VENICE, Italy -- Tiffany Haddish may have Martin Scorsese to thank for her role in Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter,” at least indirectly.
It was Scorsese who opened Schrader’s eyes to the power of the comedic actor when he cast Albert Brooks in a vanilla — seemingly plain — role in “Taxi Driver.” Schrader asked him why and he said he thought Brooks would find something in it.
“You cast a comic, they will break something in a role, even if it isn’t laughs. They will make themselves interesting,” Schrader said. “It’s in their DNA.”
And it’s a theory he’s often gone back to, from casting Richard Pryor in his debut “Blue Collar” to bringing Cedric the Entertainer to his last film “First Reformed.” So when Haddish’s name came up for the role of La Linda, a gambling agent who gets entangled with Oscar Isaac’s mysterious card shark William Tell, he was intrigued.
“She brings a little joy, she brings her charisma,” Haddish said Thursday at the Venice Film Festival before its world premiere. “Every good drama, no matter how dark it is, needs a little light so people can take a breath, that’s what I was looking to do.”
The 41-year-old actor consulted with some professional gamblers she knows to learn more about what their agents are like. She wasn’t impressed with what she heard.
“It sounded like a bunch of slimy people to me,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling that. I was like, ’I’m not making her slimy, that’s for sure.”
Though she's dabbled in some serious roles, it was a bit of a learning curve for Haddish at first. But it was one that she was game for.
“For someone with Tiffany’s background one of the hardest things to learn is you don’t have to hit every line,” Schrader said.
Haddish put it a little more bluntly.
“When we came into rehearsals the first day I sucked. I sucked bad. I was horrible because I feel like that’s where you should be horrible at, in rehearsal,” she said. “We played a lot, and what I love about Paul is he was blatantly honest with me, which is the most refreshing thing in the world. I learned a lot from him, and I’m very, very grateful, Paul, that you let me be in the movie. And that you didn’t fire me on that first rehearsal.”
Haddish is not much of a gambler herself, she said. She keeps her bets to a $20, two-hour limit. But she did take one big gamble, on herself, when she spent her rent money on an acting class and ended up homeless for a time.
“I told myself it would pay off in the long run and here I am in Italy, in Venice!” Haddish said triumphantly. “So darling, it paid off.”
“The Card Counter” is competing for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, up against films like Jane Campion's “ The Power of the Dog ” and Paolo Sorrentino's “ The Hand of God." “The Card Counter” opens in U.S. theaters on Sept. 10.
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr