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Billy Crystal, Robert De Niro and director Harold Ramis talk about Analyze This, a comedy with something to say; beneath the humour of the mobster who needs a shrink to sort out his panic attacks is the genuinely dramatic issue of breaking the cycle of violence.

When the script for Analyze This went to Tribeca Productions so that Robert De Niro and his partner Jane Rosenthal could take a look at it, they reacted favourably and a reading was arranged in which Billy Crystal and De Niro participated.

For his part, De Niro was willing to commit, although he had one reservation. According to producer Jane Rosenthal, co-founder with De Niro of Tribeca Productions, "Bob was concerned about whether or not he would be parodying himself in this material. After all, he could wind up mocking the closest thing Robert De Niro has to a franchise character."

"The time had come for me to poke a little fun at myself"† Robert De Niro

Nevertheless, De Niro decided to take the chance because he was so intrigued by the concept. "I was also thinking that the time had come for me to poke a little fun at myself", he says.

This didnít mean, however, that Analyze This would be played as a parody by the two-time Oscar winner. According to Rosenthal, De Niro had strict guidelines for what kind of film he wanted to become involved in. "He was not about to do a sitcom version of the Mafia movies that he made in the past. He approached the project with the same integrity with which he approaches everything and insisted that the film accurately and authentically reflect the world of the character he was going to portray".

"With Bob on board, the project became the biggest challenge of my career," Billy Crystal

Crystal was in complete accord with this philosophy. "With Bob on board, the project became the biggest challenge of my career," Crystal says. "Heís our greatest actor; working with him would be a tremendous honor for me. I saw the film as a real departure and it became very exciting."

While the projectís star talent fulfilled other acting obligations, the filmmakers took time to secure the perfect director. Deciding on a director was the easy part; Harold Ramis was everyoneís first choice. The problem was that Remis had just moved with his family from Los Angeles to Chicago to set up a new home and was reluctant to pack up and move to New York for six months to shoot a movie.

"When I first heard about the film I liked the idea but thought of it in fairy-tale terms, something out of Damon Runyon," Ramis says. "Furthermore, I had just moved back to Chicago, my home town, and was busy setting up a household. I wasnít in the frame of mind to start a new film project.

"But when my agent called me a few months later and asked me how I would feel about the project if Billy Crystal and Robert De Niro were involved, it definitely became something I wanted to do".

ĎItís fun, a rompí Harold Ramis

Ramis believed that casting the story with major stars layered the material with an extra dimension, transforming it into something unique. He became totally engrossed, thrilled by the prospect of directing the film and, making notes for doing a rewrite, spent a good deal of time thinking about how he would shoot it.

"I would never do a movie that trivializes violence," Ramis says. "I thought this movie could be done only if everything was played for real, if things had a real impact, if you didnít allow the audience to weasel out of any responsibility by saying, Ďitís fun, a rompí. So my first step was to sit down with Billy and Bob and discuss the approach.

"I wrote down the four issues that the film would touch on as the root cause of Vittiís problems: fear, grief, rage and guilt, and Bob, Billy and I would talk them over. We agreed that these were the issues that any psychotherapist would expect to discover about someone in Vittiís position.

"A comedy can still say something meaningful."

"I also told them that the thing I wanted to say in this film was that, in order to break the cycle of violence, you have to deal with these issues in young men. Generally, gangs are formed because unexpressed feelings of guilt and rage fester, and I wanted to show a young audience that as our character, Paul Vitti, learns to deal with his repressed and sometimes frightened feelings, heís able to break the cycle of violence. Itís possible. Yes, the film is a comedy and we were never going to lose sight of that. But a comedy can still say something meaningful.

"And this turned out to be Bob and Billyís take on the material, too. It was clear we all felt the same way. We trusted each other. It was a good way to begin".

The action in the story, as directed by Ramis, walks a fine line between comedy and drama. Maintaining the balance was critical, and uppermost in everyoneís mind.

"Certainly Billy and I felt we didnít want to remake the comedies we had done in the past," Ramis says. "With Bob playing Vitti, we felt that we had a chance to do a new kind of comedy, a type people hadnít seen yet that wouldnít feel slight or predictable. We were all on new ground, Bob as well.

"I was very nervous about it all until we started shooting," Billy Crystal

"The essential challenge of filming this movie was that even though there are funny lines, the true comedy must come from the situation. Billy was determined not to take the easy way out here. Of course he wanted to be funny- itís what he does naturally and what people expect from him- but his first commitment was to be true to Benís character.

"As for Bob, he told us he had respect for what we had done and that he understood that comedy is Ďout thereí as a genre in which he has little experience, so from his point of view the film is also a departure.

"But Billy and I had to admit that working with Bob was an essential part of the challenge for us. Bob is someone who represents some of the greatest American filmmaking of the last 20 years. It set the bar a little higher for Billy and me, and we were glad of it".

"I was very nervous about it all until we started shooting," Crystal says. "But once you start working the sense of awe gives way and youíre just two actors trying to do the best you can. Thereís no pretence about Bob; he gives his all to do a great job. He works hard at never hitting a false note.

"It felt as if we were .. trapeze artists flying through space and having to catch each other."

"Real excitement came in the therapy scenes. Here, both of us were taking chances. It felt as if we were two tennis players or, more accurately, trapeze artists flying through space and having to catch each other. I have to say working like this pulled things out of me I never knew I had and made me a better actor".

March, 1999

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