How the ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ “Coffee Is for Closers” Scene Got Made

Oh, do I have your attention now? Then. put. That. Coffee. down—and read on.

James Foley, director of At Close Range and After Dark, My Sweet, saw Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross on Broadway. While he thought it was good, it didn’t impress him as much as seeing Lauren Bacall in the musical Applause. Then his agent called.

JAMES FOLEY (Director): He says that he also represents Al Pacino and Al would like to talk to me about some ideas he has. So, I’m thinking, Naah, fuck him. [Laughs] No, what I really said was, “Well, blow me down.” I said, “When does he want to meet?” And my agent said, “Well, he’s outside your house.” And in came not Michael Corleone, not Serpico, but a person with no connection to any of those characters. He’s a schlub who wears big baggy old clothes. He sits at my kitchen table with four scripts under his arm. And he mentions Glengarry. I [told him] I wasn’t blown away when I saw it, like, “I have to make the movie.” Al said that David added a thing that deepened it and expanded everything and made it much more of a reason to make a movie of it. I read it and totally agreed. I loved the script compared to what I saw on Broadway.

ALEC BALDWIN (“Blake”): I said [to David Mamet], “You won the Pulitzer Prize for the play. Why do you feel the need [for this extra scene]?” I was curious. And he said he needed something to encourage the salesmen, to ratchet up the pressure because they’re not people who are inclined to commit a crime. So he wrote that scene.

FOLEY: I don’t remember talking to any actor about Alec’s part except Alec. He had already done The Hunt for Red October. There was no audition. Alec’s name came up, and I said, “Perfect.” Alec said, “Great,” and we did it, which is so unusual.

BONNIE TIMMERMANN (Casting director): Did you ever see a movie called Miami Blues? Well, let’s go back to that movie, and let’s go back to some stage plays, let’s go back to the body of work. I was totally bonkers about Alec. He was a very handsome leading man. I was fascinated by him. He was quite mysterious. He gave you what he wanted to give you. He’s a favorite of mine.

PATTON OSWALT (Actor, author of Silver Screen Fiend): The choice of using Alec Baldwin; suddenly it’s the most handsome man in the world being so icy, so psychopathic, and kind of foreshadowing that the truly dangerous villains of the world are n’t the ugly hunched-over Dick Tracy villains. It’s such an iconic moment.

Baldwin’s scene is the audience’s first exposure to the low-rent offices of Premiere Properties. It was up to production designer Jane Musky to set the stage.

JANE MUSKY (Production designer): We figured there had been a lot of guys through this office. So, I wanted to be sure there was enough history with older elements so we knew this is an ongoing situation. We put up all these aspirational gung ho quotes. Nothing was brand new, for sure, except for a few things on their desks. It had to be comfortable enough because they spent all their lives at these desks.

FOLEY: It was interesting how their desks became their territory. We spent a lot of time deciding whose desk was where and what direction it was facing. It’s interesting that, in fact, Al’s desk is the only desk facing a different direction. Everyone else’s desk looks forward toward the office.

MUSKY: The chairs were important. Alan Arkin’s character was that kind of guy who would lean back in his chair, while Al’s character had more posture, so his chair was a little tighter. When it got around to setting up the guy’s desks, Jamie and I came up with what we thought would be a good pattern based on the way he thought he was going to block the scene. And then we dressed each salesman’s desk according to what I thought the character would be and then invited the cast to come for an afternoon and let us know how they felt about it. I remember Alan and Ed were fine with theirs. Al was the one who said to me that Ricky would have more locks in his drawers. He doesn’t trust anyone. There was a cleanliness he wanted across the top.

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