Taylor Lautner Bares All as Porn Star Dirk Diggler at ‘Boogie Nights’ Live Read
Variety Reitman opened the evening by asking the audience if anyone brought any children. “You know,” he said, “this is a very profane screenplay.” He explained the process of the popular series, telling the aud that there are no rehearsals, that many in the night’s cast hadn’t met before that night and that it was like listening to great jazz musicians jam.
Taylor Lautner ably stepped into the role of Dirk Diggler with great gusto and was joined by surprise reader Don Johnson as porn director Jack Horner.
The pair, seated side by side, had a great rapport as surrogate son and father. Lautner proved himself to be more than just a “Twilight” hunk with a hilarious, intentionally off-key singing performance when Diggler tries to reinvent himself as a singer, and played the porn star’s quieter moments with a touching naivete.
'Boogie Nights' live read: Taylor Lautner, Don Johnson, and cast giggle through the racy script
EW “This is a very profane screenplay,” Jason Reitman warned the audience at LACMA before staging his latest Live Read, a recitation of the Paul Thomas Anderson masterpiece Boogie Nights. “It’s one thing to see it. It’s another thing to hear it. If you’re young or religious, you probably should leave now.”
The laughs in the audience suggested everyone knew what they were in for and cheered uproariously as Reitman introduced his cast, which included Taylor Lauter as Dirk Diggler, Don Johnson as Jack Horner, Judy Greer as Amber Waves, Mae Whitman as Rollergirl, Nick Kroll as Reed, Jim Rash as Buck, Nat Faxon as Scotty J., and Kevin Pollack as The Colonel.
Boogie Nights is of course about porn, the transition from film to video and the perhaps forgotten art of the well-crafted pornographic movie, a young lost soul looking for a mother figure, and Dirk Diggler’s penis. His very, very large penis. At one point Reitman even said “d-ck” instead of “Dirk” while reading the stage directions. As everyone laughed, Reitman jumped in to explain: “It actually says that.”
If you’re squeamish about penis references you probably shouldn’t continue reading. Or see Boogie Nights. But, you’d be missing out.
Lautner was perfect. He captured Diggler’s earnestness, sweet stupidity and eventual megalomania with an easy grace that makes you wonder why he hasn’t been given more interesting roles in films. Or maybe Diggler is just the perfect part for him. Either way, the audience regularly stopped to cheer Lautner for everything from his “I’m gonna be a big bright shining star” proclamations to his surprisingly moving portrayal of Diggler’s coked-out breakdown in front of Jack. But the biggest cheers came after Lautner sang, intentionally off-key, during the scenes when Diggler is attempting to become a rock star.
Much of the charm of the reading came from his interactions with Don Johnson playing Jack (Burt Reynolds in the original). “Hey Jack, can you start calling me Dirk,” Lautner says. Johnson pauses for a beat, looks at Lautner seated next to him, and sympathetically responds, “Yes.” It’s the simplest dialogue, so it might not seem like any sort of feat to pull it off, but Johnson and Lautner had an easy chemistry that perfectly captured what Wahlberg and Reynolds brought to Anderson’s movie.
The laughs and giggle fits came quickly and often from both the audience and the cast, thanks to the hundreds of “c-cks” in the stage direction and the campy porn dialogue that populates the rest of the script. Even scenes that played as heart-wrenching and extremely dark in the film, such as when Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Scotty J. tries to kiss Dirk and is immediately rebuffed, elicited laughs from the audience. It’s not Nat Faxon’s fault though — his reading (and Hoffman impression) was spot on and conveyed sincere desperation. If anything, the dead-pan, aggressively literal stage direction was to blame for the laughter. We’re not used to hearing that, and it’s one of the few downsides of these live readings, even though it can be extremely informative in some cases (i.e. the stage direction specifies that Dirk’s penis is 12 inches long. In the dialogue, Dirk tells someone it’s 13 inches).
The supporting cast helped keep the energy up for the two-hour reading. Jim Rash was brilliant as Little Bill (William H. Macy) and Buck (Don Cheadle). Nick Kroll brought a perfect bro-y energy to John C. Reilly’s Reed and had Johnson in stitches when he brought out his Mexican accent to play Maurice TT Rodriguez (Luis Guzman).
Judy Greer may not have gotten to use her comedic chops as Amber Waves, but she gave a stunning performance as the sad, motherly porn star that her Carrie co-star Julianne Moore would have been proud of. Mae Whitman played Rollergirl, originated by Heather Graham, as a ditzy, shrill bimbo who breathes heavily and moans frequently, and Kevin Pollack brought a campy sinister growl to Robert Ridgely’s The Colonel.
There were a few surprises during the reading, which was based on the original test screening of Boogie Nights that Reitman saw before the theatrical release which included scenes that were eventually cut. After the iconic “Jessie’s Girl” scene, Diggler was originally supposed to end up stranded on his childhood street. He approaches his house and finds his old girlfriend Sheryl Lynn at the front door with a child. She lives in the house now. He discovers that his parents died in a hit-and-run with a drunk driver. The driver is revealed in flashback to be Johnny Doe, the young up-and-coming porn star threatening to replace Diggler. It was an interesting discovery, but not necessarily one that we might have missed.
Anderson got to have his big surprise car crash in Punch-Drunk Love five years later. Perhaps he was compensating for the cut.
THR The Film Independent at LACMA Live Read program kicked off its third season Oct. 10 with its 14th hit show in a row, a staged reading of Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights starring Taylor Lautner, Don Johnson, Judy Greer, Mae Whitman, Jarod Einsohn, Jim Rash, Nick Kroll, Nat Faxon, Jurnee Smollett and Kevin Pollak, with the program's impresario Jason Reitman reading stage directions. As usual, tickets for the show at the 600-seat Bing Theater sold out in 20 minutes even before the cast and script title were announced. Live Read may be the closest thing to a sure thing in LA entertainment.
Introducing Boogie Nights, Film Independent at LACMA's Elvis Mitchell said, "It's a story the whole family can enjoy -- a story the Manson Family can enjoy!" But Live Read's readers have such a good time that even the darkest script tends to turn into a laugh riot, and Anderson's bloody, sordid epic of drugs and self-destruction on the porn scene became so hilarious that even the stars onstage had trouble suppressing eruptive giggles. Twilight's Lautner certainly tried to take the Dirk Diggler role Mark Wahlberg created quite seriously, but in the context, the satirical side of the script inevitably upstaged the tragedy. When tone-deaf Diggler records what he's convinced will be a hit album in the film, it's funny and poignant.
The best thing about the show was the fact that it was an island of freedom from cameras and audio recording devices in a town where practically everything you see and hear is electronically preserved. The stars were looser and freer than you see them almost anywhere but at Live Read. "The only way to experience it is to be in a room right now," said Reitman...
grantland Boogie Nights, of course, has only grown in stature since it was first released 16 years ago. It is an uncommonly ambitious, devastating, absurd Scorsese-esque look at the rise and fall of a small enclave of pornographers living in the San Fernando Valley in the late '70s and early '80s. I've always thought of it as a hilarious tragedy. Last night may have inverted that idea.
Lautner and Johnson, seated beside each other, were the evening's highlight. Two underestimated but wily studs, two generations apart, they shared more than one knowing glance. Lautner was an inspired choice for Dirk Diggler, and even better than I'd guessed — flat affect, skin-deep charisma, undeniable physical presence. But Lautner was hilarious, too — he fully committed to renditions of "Feel My Heat" and "You Got the Touch," Diggler's pair of nightmarish power ballads. I don't know how many times Lautner has seen Boogie Nights, but he was quite good at delivering Diggler's Brock Landers line: "I'm gonna ask you one more time and I'm gonna ask you nice: Where the FUCK is Ringo?" he barked, before emphatically flipping his script page. And Johnson made a case for supplanting Burt Reynolds altogether — his wearied, leathery voice was so perfect whispering to Lautner, "Doesn't matter … if you don't have those juices flowing … down there … in the Mr. Torpedo area … in the fun zone." Johnson wore bright red Nike Free 4.0 sneakers, dad jeans, and a gray hooded sweatshirt. He did not look the part.
No one does at the readings. But he's got insight into these characters, a veteran of the '70s freewheeling sexual revolution with, well, a relevant reputation. I recently saw Johnson in 1975's A Boy and His Dog — coincidentally another story about a kid and his pet, wandering the terrain of a post-apocalyptic America, seeking refuge and sex. They'd make a hell of a double feature, with Johnson as a slightly more enlightened Dirk Diggler. Last night, he reached the logical conclusion of a stud's life — one hopes he never arrives at his Colonel phase.
Boogie Nights’s final scene — when Dirk unsheathes his sword alone in a dressing room — is the tragicomic cap on the story. Lautner, though game all night, did not stand up and drop trou. But he did raise his head from his script and lock eyes with the audience. Just as Anderson envisioned it: A self-aware slab of beef. A karate champion. A star. A big, bright, shining star.