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STOKER

An Unusual Family: Casting STOKER
Over the past two decades, Park Chan-Wook has established a rotating troupe of actors with whom he works regularly in Korea. He has developed an intensely collaborative method of working hand-in-hand with his favorite performers to flesh out and fully define the unusual and original characters that people his films. For his first American movie, he had to put together a new creative family of actors with the same kind of sensitivity, intelligence and talent.

"I am especially excited for audiences to see this film for the performances by these wonderful actors," says the director. "They are each at different stages of their lives and careers, and are rather different kinds of actors from each other. Seeing how they come together so successfully is worth experiencing."

For Park, STOKER is primarily a coming-of-age story for India. "She is an introverted girl confined in a suffocating house, unable to mix with anyone outside," he says. "She is very rebellious as she bears the pains of adolescence. Her father's death, her uncle's arrival, as well as the conflict with her mother and her peers, bring her to a realization about her true identity."

Finding an actress who could embody the contradictions of the character while making India's transition to womanhood graceful and natural was critical to the film's success. Park selected Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, whose delicate beauty and solemn serenity had already won the 22-year-old leading roles in films including Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND and Cary Fukanaga's JANE EYRE. "Mia has the natural liveliness of a young woman," he notes. "But she is also composed and has internal maturity. To portray a girl who is neither a woman nor a child, but at an awkward in-between stage, Mia was the most suitable actor. She has a level of restraint surprising for someone her age. She is almost completely still when she is acting. But when you watch her on film, you realize that all the necessary emotion is there. She is very subtle and skillful in a way that I expect only from older actors."

For her part, the actress says she found much to like about the project. "It is such a strong piece of writing. Director Park and the creative team are brilliant. The story is something I have never seen before. The dynamic between the characters is quite mysterious. India is a really complex young woman. Without her father, she is completely disconnected from the world. She's an outsider by nature, closed off from the rest of the world. She is still a young girl, but she's becoming a woman with dreams and fantasies, although they're of a different nature than other girls' dreams."

When India's Uncle Charlie, her father's brother, arrives, it's the first time she even realizes he exists. "It's completely confusing and really intriguing," Wasikowska says. "She's trying to figure out what role he has in her life and it's far bigger than she ever imagined. She's not sure what he wants from her at first, and as she slowly finds out how much alike they are, it's both terrifying and appealing. There's a definite sexual tension between Charlie and Evie, as well as Charlie and India, so it's up in the air as to who and what he's really there for. You are never really sure -- until you are."

Working with Park was a constantly evolving, and always stimulating experience for the actress. "Even on weekends, we would meet for lunch and continue discussing the character and the story," Wasikowska says. "Ideas would snowball, becoming more and more complex and interesting. During shooting, he let us sit for long moments in silence where seemingly not much was happening, but there was always strong underlying tension. The longer we were there, the more it built. He is way ahead of the audience. Time and time again, the rug is suddenly pulled out from underneath our feet in a way that changes our perspective on what's going on. That approach was perfect for this material."

The enigmatic man at the center of the family conflict is played by Matthew Goode, a British import previously seen in Tom Ford's critically acclaimed A SINGLE MAN, opposite Oscar winner Colin Firth, and as the Greek god-like super hero Ozymandias in WATCHMEN. "Matthew is just so much fun," says Wasikowska. "Our relationship off-screen was the polar opposite of what it was on screen. He can be really goofy, so it was a challenge to keep a straight face working with him."

Uncle Charlie is shrouded in mystery throughout the film. His motives remain hidden until nearly the end. "The audience never knows for sure what goes on in his mind," says Park. "He loved his brother so much, and his love for his brother is transferred to India. Allegorically, I saw Uncle Charlie as John the Baptist. He is a mentor figure who turns up to complete India. Matthew matched the image I had in my head -- the innocence, humor, elfishness. He has the mischievous sparkle and elegant delicacy of someone who can't hurt a fly. These are all the perfect qualities for Uncle Charlie."

Goode was equally certain that he wanted to be part of Park's English language debut. "This is an example of Hollywood drawing on the best talent from all around the world, which I think is a brilliant thing," Goode says. "Director Park is a master of psychology, which is one of the reasons his films are so intelligent and believable."

"This kind of script doesn't come around every day," Goode continues. "It has all the right ingredients to move an audience, as well as to scare and provoke them. It's a beautiful love story, in a twisted way. Charlie has been waiting for years, keeping in touch with Mrs. McGarrick, the housekeeper, to learn all about India. At first you think you know who Charlie is, but as the story evolves, you realize he's extremely complicated and dangerous," he says. "Nothing is what it appears. He wants to be around his family, so he uses Evie. He can't really stay there unless she is attracted to him. But Charlie is extremely unbalanced and he has feelings for India that are not at all uncle-like. The challenge for me was that rather than being simply evil, he has to have a center to him that we like, which is disorienting and quite scary."

Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman plays Evie, India's fragile, affection-starved mother. "I never expected that I would have the good fortune to be working with an actor of Nicole's caliber on my first English language film," says Park. "But this dream-like situation became a reality. Her presence had a synergizing effect and I was able to expand the role of Evie and shape a character that comes across as almost a fairytale stepmother. But in fact, she is the character in the film with the most humanity."

A glance at Kidman's extensive resume reveals that she has a long history of signing on to ambitious projects helmed by auteur directors, from Baz Luhrmann (MOULIN ROUGE!) and Gus Van Sant (TO DIE FOR) to John Cameron Mitchell (RABBIT HOLE). "I thought the combination of Director Park with this material was really exciting," she says. "He is a filmmaker who is particularly revered amongst other filmmakers. I love supporting artists who have a unique way of expressing themselves and are willing to take chances. I certainly have done many mainstream movies, but to be able support filmmakers who embrace a different way of looking at the world is my greatest joy as an actor."

Although Park used a translator to communicate with the actors on set, he felt that Kidman instinctively understood what he needed from her. "Nicole can modulate the tone and quality of her performance at will," the director says. "I would say only a few key words and she would readily adjust her performance. She is an actor who truly showed me what being a pro is all about."

STOKER's eerie elegance and complex relationships made the film an irresistible proposition for the actress. "There's nothing generic about it," Kidman says. "It's got an unusual cadence to the dialogue. The pacing is not typical. When I read the script, I was unsure of what was going to happen next, which I liked."

The desperate, needy Evie was a character Kidman felt she hadn't played before. "We start the film with her husband's funeral," she says. "It's obvious the mother-daughter relationship is already fraught with resentment and anger. She's in a very raw state when we meet her, and Charlie fills the void.

"Matthew is compellingly attractive as Charlie," she adds. "That's really such a good thing for Uncle Charlie to be. You believe that Evie would desire him and want his attention. He's the first person for a long time to give her attention. And then Matthew, of course, has such talent. I expect to see him become a huge star."

Another Aussie import, Jacki Weaver, plays the pivotal role of Auntie Gin, India's father's aunt -- as well as Charlie's. Disturbed to learn that Charlie is living in the family mansion with India and Evie, she arrives to assess the situation herself and is shaken by what she finds. "Only Charlie knows for sure what he wants from India," Weaver says. "But Auntie Gin is a wise old bird and she knows that there's something sinister in the air."

Weaver shot to international prominence with a 2010 Oscar nomination for her performance as Smurf, an unlikely criminal mastermind, in the searing independent drama, ANIMAL KINGDOM. "We learned that Jacki was working in Los Angeles while we were casting," says Costigan. "We had all had seen and admired ANIMAL KINGDOM, so we met with her and realized immediately how right she was for this role."

The actress also compares the script's ever-twisting plot to a classic Alfred Hitchcock film. "It's a quality thriller, a psychological study of very unusual, disturbed people," says Weaver. "That's what makes this compelling. There are a million things going on simultaneously.

And the characters are fascinating and sharply delineated: the high-strung Evie, the silently watchful India, the anxious aunt who knows that something wicked this way comes. And, of course, the very bad Uncle Charlie."

A single highly charged scene in the movie featuring all four powerhouse performers in an almost silent confrontation is a highlight of the film for Costigan. "That was one of the most fun scenes to shoot," the producer says. "We had a virtuoso cast of actors assembled and watching them interact was such a pleasure especially during the family dinner scene. Just the slightest movement or glance from Evie could cut across Auntie Gin in the film. Watching Uncle Charlie subtly observing the action, you start to realize he's playing a giant ruse on the family. India observes the others and just one glance speaks volumes. Watching these incredible actors work together was thrilling."

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