How did you gain access to Sirio Maccioni and his larger than life family?
I grew up in the restaurant business: my father owned a restaurant in NY that was similar to Le Cirque, and he and Sirio were peers. So when I approached the Maccionis they felt that I would understand their world and not try to sensationalize or simplify it. But ultimatley, it's about gaining the trust of a subject over time. During four years of production, they kept letting me in more and more, and that is reflected in the film as the stakes heighten.
He had a way of combining politicians with fashion designers with actors and singers, and an incredible ability to scan the room and see who needs something, or how to create a little combustible energy in the restaurant.
Sirio made his name and reputation in the heyday of New York café society, which for people who never experienced it seems like a glamorous, bygone era.
Sirio started as a waiter in the resort towns of the Italian Riviera during the 1950s and '60s, when old-school celebrities like the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Princess Grace, Gary Cooper and Frank Sinatra were on the scene. Back then the food was usually very good, but not as important as the scene itself. Sirio was a master at catering to these people, to create this kind of society "happening," so that every night people would come and get the perfect table and watch each other, and there would be this magic happening, which is quite different from today's dining model where it's more democratic, and the food is really the focus.
When Sirio struck out on his own in 1974, he was able to call upon all of those relationships to get his restaurant crowded right away. And he had a way of combining politicians with fashion designers with actors and singers, and an incredible ability to scan the room and see who needs something, or how to create a little combustible energy in the restaurant. And that's what people went to Le Cirque for - an excitement that felt like, in the era of Studio 54, you could have a sort of nightclub feel, but in a restaurant.
Sirio is a quite a character. How did you see him within the film?
When you go into restaurants today, you often feel like you're one of a thousand customers. It feels disposable, whereas Sirio is more like the director and star of a show that's taking place in his restaurant.
I saw Sirio as a Felliniesque character, kind of like Marcello Mastroianni in 'La Dolce Vita,' courting the paparazzi, but at the same time kind of ambivalent about it all. Or in '8 & 1/2,' with Mastroianni's character who's sort of in his third act, and kind of ready to retire and having all these personal misgivings about his life.
What do you think are the differences between 4 star restaurants of today and those of the past, like the original Le Cirque?
In the current restaurant culture, there are millions of dollars spent on interior design, but without the same soul or character of a lot of restaurants that were started by families. I'm not talking about the trattoria on the corner, but places that were designed and built with the soul of either a waiter turned restaurateur, or somebody who had spent their whole lives trying to build one place. When you go into restaurants today, you often feel like you're one of a thousand customers. It feels disposable, whereas Sirio is more like the director and star of a show that's taking place in his restaurant. Ultimately, I hope people take away a vision of this glittering world in New York, in this four-star restaurant called Le Cirque, but then also have a warm feeling about the family, who are really the heart of the story.