Exclusive Interview: Ariel Vromen Talks "The Iceman" And More!


Richard Kuklinski is a scary dude. Nicknamed “the Iceman” due to his steely demeanor and ability to seemingly be able to commit acts of impossible violence at the drop of a hat, he became a feared mafia hitman and enforcer. The film The Iceman is a brilliant character study and perfect companion piece to the popular HBO documentary. The film adaptation, directed by the talented Ariel Vromen and starring the intense Michael Shannon, has been met with solid reviews and was one of my favorites of last year.

I was fortunate enough to have some time with director Ariel Vromen to talk about The Iceman and some of his other projects, as well as some behind-the-scenes stuff.

Rob: What drew you to Kuklinski’s story?

Ariel: There’s nothing specific, really, the documentary on HBO stirred some strange feelings of empathy for the character, but I think, once we acquired the rights and the twenty hours of outtakes from the documentary and we started writing the film, I read a lot of court testimonials and interviews with police officers, etc. You really get a good picture of who this character was, he was a soldier, he was a warrior in his own fucked-up world. At the same time, he was just a man who tried to do some kind of correction for his abused childhood and fucked-up life.

He was really just on a mission to have somebody, to have children, to have a wife. To have a middle-class home, drive a nice car, beautiful clothes, to spoil his wife. All of those elements I really connected to. I was also drawn in by the question of how these guys do these kinds of things for so long and never get caught. I liked the duality of the character, to tell the two extremely different sides of who that character is.

Rob: The cast is really amazing. It’s a nice, eclectic mix of acting styles. What was it like putting that cast together? There were a lot of dudes in this flick.

Ariel: There was a lot of dudes, that’s for sure. That can help with this kind of movie. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with dudes when they’re all together. Casting is always a journey. We had four years of pre-production where we lost Benicio Del Toro and James Franco, then we got Chris Evans and Franco came back for a different role and Winona Ryder came on. At the end of the day, you have to make the right decision where the right person ends up on the screen.

I think, in this specific case, it was great to see all these people come together to support a small independent feature. I have to give a lot of credit to Michael for sticking around while we were working on the film. We had to work around Boardwalk Empire and his stage commitments and he was just great to have all these years on the project. He leant a lot of credibility to the project, for sure.

Rob: I read that Michael Wincott screen-tested with Shannon. Was there ever an option to have Wincott in the film?

Ariel: Well, I love Michael Wincott, he’s a great actor. Unfortunately, no, I hired him for the day to play against Michael Shannon. I did offer him another role, but he was not happy with the role I offered him. He wanted to play that Mr. Freezy role, but I wanted someone younger for that, so we got Chris Evans. Wincott was great in the screen test, which is on YouTube. It’s an entirely different movie if you watch the scene with Wincott compared to the scene as it plays out with Evans.

Rob: So many people are familiar with the documentary, were you at all worried that people wouldn’t find the film as arresting as it is?

Ariel: Well, obviously the documentary is great. The persona of the Iceman was already existing, back in 2001-2002, Kuklinski was already in his own place as that “character,” if you will. I tried to tell the story that’s trying to keep the lies more contained instead of airing out his business like in the documentary. He was very careful in his personal life not to talk about anything. There was some concern, but, in a weird way, they complete eachother. You can watch the movie that gives you a shot of his work and family life, and if you want to see what it’s like to sit in a room with Kuklinski and you can watch the HBO documentary.

Rob: Have you received any backlash from the victims’ families at all?

Ariel: Surprisingly, not at all.

Rob: Wow.

Ariel: I know, right? That was something I was sure was going to stir up some controversy, you know? I thought I’d get criticized about the movie. I really tried hard not to glorify the guy, though. I didn’t want to seem like he was an angel or that I was trying to elicit sympathy. He was a sick man, living in a world that he’s trying to succeed in, but all he can do is take people’s lives. The scary thing is, there are guys like this in our society, that work for private armies or for government agencies, you know? Certain kinds of lawyers that will take your financial life away or people that are businessmen who will break you up emotionally. Sometimes, those people will want to be the same kind of person Kuklinski was, that they strive for normalcy.

Rather than try to glorify murder or elicit a connection, I didn’t want to glorify the violence, that’s not my purpose.

Rob: What’s next for you?

Ariel: I have a few movies in development. Some very high-octane, but who knows? It might be something with Warner Bros. Who knows?

Vromen is one of those rare, super-talented filmmakers who has both a sharp eye and a knack for storytelling. Whatever his next film is, I’ll be there opening night.

Robert Ottone • Staff Writer

A natural bon vivant in love with cigars, finery and luxurious booze, SelfieRob aims to make light of the world around him while living the party boy lifestyle. From the Hamptons to NYC and beyond, SelfieRob lives life to the fullest.


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