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The Cast of Thomas

Into Thomas' world of talking trains and sparkling dust for the very first time travel several humans of varying sorts and sizes, each touched in some way by the magic of the Island of Sodor. Having created each of these characters, Britt Allcroft was particularly concerned that the casting reflect her highly detailed vision. "In the end, it was absolutely thrilling for me to hear so many fine actors bringing my words to life just as I had imagined them in front of my typewriter," she says.

Allcroft's choices were surprising and bold, entirely against type, giving several renowned actors a chance to show a lighter side nothing like their public personas. She cast Alec Baldwin — who is more typically the intense leading man of adult dramas — as the miniature Mr. Conductor, an 18 inch railroad man with a pragmatic attitude and a magical touch. Baldwin previously starred as the storyteller in the latest series of "Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends" episodes, so Allcroft knew he had a deep appreciation for Thomas.

"I liked the idea of working against predictability," comments Allcrofl. "To some people the idea of Alec Baldwin as this little, magical guy, this vulnerable, playful character is unusual, but I really feel that Alec has all these resources within him and more. He really brings all that to this wonderful and vital role."

Baldwin was drawn to the script because he felt the story transcended the typical genre definitions. "Sometimes you read a script and say 'this is a kid's movie' but "Thomas" is a good movie for anybody. There's a kind of Lewis Carroll quality to it all, a lot of fantastical fun. Yet it's straightforward, direct and honest in a way that I think kids demand but that adults will really like, too," he states. "There's danger and adventure for everyone, but underlying all that the characters are pure at heart."

Another incentive for Baldwin was the opportunity to work with Allcroft on her most ambitious project to date. "Normally, I might avoid a first-time feature film director," admits Baldwin, "but Britt is the person who created, conceived and mothered the whole Thomas enterprise from its inception. Who else could possibly understand this world they way she does? She's an incredibly smart and creative woman who really got us all into the joyful, imaginative spirit of the film."

Finally, there was the fun of playing the sweetly mischievous Mr. Conductor. Together, Allcroft and Baldwin forged an atmosphere of playful improvisation that carried over into the spirit of the film. "We were often in hysterics on the set," says Baldwin, "and you know that when you're having a good time that always translates to the audience."

Ultimately, Baldwin came to know and love Mr. C as deeply as he would any of the dark villains or macho heroes he has played on screen. "Mr. C is one of those characters like the Tin Man or the Cowardly Lion who is someone fun you meet along the journey, yet he has a journey of his own. He had this wonderful magical quality and now it seems to be missing," explains Baldwin. "And like all the characters, he has to figure out how to get the magic back."

The key to getting the magic back lies in part with Grandfather Burnett Stone. Playing Grandpa Burnett Stone is another unusual male lead cast against type: Peter Fonda, 60s icon and recent Academy Award nominee for his stunning portrait of the title character in "Ulee's Gold." Once a counter-cultural hero, Fonda might seem an odd choice for a country grandpa, but Allcroft responded to his ability to play an older man who has fallen out of the touch with the world. Allcroft explains: "Peter Fonda was always my dream choice for Grandpa Burnett Stone. I literally saw him playing the role in my dreams. Then when he read the script and called me to say 'I want t

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