The Devil’s Advocate & Playing Chess

During an interview with Will Harris for the A.V. Club, John Rothman talked about his audition for The Devil’s Advocate, the scene he was ultimately in and playing chess with Keanu during downtime.

Okay, I do have a story about that. Taylor Hackford directed the film, and I had three callbacks. There was very serious interest in me for the role that Jeff Jones ultimately played, which was a pretty big role in that movie. And then Mary Culquhoun, who was a great casting director, called me and said, “I’m sorry, it’s not going to work out, but we’d love you to do this district attorney. If you’ll do it, we’ll pay your quote, it’s going to be on a weekend and won’t interfere with anything else. Please.” I said, “Okay, sure.” I didn’t even really look at it until, like, the night before I was going to start. And then I looked at it, and I thought, “Oh, my God, this is some pretty nice dialogue, talking about ‘murder with malice aforethought’ and everything. This is a good lawyer scene!”

We shot it in the actual courtroom at 60 Center Street where the Rosenberg trial took place. I mean, it’s a famous courtroom. Keanu [Reeves] and I had the judge’s chambers as a green room, so we played chess and hung out all day. I got to do this even though there’s not a whole lot of me in the movie. Doing the summation with the jury, if you’ll notice, Al is watching as Keanu does his thing. But you know it takes so long to do a scene on a feature film, especially one directed by Taylor Hackford, where he had the camera on a crane, flying around the room, for all the coverage. So I was doing my scene, and Al was watching me all day. It was a change of roles: He got to watch me work all day! [Laughs.] So that was fun. And I got to spend a very lovely afternoon with Keanu, so that turned out to be much better than I had anticipated.

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