domino''
The set of a Tony Scott movie is a place where every knob goes to at least 11. On this fall afternoon in L.A.’s shuttered, elegantly decayed Ambassador Hotel, the knobs go to at least 12 or 13. The Ambassador is where Scott is shooting his latest film, Domino, a gonzo action-comedy about real-life model-turned-bounty hunter Domino Harvey, played by Keira Knightley. Domino has been Scott’s passion project for more than a decade. The 61-year-old director of such testosterone workouts as Top Gun, True Romance, and Crimson Tide has spent years getting to know Harvey and drawing out her wild life story — from growing up in a world of privilege as the daughter of The Manchurian Candidate star Laurence Harvey to chasing down fugitive criminals and flirting with death — and now he’s hell-bent on doing it justice. Even though today’s scene is mainly dialogue, with Knightley and costars Mickey Rourke, Christopher Walken, Jacqueline Bisset, Mena Suvari, and Edgar Ramirez seated around a conference table, Scott is shooting it like a guns-blazing Mexican standoff, multiple cameras rolling and energy amped up. Between takes, he’s a blur in a baseball hat and running shoes. ”Now we’re cooking!” he yells, pumping his fist.
Smash cut to nearly a year later: A somber Scott is seated in the production offices he shares with his brother, Ridley, quietly reflecting on the tragic turn the project has taken. Harvey, the muse of his movie, whom he came to consider almost a daughter, died on June 27 of an accidental overdose of painkillers, at age 35. Though she had long wrestled with drug addiction and was facing federal charges of drug trafficking, Scott is still stunned. ”In the 12 years I knew her, she was always getting in trouble,” says Scott. ”But at the end, I never saw her look healthier. She said, ‘I’m clean. I feel really good.’ Then bang, she was gone.”
Harvey lived on the edge; her fatalistic motto was ”Heads you live, tails you die,” and she sings a song with those exact lyrics on the Domino soundtrack. Scott made his film in that risk-taking spirit, pulling together a bizarro ensemble cast — which also includes Tom Waits, Macy Gray, and, spoofing themselves, former Beverly Hills, 90210 stars Ian Ziering and Brian Austin Green — and shooting in a manic, psychedelic style, with almost epilepsy-inducing shifts of film speed and color and music. But he couldn’t have predicted Harvey’s coin would have come up tails so soon, turning what was meant to be a fun, rock & roll action movie into a postmortem tribute. Now a film that had already posed significant marketing challenges — Scott describes it as Taxi Driver meets The Royal Tenenbaums, which makes about as much sense as anything — has become even trickier to sell, and its shell-shocked director is left wondering what kind of life it will have. ”You never know,” he says. ”Film is such a fickle thing.”
Scott first encountered Harvey’s story more than a decade ago in a British tabloid newspaper. Immediately seeing a potential movie in her rebellious odyssey, he tracked her down in the Beverly Hills home of her mother, ’60s British fashion model Paulene Stone. ”Domino was living above the garage with all her guns and Soldier of Fortune magazines and grubby underwear,” Scott remembers. ”That’s what was fascinating to me: how polar opposite her worlds were.”