Posted: 09/20/2008


Finding Peter Tolan in ‘Finding Amanda’

by Annie Vinton

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Last week I had the opportunity speak with Peter Tolan, writer and director of Finding Amanda, now available on DVD from Magnolia Entertainment. A very polite Peter apologized in advance for any background noise as he was taking a stroll through the 30’s on New York City’s West Side, not far from my virtual Starbucks “office” at 29th and Park; me also apologizing for any background noise.  We made it through a generous 30 minutes without sirens or shouts of “Venti Chai Latte” wailing in the background.

This conversation evinced what I already knew: Peter Tolan’s a quadruple threat in the world of film and television.  He’s successfully produced, directed, written and acted in both television and cinema, picking up a few Emmys along the way and he hits a home run once again with Finding Amanda.

If you’re looking for a flick filled with explosions and expeditious car chases, this movie’s not for you. If you’re looking for a character driven indie flick devoid of any hypocrisy or pretense you need to buy this movie as soon as possible.

Finding Amanda, somewhat autobiographical, tells the story of Taylor Mendon (Matthew Broderick) a television writer and producer whose compulsive gambling, recreational drug use and drinking problem are jeopardizing his career and marriage.  In a desperate attempt to save his marriage to Lorraine (Maura Tierney), he sets off to redeem himself by bringing home his 20-year-old niece (Brittany Snow) who is living in Vegas and working as a hooker.  While there, he vows not to gamble a cent or drink a drop of alcohol.  Alas, the best laid plans:

While there wasn’t a recording device for the interview, following’s a synopsis of Tolan on Amanda:

The inspiration behind the story:

The inspiration for the movie came by the way of a request from a family friend to corral their wayward daughter home from Vegas. It was Tolan’s wife, the one who knew his demons (penchant for the ponies) most intimately, suggesting he head to Vegas to bring her back home. Tolan, instinctually saw this as a huge opportunity – for him. He realized quickly if he was to make the trek it would be completely driven by selfish motives. It wouldn’t be about the girl; instead he’d have carte blanche to feed his addictions out of the preeminence of his wife. This temptation proved to be luckier to Tolan then betting on the ponies as he skipped the trip to Vegas and instead put then pen to the paper, giving birth to Finding Amanda.

Sharing intimate details of his life:

I asked Tolan about how he and his wife felt about sharing such intimate details of their lives, like how he stole checks out of the middle of his wife’s checkbook to support his gambling and then his decision to not carry any credit cards or anything that would give him access to copious amounts of cash. His wife also worked on the set and he said there were times when certain scenes were being shot that they’d exchange glances, she shaking her head. He also followed up with, “The reality is everybody’s got something and people who claim they don’t are hiding the great ones.”

Why he wanted to not just be the writer, but director on this film:

This is Tolan’s directorial debut for a feature and with the plethora of films he’s already written it would make anyone wonder why it was this one he chose to direct. He said there were a number of movies that he’d written and he wasn’t necessarily happy with the outcome and that his decision to direct this one was about “control” and “eliminating a hurdle.”  

The characters he writes are real people:

Tolan is known for creating real-life characters through pragmatic dialogue and we see this throughout Finding Amanda.  Specifically he noted that Taylor remains “glib in the face of misbehavior” when he goes to Vegas and sees his niece working as a prostitute. This kind of reaction may seem bizarre at first, but really it isn’t as it’s merely an extension of who  Taylor is, regardless of the situation, most likely how people in our own lives typically behave. Tolan also proves he can successfully create characters different from who he is and he does this by examining the psyche, educational level, etc. of a person. He did this well with his self described “misguided and empowered” Amanda, creating a believable young woman by life observations alone.

Why Maura Tierney was right as Lorraine:

This discussion of how he’s able to write real characters segued into conversation about Maura Tierney who transforms herself into Lorraine, Taylor’s wife and enabler. Tolan describes Lorraine as a real woman and supportive wife versus the gratuitous type of woman seen in other films meant to fulfill a sex role or a tortured woman role.  When it comes to discussions of this cast, the press has focused more on Broderick and Snow, but less on Tierney and I inquired  why Maura was selected for his role.  Did he contribute to the selection process? Tolan responded that she was a natural choice simply because “he is in love with her” and that she has a sex appeal to men his age (he was born in ‘58, so you do the math.)  After this, he quickly revealed the real reason was that he admired her work and she was the first person on her wish list. Luckily for him and when she read the script she said “yes.”

What’s next for Tolan?

Right now he’s 100% focused on Rescue Me’s extended twenty-two episode season.  When we spoke, they had just completed the eleventh   episode leaving eleven  more to go! So, we’ll all have to sit tight and wait until we find Peter again on the big screen.

Until then satiate your appetite with Finding Amanda, available now on DVD from Magnolia Home Entertainment and Capacity Pictures.

Annie Vinton is a writer living in New York. You can read more of Annie’s work at her blog here.

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