Once Windtalkers' pre-production was underway, casting became the next
important step. Years earlier while filming Face/Off, Woo had enjoyed a
very cohesive working relationship with actor Nicolas Cage (a Best Actor OscarĀ®-winner
for Leaving Las Vegas, another MGM film). He immediately thought of him
for Windtalkers' lead role. Cage became the first actor to jump on board,
eagerly embracing the chance to work again with the famed director. "John
is the ultimate auteur," says Cage. "His vision is a world I want to
work in. He's very trusting and collaborative with actors. I also believe he
likes to work in extremes - his vision is extreme and so is mine."
These similar sensibilities worked well in fleshing out the character of Joe
Enders, a war-weary Marine who's been dehumanized by his experiences in battle.
"Enders is shell-shocked, suffering from post-traumatic stress
disorder," says Cage. "He's been through horrible experiences in the
war and he's lost his innocence. He's probably the most unhappy character I've
"The role of Enders is incredibly complicated," says Graham.
"He's a good Marine who's willing to follow orders, which is why he's
chosen for the code talker assignment. But it's also precisely because he
follows orders that he lost so many men in a previous battle in the Solomon
Islands. He did what he was told and it led to a catastrophe he's still trying
to deal with, both emotionally and physically."
When the film opens, Enders is anxious to return to the front, despite having
been wounded in the same battle where his squad was killed - he took a blow to
his head that severely damaged one of his ears. Rita, a nurse at the hospital
who's been tending to his wounds, helps Enders fake a hearing test that will
allow him to get back to the war.
Enders' new assignment is hardly what he had envisioned, however. Because of
his unwavering ability to follow orders, Enders is chosen to serve as a guard
for a Navajo Indian who has been trained to transmit messages in a secret
military code based on the Navajo language. Cage says, "It's a double-edged
sword. We're required to protect the code talker, but also to protect the code.
Throughout the film, Enders wrestles the possibility of having to carry out his
Ben Yahzee is Enders' assigned charge. A new recruit who only recently left
the peaceful surroundings of the Navajo reservation, Yahzee exudes a sense of
balance and calm, spiritually guided by the teachings of his culture. Unlike
Enders, his spirit has yet to be polluted by war. Yahzee quickly learns,
however, how brutal war can be.
After an extensive search for a Navajo actor to play the part, the filmmakers
decided Adam Beach would be perfect, a Native American from Canada who embodied
many of Yahzee's characteristics. Chang had spotted Beach in the independent
film Smoke Signals and felt he had the power and talent to play opposite
"Casting Yahzee was difficult," Chang continues. "We needed an
actor to carry one of the two leading roles, and the best person for that role
was Adam. The Navajo Nation gave us its blessing to cast Adam, though he is
non-Navajo, as he is 100% Native American."
In discussing his character, Beach says, "Yahzee is an intelligent
Marine, but he learns in battle that he's not very good at killing people."
Yahzee seeks a friendship with Enders, but Enders isn't interested - he doesn't
want to complicate his mission.
Eventually, however, the stress of battle brings them together. "Through
Enders," Beach says, "Yahzee finds the strength to focus on his unit
and mission and not worry about what's in front of him. He also learns the power
of bonding with others."
He doesn't get through the exper
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