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SIGNS

Casting The Film
To best tell the story of this family and the intense experience they live through as a group and individually, the cast required exceptional chemistry with each other and commitment to the story. Shyamalan says he felt "really lucky" to find actors who were truly dedicated to challenging themselves. "Actors have to believe in the screenplay," he notes. "That sounds silly, but people can be doing it for a paycheck or whatever it is, but not necessarily because they believe in the storytelling and the story that's being told. And until I see that look in the actor's eyes like, I got this. I would do this for nothing, I can't give them the part."

That level of interest was no problem for Mel Gibson, who was drawn to the complexity of the script. "It's not something that you come to the realization of straight away because it's constructed very nicely," he says. "There is a lot of mystery involved, and that of course makes you want to look further. It keeps you in long enough, until pieces start to come together and you start to understand the characters in stages, which is great, because in real life you normally learn about people in bits and pieces. There was something very real about it. And it was the kind of project I hadn't done before."

"I think actors are very attracted to the kinds of roles that Night writes," says executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. "He offers a challenge that they may not have encountered before."

"I think it's the kind of part that all actors are looking for," adds producer Frank Marshall. "It has a tremendous arc – a character who loses his faith and gets it back. And it gives audiences a chance to see yet another side of Mel Gibson, who's already shown his comedic side, his action side, his dramatic side."

"You get the sense from Mel Gibson that he is the kind of guy who can do anything," adds producer Sam Mercer. The role of Graham Hess, a man with much strength as well as vulnerability, calls upon many of his qualities for which Gibson has become known, yet also reveals newer sides to him as an actor. And although he is one of the world's biggest movie stars, Gibson brings a very likeable "everyman" quality to the part, says Mercer, which is important in Shyamalan's characters: "Mel sucks you in. You want to like him and go along on a journey with him."

"It's a film about spirituality and belief and faith," says Gibson. "Graham is an Episcopalian minister who seems very insistent and stubbornly opposed to the idea of anyone calling him Father. And you soon realize that he is someone who has serious doubts. He has been shut down by a devastating life experience. It's not clear at the beginning of the film what has happened, but you sense it from his behavior and you find out the exact nature of his wounds as the story unfolds."

The bizarre appearance of the crop circles on the farm would be unnerving for anyone, Gibson continues, "but the situation already has its own built-in tensions for reasons we don't understand until later."

Joaquin Phoenix met with Night Shyamalan in a restaurant in New York about the role of Graham's younger brother Merrill: "I asked him what the film was called, and he said ‘Signs.' And he described it at first how it is the appearance of crop circles on the family farm. And then as I read the script, the metaphor became clear to me. That's kind of Night's expertise in a way . . . he brings you these authentic characters and yet they have these amazing epiphanies about themselves and the world but it's something with which everyone can identify."

Merrill Hess, who lives with his brother and niece and nephew, is also harboring his own melancholy, much of which seems to stem from hi

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