Repopulating Earth: Casting the Action-Thriller
While many action-adventures are overpopulated with players, one of the many elements that makes Oblivion unique is the film's relatively small cast. As Jack is the last drone repairman on an abandoned Earth, his opportunities to encounter survivors are almost nonexistent. Because the screenwriters had constructed such a tight narrative that relied upon so few roles, the filmmakers knew that casting the perfect actors was crucial to breathing life into Oblivion.
When Kosinski considered who would be the perfect Jack, Tom Cruise was certainly at the top of his list. Still, the director was surprised when he got a call from Cruise's agent saying that the performer had seen the ashcan from Radical Studios and wanted to sit down and discuss it. Kosinski and Cruise met at an airplane hangar in Burbank, where Kosinski showed him the short story and storyboard images for the project. Some three hours later, Cruise told Kosinski that he wanted to make the movie together. This began the yearlong process of developing the script for Cruise to star in the project.
Kosinski discusses the partnership: "Tom has a fantastic sense of what makes a great movie. It has been an amazing experience working with him, not just on set during production, but developing the script and his character early on."
Cruise reflects upon his interest in joining Oblivion: "I read the story and I'd seen the commercials that Joe had directed prior, so I called him up. We met, he showed me pieces of TRON and I was amazed by it. I thought, 'Wow. This guy's a big filmmaker, and he's very talented.' Joe is someone who creates other worlds, and his vision for Oblivion is what interested me. I've never seen anything like it: the way that he wanted to direct it and all the elements that were involved. Although I haven't made a sci-fi film since Minority Report, I love the genre and I knew that Joe works well in it."
The producers were excited that a licensed pilot would be portraying Jack and flying the one-of-a-kind aircraft designed for the film. Offers Chernin: "Tom's a flying junkie. He's a pilot himself. I think he had a lot of fun with the Bubbleship, and you can see it on the screen."
Cast alongside Cruise as Julia and Victoria (aka "Vika") were Olga Kurylenko and Andrea Riseborough, respectively. Chernin walks us through the production's choices: "It was important that these two actresses fulfill what goes on in the emotional part of the storytelling. We looked hard to find the right performers. Olga brings great soul and depth to Julia, while Andrea is just so fresh and filled with life. They complemented each other so well and took their characters to a level that was beyond the scripted page."
The filmmakers knew that the role of the crash-landing traveler who claims to have a deep bond with Jack and urges him to question things as they are would involve many arduous days on set. They found their Julia Rusakova in a former Bond girl who'd made a scorching debut in Casino Royale. Reveals Clark: "was important that we cast Julia with someone who's as tough as Tom. That's hard to find, but Olga, a tough Ukrainian woman, was game and has proven to be successful in that. We put her through some things that I don't think she could have ever imagined doing."
Kurylenko admits that she was game for the exhausting tasks at hand: "Things are not what they seem in this movie. Once Julia shows up in Jack and Vika's life, she creates trouble. The perfect, idyllic lifestyle collapses. It's chaos, and it was fun to play. Plus the role is so physical with all kinds of action, which I had never done before."
Until Julia crash-lands in front of him, there had been one woman at Jack's side for years. The obedient and dutiful Vika Olsen is Jack's navigator in his drone-repair mission. Although Jack is stirred by uncertainty, Vika urges him not to question authority and to accept things wholly as they are. The British-born Riseborough reflects upon her role in the story: "Jack and Vika are at the point of their lives where they're starting to realize they want different things. Vika is a great strategist and a positive, optimistic soul in many ways. Her actions, though controlled, can feel a bit radical."
Clark explains that Riseborough was the ideal partner for Cruise: "To play Vika, we had to find somebody who could have a command of language and behavioral action that was trained and precise. Andrea came in and blew us away."
When Jack encounters a band of survivors on Earth, he realizes that he and Vika are not alone. Brought on board to play Beech, the morally ambiguous leader of the resistance, was Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman. The performer discusses his reason for taking on the role: "One of the things that will set Oblivionapart as a movie is its creativity, the costumes, the sets and the machinery. It's a world all its own and Joe's a perfectionist, which makes working with him a joy, as he knows exactly what he wants."
Oblivion marks the first time that superstars Cruise and Freeman have been paired opposite one another, and the producers knew the film offered the perfect opportunity. Levine discusses their choice for the role of the commander of the resistance, one who knows more about our hero than he knows about himself: "We knew we needed someone with presence to play Beech. The cast in this film is small; there's nothing to hide behind. You had to bring your emotions, and we were all in awe of Morgan Freeman as we watched him work."
Cruise discusses working with the legendary performer: "I met Morgan in 1990 when both of us were nominated for Oscars. I was nominated for Born on the Fourth of July and he was for Driving Miss Daisy. I so admired him, and I remember that night at the Oscars how I was looking forward to saying hello and telling him how much I loved him in the movie and we both said we should work together sometime. I'm sad it took so many years before this occurred, but I'm happy to have had the opportunity to work with him. He's a wonderful man, and he's an extraordinary actor."
For the role of Sykes, second-in-command of the remaining band of survivors, Coster-Waldau, known for his breakthrough television work on Game of Thrones and the recent blockbuster thriller Mama, plays an accomplished fighter and the right hand to Beech in any battle situation. Freeman describes the character: "Beech knows what life was like before all this destruction, but someone like Sykes has grown up his whole life in this environment."
Henderson continues with praise for Coster-Waldau: "Nikolaj's fan base from Game of Thrones keeps growing. He has a rugged sensibility, yet intelligence that can't help but please audiences."
Coster-Waldau walks us through a key story arc and his motivation for joining the production: "The survivors have lived this horrible life. They don't know anything different. What that does to a human being is what is so interesting about this story, and I appreciated that no matter how brutal things get, Sykes will fight till the last drop of blood... and he still has hope."
Rounding out the Oblivion is Academy Award winner Melissa Leo as Sally, Jack and Vika's supervisor and the voice of the command center. Though her voice drips with honeyed compliments, Sally should not be underestimated. She's a company woman through and through, and her only interest lies with getting the job done, no matter the costs. Leo discusses her interest in tackling the role: "has combined his immense talents in many fields to create something that is truly unique. As I cracked the script open and understood what I was being asked to do, I could tell that this would be a very special project. The core of Oblivion is a human tale, and it is the marriage of story and technology. It is the future of filmmaking."
Kosinski remarks that Sally holds the key to many of the answers Jack needs. He says: "Melissa has this uncanny ability to sound as if she holds all the secrets of the universe. Though Sally only interacts with Vika and Jack via remote, Melissa brilliantly pushes the tension and suspense for our primary characters. You feel that, at any moment, she could help them or destroy them."
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