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About the Production
Legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott and Pulitzer Prize winning author Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men) have joined forces in the motion picture thriller THE COUNSELOR, starring Michael Fassbender, Penelope Cruz, Cameron Diaz, Javier Bardem, and Brad Pitt. McCarthy, making his screenwriting debut and Scott interweave the author's characteristic wit and dark humor with a nightmarish scenario, in which a respected lawyer's one-time dalliance with an illegal business deal spirals out of control.

Told with wit, and ultimately violence and pathos, THE COUNSELOR is a cautionary tale about mistakenly tempting fate. It is, says Cormac McCarthy "about people who get involved in something they should have stayed out of."

Once dubbed the "Shakespeare of the West," McCarthy's unforgettable characters have captivated the imaginations of millions of readers. While several of his novels -- including No Country for Old Men, The Road, All The Pretty Horses -- have been turned into films, McCarthy surprised everyone when he turned in the screenplay for THE COUNSELOR. Its characters are remarkable, the circumstances disquieting, and McCarthy's wit and humor make the nightmare scenarios even darker.

McCarthy sold the script to producers Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz, the producing trio behind the adaptation of The Road. Shortly thereafter, Ridley Scott read the screenplay and wanted to make it his next film.

Scott began assembling his team of regular collaborators, including director of photography Dariusz Wolski (Pirates Of The Caribbean, Alice In Wonderland), reteaming with Scott following Prometheus, BAFTA-award winning production designer Arthur Max (Prometheus, Se7en, Gladiator), and Oscar winning costume designer Janty Yates (Prometheus, Gladiator). THE COUNSELOR is Max's ninth collaboration with Scott, and Yates' eighth time working with the acclaimed filmmaker. Two-time Oscar winning editor Pietro Scalia, A.C.E (Prometheus, JFK) teams with Scott for the seventh time. Mark Huffam (Prometheus, Mamma Mia!) and Michael Costigan (Robin Hood, Body of Lies) serve as the film's executive producers, along with McCarthy and Scott Free president Michael Schaefer.

It all began with a morning cup of coffee.

Cormac McCarthy was in the midst of writing two novels, when he arose one day and thought he needed to take a break. But he wasn't thinking about a vacation; in fact, far from it.

He decided to write a screenplay.

Upon completing the first draft script, he sent it to producers Nick Wechsler, Steve Schwartz and Paula Mae Schwartz -- who had produced the film The Road, based on McCarthy's acclaimed novel. "We were all fans of Cormac's writing, and thought THE COUNSELOR was pure Cormac: mesmerizing, powerful and unsettling," says Wechsler.

Indeed, THE COUNSELOR brings the same kind of power and narrative drive that characterize McCarthy's novels. "Some folks have called this film, No Country for Old Men on steroids," says producer Steve Schwartz. "I think there is some truth to that. All the classic Cormac themes are in THE COUNSELOR: a view that humanity is not intrinsically good...but people always have choices, and we often make the wrong choices. Choices have consequences, and you sometimes live and die with them. Thus, it's a cautionary tale."

After the producers learned that that legendary filmmaker Ridley Scott was interested in the material, they set up a meeting between Scott and the author/screenwriter. McCarthy remembers, "We chatted about the screenplay and shook hands. One day you're at home drinking coffee, and a few months later you're in Spain [where much of THE COUNSELOR was shot] with over 200 crew and actors."

The meeting between the two artists seemed almost fated. Scott had long admired McCarthy's work -- he had read Blood Meridian, All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, and The Road -- and he calls the author "the Great American Novelist." Scott had a similar reaction to McCarthy's screenplay for THE COUNSELOR. "It reads like an exceptional short story or novella; it's an emotional rollercoaster ride," says Scott. "The script had situations and characters that were epic and an inevitability that something awful was going to happen to them -- and that there was nothing they could do to stop it."

Intermingled with the titular character's inexorable path to disaster, is Cormac McCarthy-esque dark humor. "I think there's humor in everything," says Scott. "The characters are damaged goods; they're attractive but they've all ducked and dived in their professions," and that leads to unexpected moments of humor. Adds Steve Schwartz: "These characters could only have come from Cormac. And while they vary in the extent and color of their flaws, they are always fun to watch."

Producer Paula Mae Schwartz notes that, "Cormac's novels are known to have colorful dialogue. This talent is even more powerful on film, where we see and hear the characters driving the story forward through a wide range of emotions -- from unspeakable violence to laugh-out-loud humor."

With Scott directing McCarthy's original screenplay, THE COUNSELOR garnered significant industry attention, and the filmmakers began to assemble a dream cast. "It's a great group of actors playing enticing characters you haven't seen before on screen," says Wechsler.

Michael Fassbender's The Counselor -- his given name is not revealed -- is a lawyer who is tempted to enter a murky and dangerous world to make some quick cash. He soon learns that a single bad decision can have shocking and irreversible consequences. Although he receives many warnings about the potential dangers of getting involved in this deal, The Counselor's arrogance won't let him stop.

McCarthy describes The Counselor as a classical figure in tragedy. "He's a decent man who gets up one morning and decides to do something wrong. And that's all it takes. Some people can live hideous lives, do everything wrong, and die peacefully in their beds at age 102. The Counselor is not one of them."

Fassbender was Scott's sole choice for the role of The Counselor. Fassbender has shown himself to be as diverse an actor as he is authentic, from his breakthrough role in Hunger to more recent roles in X-Men: First Class, Shame and Scott's 2012 blockbuster Prometheus. Fearless, cool, and charming, Fassbender can do it all -- and he embraced the opportunity to reunite with Scott and bring to life McCarthy's protagonist.

"It was so well written, sophisticated and balanced, and while there's a lot of information there, Cormac had left enough space for an actor to fill it in," says Fassbender. "It was just a masterful piece of work."

He adds: "And I just love working with Ridley. It's like a master class every day."

Perhaps The Counselor's greatest failing is his hubris. "He thinks he's smarter than he is," says Fassbender. "He is given enough opportunity to get out of the deal, yet he repeatedly says he's all right, and he is obviously not all right. There's a blind arrogance that drives him forward."

The Counselor finds himself way out of his depth when an unplanned series of events lead to tragic consequences for both him and his fiancee, Laura (Penelope Cruz).

If there's an innocent in this story, then it is Laura, a beautiful woman with whom The Counselor, says Fassbender, "has fallen profoundly in love."

Cruz and Fassbender's first scene together, which opens the film, conveys the depth of their feelings for one another, through an intimacy rarely depicted on screen. "There is spectacular heat in the characters' relationship, and we experience that right away in that opening scene," says Scott. "It's the kind of intimacy that goes from zero to sixty in no time at all."

Adds McCarthy: "I don't know when was the last time I saw a film where two people I love, made love. It's apparently a thing of the past. So I thought I would try and bring that back. The opening scene is graphic, and the two characters speak like adults."

A less sexually-charged, though equally powerful scene between the two characters plays out in an emotional dinner, during which The Counselor proposes marriage to Laura. "I wanted that to be touching and real, and depict how much they need each other," says Scott.

But their joyous engagement is marred by the dangerous world of which The Counselor has become a part. Laura is beautiful and naïve; she sees the best in everybody. Her intelligence and foresight -- and her love for The Counselor -- are no match for his descent into the rabbit hole, and they both face tragic consequences if the deal he has made with unseen, powerful forces, goes south.

"Laura is what he prizes most," says McCarthy. "What happens to them is unspeakable."

Cruz's real-life husband, Javier Bardem plays Reiner, a larger-than-life nightclub owner who brings The Counselor into the shady deal. THE COUNSELOR marks Bardem's return to a world envisioned by McCarthy, whose celebrated novel No Country for Old Men became an equally hailed motion picture, in which Bardem turned in an Oscar winning performance as the assassin Anton Chigurh.

Reiner straddles two worlds: the extravagant and decadent realm of a nightclub owner, and the brutal, lawless and merciless criminal underworld that is rapidly closing in on The Counselor, and on Reiner. Reiner appears to possess special insight into The Counselor's increasingly dire circumstances, but he's just as much a potential victim of a life he little understands.

Bardem found McCarthy's script for THE COUNSELOR both intriguing and powerful, and relished being back in McCarthy terrain again. Says the actor: "It's rare to find material where lengthy scenes of dialogue can evoke such powerful images. I was immediately hooked. I knew that for an actor this dialogue was a gift."

"I used Cormac's words to create my character, and the phrase that Reiner repeats constantly is 'I don't know.' I wanted to have the look of somebody who's in the dark. I also explored the idea that Reiner chose to ignore information or knowledge that might get in the way of an easy life."

Strong female leads are a Scott hallmark and Cameron Diaz portrays one of the filmmaker's toughest and darkest characters ever. Diaz a rich history of comedic and dramatic work to her portrayal of Malkina, Reiner's malevolent girlfriend. She is a sociopath whose lack of empathy means she's capable of anything. Malkina's power stems from her relentless drive to take control and possess anything she believes she deserves. Whatever the consequences of her actions, she feels absolutely no remorse.

Diaz immediately responded to the script. "Malkina is a sociopath, and extremely smart. She is capable of anything. There is no humanity in Malkina. The two questions she's always asking herself are: how can I get what I deserve? What do I have coming to me? Nothing else, no one else, is of any concern to her. Malkina is so powerful because she understands the consequences of her actions more than any other character.

"The only thing she wants is more [of everything]," adds Diaz. "Malkina is compelled to take the power of every man, devour it, and then break down every woman."

"Malkina might remind you of Javier's role [as Chigurh] in No Country for Old Men," says McCarthy. "Neither character has a sense of humor; maybe that's the hallmark of a psychopath. She smiles a few times, but it's not a smile that will cheer you."

Diaz, who shares most of her scenes with Bardem, describes the characters' complicated relationship: "Malkina has found her sweet spot in Reiner. He is a man who will do anything for her, and of course, she had created that scenario. Inadvertently, he has allowed her to take control of his world, to insert herself amidst his business dealings and take what she believes she deserves. Worse still, she has a good time doing it. Ruining people's lives is a sport for her. It makes her feel alive. Reiner desperately wants to make her happy but she will never be happy. He will always keep trying, which means she can get whatever she wants, however she wants it and just give him enough to keep coming back."

"It's a unique relationship," Bardem elaborates. "Reiner has reached a point in his life where he believes he has control over everything, and everyone. And then he finds Malkina, who begins to take control over his life. And while that's exciting for Reiner, it also scares him."

Brad Pitt's character of Westray isn't malevolent like Malkina, though he certainly has a dark side. Westray is a philosophizing and shady middleman whose warnings to The Counselor about the dangers of a world he seeks to enter go unheeded. Handsome, charming and witty, Westray is an unapologetic womanizer, which threatens to lead to his demise.

"We don't know quite what Westray does, apart from the fact he's connection to the cartel with which The Counselor has made his deal," says Scott. But whatever his motives and allegiances, Westray is nothing if not stylish. "We dressed him like country music legend Hank Williams," with a cowboy jacket, padded shoulders, cowboy hat and boots, adds the director. "Westray is a bit of a dandy."

"Westray is a cool character, and Brad plays him with enormous amounts of clever, dark wit," adds Wechsler.

Reteaming with Ridley Scott, who launched his career in Thelma & Louise, brings unbridled charisma to a quirky and unforgettable character. The chance to reunite with Scott and work with a script from a writer he's long admired was irresistible. "I'm a Cormac McCarthy fan -- I mean, I've read every word the guy's published and most of the books more than once. So THE COUNSELOR was a chance to do something of his and also to work with Ridley again. Ridley gave me my first break into the big leagues."

THE COUNSELOR's supporting cast is no less exceptional, and includes Bruno Ganz, Rosie Perez, Dean Norris, Natalie Dormer, Goran Visnjic, and Ruben Blades.

Following two weeks of rehearsals at London's Shepperton Studios, THE COUNSELOR an eight-week shoot on location in the United Kingdom and Spain.

Production designer Arthur Max appreciated the density of McCarthy's prose, which paralleled not only Scott's style of direction, but also the director's vision. He says: "Cormac's definition of the place, and the way he brings it to life is precise and definite. The landscape is incredibly beautiful and seductive. There's cowboy garb and pickup trucks intermingled with Bentleys and Art Deco furniture. It's another take on a world everybody thought they knew."

Max and his team were challenged by the fact that THE COUNSELOR shot in London during the same summer that saw the busy capital city host the 2012 Olympic Games, as well as the Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

The production shot at more than 25 practical locations in East London and the Home Counties, which Max and his team turned into U.S. and Mexican locales.

A duplex apartment in Clerkenwell, a trendy, progressive neighborhood in East London served as The Counselor's El Paso, Texas condo. The decor reflects a sophisticated understanding of design, and of a person who indulges himself in collecting icons of culture with a great deal of care and consideration. The home is not especially typical of a Texan lawyer, but The Counselor is far from typical. Says Max: "We know he's a breakaway personality. The Counselor wants to shower the woman he loves with riches beyond avarice, and he even travels around the world to find the best diamond for her engagement ring. This is not a cliched world of greed and corruption. It's more idiosyncratic and credible."

Together with set decorator Sonja Klaus, Max worked off the premise that The Counselor was not just an ordinary lawyer who had accrued some serious debts. "I think there's something more basic to his personality leading to a need to indulge in a lifestyle that's completely beyond anything around him," says Max. "His environment needed to reflect a certain degree of sophistication and elegance and that his choices have been carefully made."

Skywood House, a piece of pure glass geometry complete with artificial lake and black swimming pool, tucked away in four acres of woodland about 40 minutes outside of London, served as Reiner's home. Reineris a man of wealth and taste, who would not, says Max, see his home as a "knotty pine paneled house with cows' heads and longhorns hanging on the way."

"Ridley's vision of the Southwest avoided the cliches of Western towns of the old frontier and the familiar touchstones we've seen many times before," Max continues. "Ridley reimagined the Southwest the way he thought it ought to have been. Cormac was a great arbiter of how far we could go with that and when we'd gone too far."

As The Counselor's world implodes, his environment becomes more alienating. Says Max: "When someone is surrounded by forces that are so great, so dark, and threatening, people disappear around you and the streets of most cities become like barren canyon landscapes. You don't see anybody and you're not aware of normal life round you. That's how we positioned The Counselor."

Filming began at Heathrow Airport, for a scene of Westray's arrival in London. Brad Pitt, magnificent in tailored suit and Stetson, drew a great deal of attention from the public, as did sightings of Fassbender and Pitt at the Sheraton Hotel, Heathrow.

The actors were next seen together in the Hoxton Bar and Grill, in fashionable East London, which doubled as a Texan bar for the scene in which Westray warns The Counselor of the downside of the deal.

Other sites in London that Max and his team transformed into Texan spaces included Ministry of Sound, the legendary nightclub in the city's Elephant & Castle, and McQueen, a restaurant bar inspired by the late Steve McQueen -- the 'King of Cool' -- in trendy Shoreditch. These locations doubled as Reiner's new nightclub, and Reiner's private club, where Reiner shares with The Counselor intimate details of his relationship with Malkina.

To capture the sun-ravaged borderland that straddles Texas and Mexico, the unit relocated to northern Spain, specifically to Bardenas, a Natural Park of wild beauty. The filmmakers were warned against shooting there, due to the frequent storms in the area. "However," says Max "Ridley has a fortuitous track record with weather so I ignored the warnings! The light there was just so breathtaking."

They were also warned off the location because of its proximity to the military base situated there, and the regular firing practice, which would interfere with the sound. But the sun shone on THE COUNSELOR and the production worked amicably with the Air Force, using its barbed wire fencing, electric barrier gates, floodlights and watchtowers to create part of the film's biggest set piece, the US/Mexican border crossing. The build was so convincing that the military base has applied to keep it standing as an additional controlled area for their use.

Also facing formidable challenges was costume designer Janty Yates, who savored the process of building character through costume. "It is wonderful to see an actor develop their character knowing how they will present themselves. Dressing our cast was like a gourmet meal for the costume department, and fortunately Ridley did not want us to underplay their looks, but to really go for it."

Michael Fassbender, as The Counselor, wears Armani in a look that is sharp and crisp, in suits or in casual wear. Says Yates: "Michael wears suits beautifully. He really knows how to work them." As The Counselor's world unravels, Yates says 'He wouldn't ever change his clothes he was too desperate to find his love to think about that so it was just a question of slowly destroying his look and crispness."

Dressing Javier Bardem, probably the most extreme of the characters in terms of garb, was great fun for the costume department. Wearing Versace for the majority of the scenes, including vintage Gianni Versace shirts from the designer's archives, Yates dressed Bardem in bold and bright flamboyant colors, matched with different sunglasses for each outfit. Yates used the questionable taste of billionaires holidaying in Saint-Tropez as her reference for the character.

Working closely with Cameron Diaz on her look for Malkina, Yates says: "Cameron knows every design house, everything about costume, and helped immensely in defining Malkina's look." Diaz is dressed entirely by Paula Thomas, Thomas Wylde, a design house launched in 2006, and now housed in 183 boutiques and stores around the world. Diaz fell in love with the clothes, both sophisticated and empowering, so much she joked she needed more scenes in order to be able to wear it all. Yates describes her look: "It's out there! It's slightly Goth, very sexy, fabulous and the way Cameron wears it completely gives it the 'wow factor."

Sharing a considerable amount of screen time with a pair of cheetahs, Diaz wore a cheetah tattoo on her back and explains the link: "It's the purity of the hunter in the cheetah she responds to and indeed loves. The tattoo symbolizes her adoration and admiration for the cheetah because she feels such a kinship she is literally assuming their skin -- the skin of the hunter because that's who she is."

Less exotic but no less impressive, Penelope Cruz's Laura wears Armani. Cruz wanted a business look that would also look soft and vulnerable. "Armani's cut is timeless, but superb," says Yates. "It gave Penelope a very elegant, yet efficient look, but was soft enough to work with her very beautiful and feminine look."

For Westray, Scott's inspiration was music legend Hank Williams' and western movie star Gene Autry's beautiful tailored cowboy suits of the 1950s and 60s with yokes, jetted pockets Stetsons, Navajo jewelry, and lizard and crocodile boots. "It was a lot of fun, and Brad loved it too. We worked with Armani, Versace and Louboutin to create his looks," explains Yates.

After production wrapped in October, the cast took time to reflect on the experience of making THE COUNSELOR, and specifically working with its esteemed director. Says Fassbender: "Ridley gives very clear, simple yet imaginative notes. He's very mischievous and very playful, so you have the freedom to collaborate." Adds Cameron Diaz: "Ridley is a masterful director. The confidence he has as a filmmaker, because he has so much experience and because he is such a visual genius, imbues us with confidence. And he is such a great collaborator. He is always asking questions, rather than telling you. He is so respectful of what you want and your participation in creating that character and this world. He provides a very clear route to where he wants you to go."


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