"This happened so many times," he adds, "I felt so bad and it was starting to get kind of tense because Pacino had to get on a plane to get to L.A. for the Oscars – he was twice nominated that year – and here we were, having to do this scene over and over again because of me, the new guy. After the director yells 'Dead man blinking!' Pacino asks everyone to leave the room except me. He sits down, tells me he's going to have an espresso, and asks me if I want one. I'm so jittery at this point but how do you say no to Al Pacino? I don't even remember what was said between us, if anything, but when we're done with the espresso, he asks everyone to come back in, we do the scene, and De Palma yells, 'That's it, we got it!' People start clapping and Pacino is walking out and getting all these good wishes from everyone. On his way out, Pacino jokes, 'If I win 'em both, I ain't coming back!' It was one of the most generous, empathetic things an actor of his stature could have done," says Ortiz.
I called Ortiz up while he was in Chicago, rehearsing for the play The Motherfucker With the Hat, co-starring Jimmy Smits and opening January 6, 2013, to tell us more stories.
Did you know this movie would be as special as it is when you first read the script?
No, but I never know how a movie is going to turn out, no matter how good a script is. I knew it was going to be something I had never experienced before, mainly because of David [O. Russell, the director]. He's such a visionary, such his own person and artist, and there are few of those now. I'm so proud to be a part of this movie. I've had a lot of instances where I feel proud of my work but it doesn't really get out there, or it does get out there and nobody likes it [laughs], so it's really gratifying and humbling to hear the news that it's being received so well.
Ortiz and Cooper share a scene.
How did you make your character, Ronnie, so relatable and so memorable?
On paper, Ronnie signifies someone who has moved on with his life and has matured in relation to Bradley's character. So I asked David, 'Do you think he's happy?' And he was like, 'Yeah, kind of.' I could have talked myself out of a job by saying the next thing that I said, but I go, 'Well, what if I said the opposite: what if he's not happy? He seemingly has moved on but he's actually stuck, and he needs as much help as Pat. What if the unhappiness is stemming out of the idea that he had of marriage and all these other expectations that follow, and he's at a point right now where he's just not sure what choices he really made and for what reasons.' And David was so great – he completely went with it. A lot of directors might have said, 'We don't have the time to rewrite the script' or 'this movie is not about Ronnie,' but he really loved the idea of Pat helping Ronnie, and that proving to everyone that he's capable of giving back, and being helpful to someone else who's in pain because of what he's been through.
What was it like working with Bradley Cooper?