Story, Cast and Characters
"Yesterday my life was headed in one direction.
Today it is headed in another." - Isaac Sachs, 1973
"The pressure that Lana, Andy and Tom put on themselves to see this project
was equaled by the faith they had in us as actors," notes Tom Hanks. "It really
extraordinary the way they allowed us to follow our instincts. This shoot went
by in the wink of
an eye because every day we were embarking on an exciting new sequence and I was
part of a
great team-a genuinely unified ensemble."
"Having each of us play multiple parts was an inspired idea," proclaims Jim
"There have been various star vehicles before where the leading actor played
several parts, but
nothing like this. It's quite unique, and so well suited for this story, where
everything is related
and the energy from one current charges the next until you have this beautiful
exciting moment after another."
Because of the way production was synchronized around dual hubs, actors spent
shoot segueing from one set to another-often from one country to another-with
for makeup and wardrobe that would sometimes transform them so dramatically that
able to momentarily pass amongst one another unrecognized.
Likening the experience to a fun and festive Cirque du Soleil atmosphere, with
leaping bravely from one trapeze to another, Susan Sarandon recalls, "There was
a day I looked
into the mirror and, for a second, couldn't see myself, which was the first time
in my career that
has ever happened. It was a startling experience. But it's just one of the ways
cinema gives you
the chance to take on the perspective of a character you thought you had nothing
with and, in the process, see how alike we are, and how little time and age and
color and gender
really mean in the scheme of things."
By all accounts, it was a performer's dream. Says Ben Whishaw, "It reminded me
why I became an actor in the first place, and I think that was true for all of
us. Most of the time,
no matter the role, you look more or less like yourself, but the instinct is
always there to be
transformative and this has been an amazing opportunity for that. It's been
For some, perhaps more liberating than others. As Hugh Grant dryly notes, "I was
intrigued by the story, which is brilliant, but I would have done it just for
the chance to be a
cannibal chief who does a lot of pillaging and throat-slitting. There wasn't
in 'Sense and Sensibility.'"
"Cloud Atlas" begins in 1849...and in 1936...1973...2012...2144...and 2346.
By introducing all its narrative threads at once and then rhythmically shifting
one to another throughout, the film propels audiences simultaneously down six
that are experienced as one. Causes and effects immediately reveal their
synchronicity and links
between characters and times are vividly realized as each piece builds toward a
1849, The South Pacific
Jim Sturgess portrays idealistic young San Francisco attorney Adam Ewing, who
traveled to the Pacific Islands to conduct business with sanctimonious
plantation owner Rev.
Horrox, played by Hugh Grant. While there, Ewing witnesses the savage flogging
of one of
Horrox's slaves, Autua, played by David Gyasi, who locks eyes with him in the
moment as if
embracing a kindred spirit. Later, when Autua stows away in the lawyer's cabin
on his voyage
home, Ewing is forced to choose between his professional obligations and his
convictions-a decision that will reverberate through the centuries in ways he
"There's a moment when Autua asks Ewing to either save him or to take his life,
stakes are quite high," Gyasi recounts.
"It's the first time Ewing has seen the horror of the slave trade," adds
the scene that sets off a series of recurring examples of how people strive
through the ages to
overcome oppression of one form or another. "It was a time when it was easy for
a man like him
to get caught up in the mentality of people like Horrox, who believed they were
at the top of the
ladder of civilization, but he has the innate feeling that something is very
wrong with this. And
then, suddenly there's a chance for him to do something about it."
At the same time, Ewing's other shipmate, the malignant opportunist Dr. Goose,
by Tom Hanks, is pursuing a very different course.
Filling out the ever-shifting ensemble, Jim Broadbent appears in this timeframe
ultimately pragmatic ship captain Molyneux; Susan Sarandon as Horrox's
seething wife; Keith David as the Maori slave Kupaka, who silently endures;
Halle Berry as
another Maori working the plantation; Hugo Weaving as Ewing's entitled
Moore; and Doona Bae, in western guise, as Ewing's beloved wife, Tilda.
Ben Whishaw is the roguishly charming, brash, and immensely gifted young
Robert Frobisher. Disinherited by his father and finding all doors closed to him
Frobisher takes leave of his lover, Rufus Sixsmith, played by James D'Arcy, and
sets out to
make a name for himself on his own terms. Apprenticing himself to Vyvyan Ayrs, a
composer past his creative prime-played by Jim Broadbent as a man in his
plans to write his masterpiece: a symphony he will call The Cloud Atlas Sextet.
All the while he
keeps in touch with his beloved Sixsmith through letters, imagining a triumphant
Frobisher underestimates Ayrs' power until his situation takes a desperate turn.
"Because Frobisher is young and full of creative energy and ideas he thinks he's
manipulating Ayrs, but maybe Ayrs is manipulating him," Whishaw hints. "It
struggle over the music-Frobisher to gain recognition, and Ayrs to retain his
Supporting the main characters in Frobisher's saga are Halle Berry as Ayrs'
the stoic Jocasta, and Hugo Weaving as Ayrs' friend, Tadeusz Kesselring, who
harbors an ugly
secret. Hugh Grant appears as a posh hotel staffer refusing to allow Frobisher
and Sixsmith a
peaceful parting, and Tom Hanks is the greedy manager of another, far seedier
1973, San Francisco
Halle Berry takes the lead in 1973 as journalist Luisa Rey, who uncovers
corruption at a nuclear power plant that could affect thousands of lives and
puts her at odds with
duplicitous plant president Lloyd Hooks, played by Hugh Grant. She is aided in
investigation by the same Rufus Sixsmith of the Frobisher piece, now an elderly
by plant employee Isaac Sachs, Tom Hanks again, who is inexplicably struck by
Luisa looks and how strong his impulse is to help her.
"Luisa is at a crossroads," says Berry. "As a journalist, she feels she hasn't
quite lived up
to her expectations of what that means, and then this gift falls in her lap, a
major opportunity to
take a risk and so something potentially significant. She really doesn't know
how tough she is or
whether or not she can actually accomplish it, but once she makes that decision
she will have to
do things she never thought possible."
Targeted by Hooks' hitman Bill Smoke, played by Hugo Weaving, Luisa's only
to survive is to put her faith into the hands of Keith David's character,
Napier, a man officially in
Hook's employ, but who has clearly had enough of taking his orders.
David sees him, in period, as "a kind of Shaft character, so that was a frame of
What was exciting about it was reaching this part of the journey, where this
soul you first saw as
the Maori Kupaka now has more opportunities as Napier and he takes advantage of
that to grow.
Maybe further down the line he might be something even greater."
Also seen on this part of the timeline are Chinese actress Xun Zhou as a male
worker; Korean-born Doona Bae as a Hispanic woman-a role for which Bae, already
English for her other roles, had to master Spanish dialogue; David Gyasi as
Lester, a celebrated war correspondent who is her inspiration; and Ben Whishaw
in a poignant
portrayal as a record store clerk who cannot get a certain 1930s melody out of
Jim Broadbent returns in the form of small-time publisher Timothy Cavendish, who
happily falls into a mound of cash when sales of his latest book-a vanity bio by
Dermot Hoggins, played with a rugged Scottish brogue by Tom Hanks-go through the
Unfortunately, his windfall attracts creditors, some of whom are seeking more
Says Broadbent, "He goes on the run and finds what he believes is a secure
place, but it
turns out to be so secure that even he can't get out of it. So it becomes an
escape story where
poor Cavendish has to find a way to save himself."
Hugh Grant takes a turn as the publisher's vengeful brother, Denholme, while Ben
Whishaw is Denholme's faithless wife, Georgette. Hugo Weaving also appears as
female Nurse Noakes, with whom Cavendish does battle in this piece that offers
the saga's most
liberal sprinkling of comedy. Susan Sarandon portrays Cavendish's redemptive
Ursula; Jim Sturgess appears as a volatile Scottish football fan; James D'Arcy
as a nursing home
orderly; and Halle Berry as a woman who momentarily catches author Dermot
"Nurse Noakes was the biggest challenge for me of all the parts and also the
offers Weaving. "She's a hideous gorgon who infantilizes and despises the
residents, but it's her
who's dead inside. She's been in this institution for many years and I believe
the place has
gotten into her bones."
2144, Neo Seoul
Doona Bae takes center stage as the fabricant Sonmi-451, genetically engineered
her brief existence as a compliant restaurant server in an ominously
totalitarian society built atop
the ruins of a flooded Seoul. Encouraged to nurture forbidden independent
thoughts by sister
fabricant Yoona-939, played by Xun Zhou, Sonmi embarks on a path from which
there can be no
retreat. With the help of revolutionary Hae-Joo Chang, portrayed by Jim
Sturgess, Sonmi takes
her courageous and perilous first steps toward a far-reaching insurrection.
"Yoona and Sonmi were not content with their lives. They had their own way of
and came to believe that things did not have to be a certain way. They wanted
Chinese actress Zhou, making her Western film debut with "Cloud Atlas."
Bae, likewise making her Western screen debut, acknowledges, "It's Yoona who
Sonmi curious about the larger human world. She wakes Sonmi up so she can think
but it's Chang, the first pureblood who is kind to her, who shows her that she
can stand up for
herself with dignity."
Representing the repressors in this society are Hugh Grant as smarmy Seer Rhee,
restaurant manager who extends his authority after hours, and Hugo Weaving as
Mephi, bureaucratic upholder of the status quo. Halle Berry and Susan Sarandon
take on the
male roles of Ovid, a doctor who removes Sonmi's restricting collar, and Yusouf
scientist who champions the fabricants' rights, while Keith David leads the
as An-Kor Apis. Tom Hanks appears as an actor in a movie depiction of the
Cavendish's life, which inspires Sonmi, Jim Broadbent appears as a Korean
musician, and James
D'Arcy is the government Archivist tasked with recording her confession.
After the Fall, 2321 and 2346, Hawaii
Hanks last appears as the damaged but fundamentally decent goatherd Zachry, one
peaceful tribe that survived a planetary cataclysm that plunged most of humanity
into a primitive
way of life. Among the remnants of their cultural past is an image of Sonmi, who
has taken on
goddess stature, and whose words are cited by Susan Sarandon, playing the
For this world, author Mitchell reached into the future for an imagined dialect
in the form
of an unadorned, shorthand communication. The directors retained this language
with the cast in a Los Angeles recording studio prior to shooting, to ensure it
would translate on
"We settled on a language that was simply stripped-down English, using minimal
to convey feelings," states Halle Berry, who appears in the segment as Meronym,
an emissary of
an advanced human community called Prescients. Adopting the pidgin dialect to
gain his trust,
Meronym seeks Zachry's aid to locate something she desperately needs. But to
help her, Zachry
must not only put his life at risk and deny everything he believes in, but quell
the doubts inside
that speak to him through the taunting voice of Hugo Weaving's character, Old
Xun Zhou appears as Zachry's sister, Rose, Jim Sturgess as his brother-in-law,
and Ben Whishaw as a fellow tribesman. Hugh Grant takes his most spectacularly
evil turn as
the Kona Chief, leader of a marauding band of cannibal warriors, while Keith
Gyasi and Jim Broadbent are counted among the enlightened Prescients.
Addressing how the life cycle of his roles reaches its nadir here, Grant
the potential is there for souls to improve-and some do, dramatically, but some
never get better. They get worse. It all comes down to free will and the choices
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