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THE CONTENDER

About The Production

A self-described "political junkie," writer/director Rod Lurie enjoys the power plays of government the way some people enjoy gridiron plays. "Presidential election years are like football seasons to me," Lurie says. "I watch the events unfold with great excitement. I can't wait to see who the Vice Presidential pick will be; I can't wait to see the debates..

As a former film critic and entertainment journalist, Lurie also had an affinity for movies with political backdrops, especially those that gave audiences an insider's view of the manipulation and machinations of power. He notes, "In the '70s. we had films like 'All the President's Men,' 'The Candidate' and 'The Parallax View.' I loved them even as a little boy. The political films of recent years are more satires. With 'The Contender,' I tried to do something different--more of a throwback to those earlier movies.

However, Lurie is quick to add, "'The Contender' is more about principles than politics. The challenges that Senator Lame Hanson faces in this film are decidedly more about her personal life than her public persona. Her principles tell her that under no circumstance should she allow her personal life to mesh with her public one, and her courageousness emerges when she takes a stand and refuses to give in, despite pressure from both sides. Her heroics are based on her sticking to those principles even when they're inconvenient."

The story backdrop of "The Contender" may have arisen from Lurie's fascination with politics, but he has no hesitation in revealing that it was written for the award-winning actress who stars as Senator Lame Hanson, Joan Allen. "I did more than write this movie with Joan Allen in mind for the role of Lame Hanson," Lurie acknowledges. "I wrote the movie itself for her. I am a gigantic fan of hers. I think she is quite simply the best actress in the world."

The decision to write the script was initiated by an off-the-cuff remark Lurie made while presenting Allen with a Los Angeles Film Critics Award for her work in "Pleasantville." He recalls, "I got up on the stage and, impromptu, said, '1 should write a screenplay for Joan Allen...' I sat down with her afterwards, and she said, 'Write that screenplay.' You know, Joan has never played the character around which an entire movie revolves, and that's what I wanted to give her, so the role of Lame Hanson was born."

Joan Allen was understandably flattered to have the central role of the film written specifically for her, but she was even more thrilled upon reading the script. "I thought it was really wonderful," she recalls. "It's a dream for an actor to have a role like this, but the whole script is so good, and all the characters in it are terrific, not just mine."

Allen was in Ireland filming a movie when she first got the screenplay, but immediately upon her return, she immersed herself in what Lurie teasingly calls "a research frenzy."

"I studied the script and tried to chart her emotional life," Allen offers. "We had the great luxury of rehearsing for two weeks, so Rod and I were able to discuss and refine our ideas for the character. I was extremely fortunate as an actor to know a lot about Laine's past--that she's the daughter of a governor, and was raised in a political world, and at some point had switched parties.

"I think she feels smart and savvy enough to handle the situation because she understands the Washington scene. It's been her life for so many years," Allen continues. "But she also has an underlying conviction that her personal life has no place in the political process. She believes it with all her heart and just can't operate any other way. I think it would certainly be easier for her to capitulate, but it's not in her m

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