Isaac plays William Tell, a military interrogator-turned-card player haunted by his past. His spartan existence on the casino trail is shattered when he is approached by Cirk (Tye Sheridan), a vulnerable and angry young man seeking help to execute his plan for revenge on a military colonel (Willem Dafoe) from both of their pasts. Tell sees a chance at redemption through his relationship with Cirk and takes him on the road, but keeping Cirk on the straight-and-narrow proves impossible, and Tell is dragged back into the darkness of his past. Haddish plays a mysterious backer looking to add Tell to her stable of card sharks.
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Schrader said: “The problem I was concerned with in the film is the lack of responsibility in contemporary society. ‘I didn’t lie, I misspoke’. And by a character who has been forgiven by society but not by himself.”
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Schrader was asked about a parallel between the film’s anti-imperialist message and the status of the U.S. as a declining imperial power and its retreat from Afghanistan. “It’s been a long time coming. One hundred years. It shouldn’t be a surprise that our exceptionalism in the world wasn’t that exceptional…but the moment you start saying a film is about these kinds of things, you lose your anchor. Your anchor is the character…You can’t get too hung up on making a big statement. Make a small statement. Let others make the big statement.”
Isaac explained how he had emailed Schrader after seeing the director’s film First Reformed and a year later Schrader contacted the actor about starring in The Card Counter.
“I’ve been in green screen space land for quite a few years and I was desperate to do a character study,” explained Dune and Star Wars actor Isaac.
Isaac described how he went about personifying his character’s mysterious past in the film: “In prep I wore a mask. I went back to my theatre school at Juilliard and worked with one of my favourite teachers there who does a lot of body work. We did three days in a studio where I put on a neutral mask.”
Asked about a time they’ve gambled on themselves, actress Haddish drew applause from the crowd when she said: “I gambled my rent money and took an acting class. I took a chance on myself. I couldn’t pay my rent, ended up homeless but I told myself it would pay off in the long run. And here I am in Italy, in Venice.”
Braxton Pope, Lauren Mann and David Wulf are producers of the film. Schrader’s Taxi Driver collaborator Martin Scorsese, William Olsson, Lee Broda, Ruben Islas and Stanley Preschutti are executive producers.
Card Counter is Schrader’s follow-up to 2017’s First Reformed, which earned him an Oscar Original Screenplay nomination.