The Girl, The Stranger and The Keeper
Once Joe Doucett is released, two people become central to his quest for
closure: a young woman who evolves into his only real confidante in this strange
new world; and an enigmatic stranger who might hold the clues to the truth
behind his cruel confinement.
Taking the role of Marie Sebastian -- which takes off in a different
direction from the leading female role of the Park Chan Wook film, yet still
with a gut-wrenching twist -- is Elizabeth Olsen, who has garnered attention for
a string of breakout dramatic roles in the last three years, including her
award-winning turn as an escaping cult member in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Marie is working as a volunteer nurse at a mobile medical unit when she first
encounters Joe Doucett, shortly after his release. "Marie brings to Joe Doucett
a reconnection to the human world, and to his own basic humanity," says
screenwriter Mark Protosevich. "Liz came to the role with some very exciting
ideas about Marie being a very strong young woman who is also very much a part
of modern American society."
Despite the risks of the role, Olsen was swept up by the screenplay. "I had
never seen a script that played so much with a heightened reality," she
comments. "Oldboy's story has so much momentum and is so specifically bizarre -
yet you believe everything, you're totally in it."
She also says she could understand right away why Marie is initially drawn to
Joe, despite his bizarre behavior and even more bizarre story of persecution.
"Marie has an instinctual desire to take care of people, partly because of her
own self neglect," she says. "And there is a mystery to who this creature is,
and what could have happened to make him so off."
Yet the more she discovers about Joe, the more the mystery deepens. Olsen
says one of the thrills was working so closely with Brolin as he took on this
man so unhinged by lingering questions. "Josh and I get along great but when he
was Joe, he would suddenly become a lot more fragile and instinctual without any
type of societal boundaries. It was really exciting for me, as Marie, to
constantly be reactive to that. Then, at a certain point, Marie stops being so
reactive and starts getting tougher with him, which was equally interesting,"
Brolin, in turn, was highly impressed with Olsen. "What Lizzie brought was
amazing," he says. "I mean she makes every word she says believable. She just
has this intrinsic talent that is really fun to watch in action."
As Marie gets to know Joe, both are increasingly aware of the unknown,
unsettling stranger who keeps calling Joe on the phone. Taking the key but
veiled role of Adrian is Sharlto Copley, the South African actor who garnered
worldwide notice with his debut in the sci-fi hit District 9 and was most
recently seen in Elysium with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. "I was introduced,
like a lot of people in this world, to Sharlto with his great performance in
District 9," explains Spike Lee, "and he's a wonderful actor."
Copley says coyly of his character: "He is Joe's nemesis and you hear him
before you ever get to see him. Interestingly enough, when Joe comes face to
face with Adrian, he doesn't even recognize him, which is another fascinating
plot twist. I love that Oldboy combines this very strong theme of revenge with
these clever twists. The end is so powerful that you don't want to reveal it and
spoil the movie."
He was especially exhilarated to have the chance to work with Lee. "I think
Spike is a real artist," he says. "While making this film you never felt like
you were working on something that is a remake because he brings his own
parameters. As a director, he allowed spontaneous moments to happen on camera
within the structure of this very powerful revenge tale. He hones in on moments
that he likes, but if he trusts you and feels that you're going the right way he
will let you do your thing, which from an acting point of view is fantastic."
Also joining the main cast is Michael Imperioli (The Sopranos) as Joe's loyal
friend, the local bar-owner Chucky; and French newcomer Pom Klementieff as Haeng-Bok,
the woman whose unusual umbrella snaps Joe into the realization that he is
actually back in the real world.
Imperioli, who has worked multiple times with Spike Lee, was intrigued by his
angle on the story. "It's a very stylized story with a certain artifice about
it, but Spike really brings out the character-driven realism by infusing it with
all these subtle details, humor and life moments," the actor observes.
Klementieff was compelled by a role that serves as a kind of bookend to Joe
Doucett's imprisonment. "I'm the last person Joe sees before being kidnapped,
and then the first person he sees when he's released," she muses.
But she too could not resist jumping into the deep, dark abyss of questions
that Oldboy raises. She concludes: "It's like a punch in your face when you see
a movie like Oldboy that brings up these questions of morality and forces you to
ask what is good and what is bad, and if something this horrible happened to me,
how would I react?"
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