If you’re making a movie about Oregon truffle hunting, it’s almost a given you’d call the Czarnecki family—four generations of mushroom seekers and savants, and the current proprietors of the Joel Palmer House Restaurant in Dayton.
Through that niche expertise, brothers Stefan and Christopher Czarnecki ended up integral resources for the acclaimed new indie film Pig, starring the inimitable Nicolas Cage as a hermetic Oregon woodsman pursuing his abducted truffle-hunting pig through a noir reimagining of Portland’s culinary underbelly.
Pig contains one of the finest and subtlest Cage performances of the past decade, and substantial pieces of Czarnecki family iconography too: matriarch Heidi’s trademark mushroom tart, Stefan’s freshly picked Mount Hood mushrooms, chef Christopher’s cast iron skillet—even a bottle of Joel Palmer House pinot noir.
WW caught up with the Czarnecki brothers to discuss their experience as consultants for Pig, and what it was like trying to convince Nic Cage not to eat dirt.
WW: What was your first reaction to learning there would be an Oregon truffle-hunting movie?
Stefan Czarnecki: I think they reached out to Dad [Jack Czarnecki] first. I started interacting with [co-writer and producer] Vanessa Block. They were going to be up in the area to do some scouting and meet Mom and Dad and hear their story and “talk truffle.” They were really sweet and interested right from the get-go.
Was the script still coming together?
Stefan: It sounded like we were part of the vetting process a little bit. We knew as far as pigs versus dogs, we weren’t going to win that battle.
Because using a pig to hunt truffles is rare to the point of being anachronistic, right?
Stefan: A dog is just so much more practical. There are people in the Northwest who use a pig, but it’s one or two. Dogs are easier to control, and they don’t bite your fingers off going for the truffle when you’re trying to dive in there. Pigs will gobble it up.
Christopher Czarnecki: Director Michael Sarnoski said he even knew that going in, but the idea of using a pig is more romantic.
Any other specific notes you gave?
Christopher: My biggest fear, other than the movie being terrible, was when Nic was in the kitchen. I was really adamant, “You’ve got to practice chopping if you’re gonna be on camera looking like a chef. You’ve gotta use the Claw Method.” And the day of shooting he takes his knife and starts going bang, bang, bang like it’s this hatchet. But thankfully the one-second shot of him chopping mushrooms, he had good technique. I’m proud of that.
Let’s delay no further. Your favorite Nic Cage interaction?
Christopher: The most common question I get is, “What was he like?” And now I just point to the screen and say, “He was like that.” Getting into character, big time.
Stefan: But when he was off, he was really gracious and nice. We had an interesting interaction at dinner, everyone sharing stories about where they’ve lived and traveled, and then all of a sudden he tells a story about doing mushrooms with Charlie Sheen on an airplane. And it was like, “Oh, right! This is not a normal dinner.”
Did you like the movie in general?
Stefan: I enjoyed it on multiple levels. It was beautifully shot, especially the opening scene in the forest. But! We do not taste the dirt. I do not need to taste the dirt to find truffles. Maybe Nic does, but I do not.
Christopher: Only after he’s done mushrooms with Charlie Sheen.
Stefan: And don’t eat raw mushrooms.
Christopher: That was a fun scare. On set, [Cage] does the cool knife flip to stir his mushrooms, and he grabs a pinch and eats it. This is before the mushrooms have been cooked at all, let alone cleaned.
Stefan: No, he does it in the movie!
Christopher: They weren’t recording audio, so I was like, “You’ll want to spit that out.” After they yell cut, he turns and looks at Vanessa and Michael. You could see the panic in his eyes: “I’m flying out of here in a week to shoot another movie.” I was like, “Nic, you’re not going to get sick; we’ve never gotten anyone sick; we just don’t want you eating dirt.” And he calmed down quite quickly.
Stefan: Some mushrooms can make you sick if they’re eaten raw. I get that [he’s] in character, but don’t try this at home, folks.
SEE IT: Pig screens at Bridgeport, Cascade, Cedar Hills, Cinema 21, Clackamas Town Center, Division, Eastport Plaza, Fox Tower, Movies on TV, Studio One and Vancouver Mall.