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MOVIES

Obscurity Can Get You Places

In 'Swingers,' Jon Favreau turns his experiences as an unknown actor into a film that gets his real friends into the act too.

October 13, 1996|Bill Higgins | Bill Higgins is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer

The Derby allowed them to shoot here on a regular night with the customers as unpaid extras. They even let them do a light parody of the famous "GoodFellas" prolonged Steadicam shot in which the cast enters the club through the kitchen.

Tolerant as it might have been, the club drew the line when the production brought a rabbit and placed it on the bar for a key scene. "It's like a board of health thing," Favreau says. "You can't have a live animal in an eating establishment. After that, they threw us out."

While he's talking, one of the club's owners points out the "Swingers" poster on the wall (the premiere party would be held here a week later) and hands him a pack of matches embossed with the film's logo. Favreau holds them and gawks. He says hello to a few more regulars, then immediately wants to leave.

"If you had told me a year ago I'd walk into the Derby and there'd be a one-sheet and matches," he says outside, "I'd swear you were crazy."

He revs up the Comet and drives a few blocks east to the Dresden Room, another film location. It's a bar-restaurant-cabaret where the tattoo and nose ring generation savors the martini. Imagine the cast of "Friends" doing a time-travel episode to a lounge room at Bugsy Siegel's Flamingo.

Though Favreau says some retro bars remind him "of Civil War reenactments," here, with house regulars Marty & Elaine playing in the background, he seems at home. But all this nouveau Rat Pack ambience still can't keep his mind off the "Swingers" matchbook. It's the first thing he mentions when Vaughn, his co-star, arrives.

They have been friends since 1992, when they met on the set of "Rudy" (Favreau has lost 75 pounds since his role as a Notre Dame football player in that film).

Since "Swingers" wrapped, Vaughn has seen his career skyrocket, landing a key role in the "Jurassic Park" sequel. Favreau says that for an actor to be cast in a Spielberg film "is the American equivalent of knighthood."

Vaughn knows the coming tidal wave of publicity is going to change his life, but this book of matches with his silhouette emblazoned on the inside cover is the first concrete evidence.

It sits on the table. They stare. This must have been what it was like the first time Harrison Ford saw himself as a "Star Wars" action figure.

After a few moments, they talk about how, after several years in the business, they're mature enough to handle whatever fame might come their way.

"We might be Cinderellas," Favreau says, "but we've seen a lot of balls."

The next morning, they are to audition for the lead voices in a DreamWorks animated film, and even though they're clearly excited, they haven't spent a lot of time preparing.

"Have you looked at it yet?" Favreau asks. Vaughn makes an evasive hand gesture.

"Do you even have it?" Vaughn looks up at the ceiling.

"Well, we'll get there 15 minutes early and go over it a couple times," Favreau says, settling the matter.

So two guys who a few months ago were desperate for any work are now confident enough to wing it in front of high-powered casting executives. A fringe benefit, they say, from their "Swingers" experience.

"We've been through such an adventure getting this movie made," Favreau explains, "I trust our friendship."

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