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DOM HEMINGWAY

You Can't Go Home Again
Surrounding Dom Hemingway once he's released from jail is a throng of equally colorful characters, both criminal and familial, who bring together some of today's most exciting actors including Oscar nominee Demian Bichir (A BETTER LIFE), rising star Emilia Clarke and emerging talents Jumayn Hunter, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Madalina Ghenea and Kerry Condon.

Shepard knew that casting was going to be half the battle in a story this full of unusually outsized people. "A lot of my directing is about 'this feels real' or 'that feels right.' Actors can smell when there are other good actors around, and no one wants to be blown off the screen. Jude came ready to win in this performance, so I think all the other actors thought, 'Well, I'd better do a good job!'" he says.

When Dom gets out of jail, he heads for the countryside . . . the countryside of France and the villa of the mysterious Mr. Fontaine, aka "Ivan Anatoli," the fabulously wealthy crime boss who was relishing his riches while Dom languished in jail. To play Fontaine, the filmmakers needed equal parts charm and menace, a mix Shepard found in an actor who has been making a rapid ascent in Hollywood. Born and raised in the barrios of Mexico City, Demian Bichir was recently nominated for an Academy Award for his lead role in Chris Weitz's immigrant drama A BETTER LIFE and is currently starring on FX's new television series "The Bridge."

"To get an actor of Demian's calibre for this part was fantastic," Shepard says. "He is not only an incredibly good actor, but he also has the charm of Mr. Fontaine. We went after him very aggressively."

Bichir was lured by the sheer fun of Mr. Fontaine -- and by Shepard. "Richard is so clever and so very intelligent," the actor says. "He wrote a magnificent script and a beautiful character in Dom. It's a script that gives actors the chance to go in so many directions, so it's a joy. And I had the best seat of the house to watch all these performances."

A very different kind of character comes in the form of Dom's daughter, Evelyn, who is decidedly not amused by her father's hijinx or his total absence from her life. Taking the role is one of today's most intriguing actresses, Emilia Clarke, who has been riding high on the success of her powerful performance as Khaleesi in HBO's major TV series "Game of Thrones."

Clarke fell in love with the script and, she admits, with Dom. "Despite all the abhorrent, horrific acts Dom commits throughout the film, I think you still believe that there's hope for him, that there's a light at the end of his tunnel," she says. "I think that as an audience you just keep waiting for that to happen, so you're invested in him from minute one. There are a lot of reasons why you shouldn't love him, but you just can't help it."

For Evelyn, however, Dom has a huge barrier to break down: her entirely logical lack of trust that he'll ever do the right thing. "She's a tough girl," Clarke says of Evelyn. "She's hardened by life and she's had to fend for herself. It's only when Dom loses everything that he decides to come knocking on her door and he has an awful lot to answer for. Her mum died while he was in prison and she was basically an orphan. He could have not taken the fall, and been a dad instead."

A big pleasure for Clarke was playing against Law. "He gave so much energy and was so engrossed in this glorious character he created," she muses. "He was utterly magnetic."

An accomplished singer as well, Clarke had a chance to use that skill for an evocative scene where Evelyn sings with her band, covering Fisherman's Blues by The Waterboys. "Emilia blew me away," says Shepard. "And then her singing voice. Wow. The girl can do anything."

Another unusual character comes in the form of Lestor, the youthful, new crime kingpin Dom is forced to beg for a job when he hits rock bottom. The role was won by Jumayn Hunter, a young British actor who riveted Shepard in his audition.

He recalls, "I originally wrote the part of Lestor for an older actor, someone in their forties, and Jude said, 'You know, we should think about casting this character's son. It'll be a more interesting dynamic if Dom has to beg for a job from someone significantly younger than him.' We started auditioning and Jumayn came in and was extraordinary, he's got an amazing quality. You just can't take your eyes off him."

Hunter was delighted to take the role. "Like a bolt of lightning, Dom lands right on Lestor's lap. How he deals with the situation is kind of colorful to say the least, but their history is not friendly. Lestor has nothing but contempt for Dom and everything he remembers about him," he says. "Dom's from an era where everything was done face to face. Lestor's from the 21st century, where everything's done electronically. When these two get in each other's personal space, a clash of eras comes into effect."

Like his cast mates, Hunter was awed by Dom. "Anything that comes out of Dom Hemingway's mouth is either gold for the mind or destruction for the soul, and you get them both at the same time so it's quite fun," Hunter says. "He speaks not only his mind, but the subconscious, that's how I'd describe it. He's got the social skills of a shotgun."

Dom has another fateful run-in with an American party girl in the South of France, whose life he saves, for better or for worse. The buoyant Melody is played by Irish actress Kerry Condon, who enjoyed having a different take on Dom. "My character sees the good in him," she notes. "She's someone who sees the good in the whole world. She doesn't see Dom as this pathetic guy still partying in his 40s. She just sees that there's a sweetness and vulnerability to him."

Romanian model and budding actress Madalina Ghenea takes the key role of the film's sultry femme fatale Paolina, Mr. Fontaine's mistress and Dom's fateful nemesis. "Being a femme fatale is not easy," Ghenea admits. "Yet, somehow I fell in love with her. And I'm sure the audience will fall in love with Dom. Somehow you fall in love with him, even though he's Dom!"

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