Posted by: Jerry Garrett | November 1, 2013

Where Was LAST VEGAS Filmed? Not Vegas?!?

LAS VEGAS, Nevada

Where was the movie “Last Vegas” filmed?

Las Vegas is a pretty good guess. But, in all, just 10 days of filming were actually conducted in Vegas.

The balance of the movie, surprisingly, was shot in Atlanta. This included a lot of the flashbacks, interiors and generic shots. The site of this filming was a studio in the Grant Park area of Atlanta, Georgia. Why Atlanta? It had something to do with film credits (i.e., money).

Okay, but they couldn’t fake everything. Let’s concentrate on the actual Vegas locations.

So where, did they film – specifically?

Most of “Last Vegas” takes place at the Aria Resort & Casino; specific locations included the lobby, the casino floor, the pool and even the cab line. Perhaps the architectural star of the show was the Aria’s Sky Villas. (Sets resembling the Sky Villa rooms, and Aria’s Haze nightclub, were built in Atlanta for detail work – so don’t go to the hotel and ask to check into the “Last Vegas” suite; it doesn’t really exist.)

An Aria Sky Villa

“The most important thing about choosing a hotel for filming was that it had to feel like ‘New Vegas’,” said director Jon Turtletaub in an interview set up by MGM Resorts. “It couldn’t be the same kind of vibe that (the four main characters) were accustomed to. That meant that the architecture had to feel very hip. It had to feel upscale and beyond their expectations. There are only two or three places in this city that could even meet that criteria and Aria did it perfectly.”

When Morgan Freeman’s character scores big time at the blackjack tables and gets a comp suite in the Sky Villas, the action shifts decidedly upscale.

A Sky Villa can be as huge as 7,000 square feet – towering above the neon-infused Vegas skyline. Some Sky Villas include massage rooms, saunas, exercise rooms, multiple kitchens, formal dining rooms, up to three bedrooms and sweeping spiral staircases connect other levels. Funny, though, the filmmakers built a Sky Villa look-alike in the Atlanta studio! The set was even more luxurious than any actual Sky Villa room, production sources said.

“There is nothing in Vegas today like the Sky Villas. Nothing,” Turtletaub said. Except for Atlanta, lol.

(Within a couple of years, Resorts International will try to top the Sky Villas with the new Forbidden City project across from Wynn/Encore.)

Wynn was ruled out because of scheduling issues, as was Caesars Palace (which had already been used for “The Hangover”).

“We wouldn’t have shot in Vegas, I don’t think, unless we could have made the kind of arrangement we made with MGM Resorts,” Turteltaub said. “We needed so much. And the movie really needs to turn Vegas into a character. And without the kind of access we got, it would have impossible to do that.”

As a contrast, the movie also needed something from “Old Vegas” – the old downtown around Fremont Street.

The filmmakers initially checked out the El Cortez, the original hotel owned by gangster Bugsy Siegel (before he developed the Flamingo).

“We were looking for someplace that still had the look of Old Vegas,” Turteltaub told the Las Vegas Review Journal. “It needed to be downtown and someplace that had some recognizability but that looked still old. We were gonna go to the El Cortez – and the El Cortez told us to get lost. They said you’re making us look bad, get outta here. They were, like, we have no desire to be the hotel that is the ‘not nice’ hotel.”

Binion’s facade

So they settled instead on Binion’s, a Fremont Street landmark since 1951 (it was formerly the El Dorado until the Binion family bought it; in the 1980s, it gobbled up the Mint Hotel next door).

Binion’s was eager to participate. But they didn’t know the final cut would include a line from Robert De Niro that referred to Binion’s as “some shithole downtown.”

The insult came as a surprise to Binion’s general manager Tim Lager, when he attended an early screening with his wife. He had only been allowed to read the parts of the screenplay that actually took place at Binion’s. He said he had worked with the screenwriter to remove some other derogatory material that was originally in the script on site.

“It is what it is,” he told the R-J. “You know, obviously, we’re no Aria. We’re not a multibillion-dollar property, but we’re proud of our property.”

The hotel portion of Binion’s has been closed since 2009 during financial re-structuring and asbestos removal, according to Wikipedia.

One more thing: Binion’s doesn’t have a lounge either – never did. That’s another Atlanta soundstage fabrication.

For the record, Turtletaub thanked Binion’s for being “great sports about the whole thing. They totally got that it was a joke.”

There were, of course, a few other iconic Vegas locations in the movie, including McCarran airport, the Neon Museum of old Vegas signs, the Bellagio and New York-New York (both of the latter two properties are also owned by MGM Resorts) and the Stratosphere’s X Scream roller coaster.

Characters from Cirque de Soliel are also seen coming up and down the Aria’s elevators.

City Center artist’s rendering (CityCenter.com)

Only one other movie – “Now You See Me,” which also starred Freeman – has been filmed at Aria, which is a core property of the sprawling, soaring City Center development.

“The Aria itself is very much a central character in the movie,” Turteltaub said. “It’s not your grandfather’s Las Vegas. That was the whole point. It’s a very ‘now’ city.”

If you wanted proof of how Vegas is changing, at the same time “Last Vegas” was filming at the Aria, management decided to give the long-playing “Viva Elvis” show the boot, saying the show had limited relevance to today’s “young, hip” clientele.

It seemed no coincidence that even in Vegas that Elvis has now, literally and figuratively, left the building.

Jerry Garrett

November 1, 2013

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