Nick Stagliano considers himself fortunate he was able to get his latest movie, The Virtuoso, his follow-up to the 2011's Good Day for It, made. The story behind making the Lionsgate film is almost as intriguing as the feature itself. I spoke to the director about the persistence it took not only landing the now two-time Oscar winner Sir Anthony Hopkins but also working with stars Anson Mount and Abbie Cornish, the three years it took making the film, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected post-production.
"The Virtuoso came out of a previous movie I did called Good Day Before It, which had Robert Patrick in the lead and a great supporting cast," Stagliano said. "It was about an every-character that everybody thought was a bad man who turns out to be a good man. The same kind of ticking-clock kind of suspense builds up. I talked to my co-writer James Wolf, who had written that movie as well. I said, 'I always wondered what happened if the guy walking in the diner would be a bad man, the reverse of a bad man who is trying to be good. That was the really the germ of the idea to turn that into The Virtuoso."
The film centers on an assassin by the name of The Virtuoso (Mount), who takes a job from his boss (Hopkins) and deals with its unintended ramifications upon its execution. Among the first he was able to land was the star of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. "Once we have the script and it was in good enough shape, I hired my casting director out of New York, and we sent it out to a bunch of places," Stagliano said. "We started getting some interest, but not the kind that I had thought. One agent was interested in represented Anson. I was like, 'That guy could be the perfect guy because my hero is really an anti-hero, and you can't really know him too much because of the plot points that happened throughout the movie.'" We sent him the script and responded right away."
After landing Mount, Stagliano found himself in a better position landing his two other principal actors. "By the time we got the movie going, he switched agencies," he said. "His new agency UTA really like the project and were helpful getting Abbie, who at the time was with them and of course, so was Sir Anthony Hopkins. I didn't think at all that I would have a prayer of pulling that one off. I asked my company agent, and I needed one of these older actors for one week. He made some calls and said, 'Tony's people have let it be known that he likes to do independent stuff and if the material's right, he might be interested.' So we just took a shot, really, and that was the happiest call in a long, long time when that came in. With the three of them that was the anchor, everything else fell into place. "
With Hopkins, who won his second Oscar for The Father and his limited availability, Stagliano considered other options. "I had to wait two years because we had a short window on that first call for Anthony. I couldn't get the financing locked in time, which was horrific. As the producer, co-writer, director, you can imagine the pain and anguish that I actually pulled off that miracle, and I was going to blow it. We ended up losing him, and I was so devastated that we kind of lamely tried to go get some other people to replace and get really great actors in at that level to talk to Ben Kingsley, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart. For some reason, I wanted to go on a British [actor] search, and I wanted him to be in an American film noir. We kept going back at least four months to Anthony's agent. He's like, 'He still would be interested if we could find a window' and took two years to get that right, but I couldn't get it out of my head, obviously. So that gave us the opportunity to shoot in January 2019."
Coincidentally, Stagliano was able to procure more talent from UTA, landing other venerable character actors in David Morse and Eddie Marsan, who plays the deputy and the loner, respectively. "The other cast…we went out at that time and, we got David at the last minute because he was also UTA," he said. "He also lives outside Philadelphia now where we shot up in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. So that's double goodwill towards it. Richard Brake was (also) in my movie, Good Day for It and was best friends with Eddie and who I consider one of the best character actors in the world, and he was available. They were just hanging out together in London. He's like, 'You want me to give this script to Eddie? Absolutely! Are you kidding?' That's how it came to be."
Stagliano credits Lionsgate for helping see the film through despite the delays caused by the pandemic. "It caused problems in post," he said, "In fact, we had just finished the final color in New York City two days before they shut down, and which was about March 2020. So then we were finally got after having waited all that time and pushed for three years before I ended up shooting, we finally got the movie finished, and nobody could see it. So I was devastated. I was excited since we were going to go to Cannes. I had my flight, everything. Obviously, the world changed, which is why I'm comforted that Lionsgate did see it, and they appreciated it. Now, we're excited to get it out." The Virtuoso is now available in select theaters, digital, and on Blu-ray and DVD on May 4.