TRANCE's Triangle: McAvoy, Cassel, Dawson
TRANCE features three main roles with the same intense challenge: none of them are who or
what they might seem at first meeting. These uniquely unreliable protagonists, each mired in the
mysteries of identity, attraction and illusion, would require careful casting, but drew the kind of talented
actors who hanker for complex roles right away.
"The story's got three excellent parts in it and they battle for who's at the center of the film,"
comments Danny Boyle. "That triangle is a lovely dynamic to have in place as you can play with the
question of which character the story belongs to. The film certainly starts as Simon's story but by the
end it has become more Franck's -- and Elizabeth exerts a strong gravitational pull of her own."
Each of the three also brings a conflicting point of view as to the true value of the stolen Goya
painting: for Simon, the Goya appears to be a priceless human treasure that belongs to artistic history;
for Franck, it's a ticket to vast amounts of cash, whereas for Elizabeth, the painting has a meaning that
is far more personal. But they all have their reasons for playing a high-stakes game to recover it.
Taking the role of Simon is James McAvoy, who has won global fans and accolades at the head
of the X-men in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, on the right-hand side of Idi Amin in THE LAST KING OF
SCOTLAND, and in the heart of Keira Knightley's 'Cecilia' in ATONEMENT.
McAvoy felt a magnetic attraction to the role. "I was completely blown away by this mind
bending, genre bending, psychological heist movie," he says. "When I auditioned for Danny, he was
incredible. I've rarely been directed in an audition so interestingly. That made me desperate to get the
part. Luckily for me he phoned up and said, 'Would you like to do it?' Every day on set has been like
that - just discovering this script, which is brave, bold and challenging for a performer."
Boyle was surprised by McAvoy. "I thought he might be a bit young for it, but when we met, it
was really interesting because the part makes him seem older," the director observes. "It was fantastic
the way he grew into it. I also wanted him to do it with his natural Scottish accent because I have a real
love of the Scottish voice. He tells me that he doesn't get asked to do it that often. So that was lovely
for both James and Vincent to use their natural voices. I find myself entirely addicted to James, who
does a wonderful job. It's a very complicated part because we're never sure where his conscience lies."
Simon's confusion about his own identity, actions and conscience accelerates throughout the
film, building to a fever pitch, exhilarating McAvoy as he took on the role. "Normally, we remember
what we've done -- the brain does that as a full-time job -- and that's how we identify and see ourselves. But Simon can't remember who he is properly. He's had a bang on the head and something is missing.
Things don't make sense. All he knows is that there's something huge not right in his life."
All of this internal chaos demanded a highly creative reaction from McAvoy. "It's a film
where you really get to explore the boundaries of what's strange and odd," he summarizes. "All of the
situations Simon finds himself in are slightly off and unexpected, altered in some way. And as he gets
closer to his lost memories, it has huge repercussions for everyone involved."
Simon's lost memories are equally important to Franck, the sophisticated art thief who is aghast
that his carefully-plotted, high-end art heist has taken a strange turn into amnesia and the secrets of the
human mind. Vincent Cassel, the French actor who has been seen in some of that country's most
acclaimed films over the last 20 years including LA HAINE and MESRINE, plays Franck. He was also
recently seen in Darren Aronofsky's dark psychosexual thriller BLACK SWAN -- and he says that the
script for TRANCE seduced him with its twists and turns.
"What I liked about the film is that it starts as something normal but by the 25th page it
becomes something else entirely. It's a genre bender. It really messes with you," says Cassel. "It's not
quite clear who's good or who's bad. At first, you might think one thing and then it becomes something
else and then, by the end, it's something else entirely. Characters evolve. You get caught when you
judge somebody. Suddenly you realize that it's not exactly what you thought it was."
Boyle was thrilled to have an actor of Cassel's intensity take one side of the film's twisting
triangle. "The guy's as good an actor as you'll ever find on this planet," says Boyle. "You also have to
remember that, although he speaks very good English, the dialogue is obviously not in his own
language, but you see beyond that when you watch him act. It's rare to come across an actor like that."
Cassel was equally intrigued by Boyle's skills. "His directing is always very visual and
original and even baroque. But it's never just for style. He always has a meaning. The frame might be
different and modern, but it always tells a story," he observes.
In the bones of the story lies a 180-degree turn for Franck, which screenwriter John Hodge
notes is key to the character. "On the surface, Franck is a fairly straightforward gangster, but I think he
is slowly revealed as rather more human than that -- possibly even a character with whom I think we
might sympathize," he says. "Through the story, he discovers something about himself, which is that
there's more to him than the gangster he'd written himself off as."
With Franck and his gang (Danny Sapani, Matt Cross, Wahab Sheikh), Boyle and Hodge
wanted to steer the characters away from popular perception of modern London gangsters.
"There's a lot of territory out there that's already been covered," says Boyle. "We wanted to
move away from that, so one of the first premises of the casting was to try and break that pattern.
And one of the ways that we did it is to cast a guy who was very refreshing. If he was in a French film, I think Cassel would be too familiar as a gangster. But of course in our context, it was
The final and most alluring leg of the triangle belongs to the coolly charismatic hypnotist
Elizabeth Lamb, who as played by actress Rosario Dawson becomes a very modern re-model of the
classic femme fatale. At first she seems like she might be just an eye-catching, over-confident pawn in
an all-male game, but Elizabeth's true power begins to emerge as the story unravels.
As the star of SIN CITY, SEVEN POUNDS and HE GOT GAME, Dawson has worked with
many of the world's leading directors, from Spike Lee to Quentin Tarantino, Chris Columbus and the
late Tony Scott -- but this role broke every mold she could imagine.
"I've never played anyone even remotely like her," says Dawson of Elizabeth Lamb.
"Elizabeth is totally different because she's hiding everything. You only get hints of her emotion
through her doing things with her hair to show her restraint but when she lets her hair down, she really
lets her hair down. Then, you get to see a different side of her. It's subtle; it's completely unspoken.
And she's a wonderful presence to have between these two guys."
One of the most intriguing aspects of TRANCE for Boyle was the chance to present a woman
as an equal player in a crime thriller. "You make all these films and you have great women in them, but
they're basically about guys - Ewan McGregor, Cillian Murphy, Dev Patel, James Franco or Leonardo
DiCaprio. So what I love about TRANCE is there's a woman most definitely right in the thick of it,
holding her own."
He knew he needed an actress capable of evoking Elizabeth's underlying strength. "I'd always
had Rosario in mind for the role," he says. "I'd always wanted to work with her. She won't thank me
for saying this, but everything I've seen her in, I don't think people have used her fully; I don't think
her talent as an actor has been fully exploited. We wanted someone who had a real commanding
presence: an ability with words and an independence -- a stand-alone quality."
Dawson researched her character's profession by attending hypnosis classes and poring through
books on hypnotherapy and psychology. "I met with a couple of hypnotherapists. I even got
hypnotized," she explains. "I noticed that every single person in the profession that I met exuded this
confidence. They give off this feeling of 'I know the secrets to your brain, and you don't understand
how you think or why you behave that way but I do and I can help you.' So that was really interesting
and it wasn't an accident I played her that way."
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