The Card Counter Director Paul Schrader Explains How He Directed Oscar Isaac And Tiffany Haddish

"The Card Counter," the latest movie from director Paul Schrader, is heading to theaters soon. The drama follows Oscar Isaac as a former military man named William Tell who served time because of his involvement in Abu Ghraib. Once out of prison, Tell turned to gambling and, as the story unfolds, he forms a bond with Tiffany Haddish's character, La Linda, a gambling agent and pimp.

Schrader sat down for an interview in the days leading up to the release of the film and shared how he directed Isaac and Haddish. Read on to find out more about his directing style and how that impacted the mindset of these characters.

Be the Rock, Not the Ocean

In an interview with Indiewire, Schrader shared how he helped Haddish, who's best known for her comedic work, adjust to playing a more dramatic role:

"On the first reading of the script we had, frankly, she wasn't very good. I told her to go back and read every single line without emotion. Then I said, 'You're not going to do that in front of the camera, but you can't hit every line either. So let's pick five or six lines you can hit where you get a smile or reaction.' Quickly she got that it was a different rhythm."

Schrader also had words of wisdom of Isaac, who plays a character struggling with inner turmoil:

"I told him to imagine himself on a rocky coast in the ocean. Waves are going to come up and get you all day every day. They're going to try to batter you. Let them. The waves will go away. You'll still be there. Don't compete. In the end, the rocks will win. You have to learn to trust that the way these things are put together has more power than the individual movement."

"The Card Counter" was set to end production in March 2020 when Covid shut everything down. Schrader was at first angered by the delay, but then used the time to adjust some scenes and get feedback from others, including Martin Scorsese. "I edited the film and put in placeholders for the five or six scenes of consequence that I hadn't shot," he told Indiewire. "I didn't have a fully finished film but I could screen it for people. Normally you only get that privilege if you have a big-budget film and you're allowed reshoots." The early audience included Scorsese, who provided a crucial note. "I asked Marty, 'What am I missing?' He said to me that the relationship with Tiffany and Oscar was too thin. So I rewrote those scenes."

Schrader appreciated Scorsese's feedback so much he offered the director credit as an executive producer. Scorsese accepted, and the movie finished up shooting in July 2020. We'll be able to watch "The Card Counter," which also stars Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe, when it hits theaters on September 10, 2021.