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Portraying Noah
When the filmmakers began talking about who could carry the story of "Noah," one name quickly came to the forefront: Russell Crowe. An Academy Award winner for "Gladiator," Crowe is often sought after to bring an earthy humanity to towering characters. But playing Noah would be an extreme undertaking even by his standards - in part because Noah has never before been seen on screen as a real, layered, imperfect man chosen by God to stand up under the most enormous burden in human history: to assure the survival of all living things.

Says Aronofsky: "Russell intrigued us because he is always authentic, and so very, very believable. No matter what, you never question if Russell believes in what he's saying. And of course the possibility of working with someone with that much talent, that much power, was very exciting for me -- just to see what we could create together."

Ari Handel was gratified to have an actor who could step right into the outsized contours of the role. "We really needed someone in the great tradition of biblical epics who has that gravitas," he says. "Russell is someone you believe could follow through on the most Herculean, impossible task without complaint. You never doubt his capability or his strength, but in his eyes, you see an underlying compassion."

To help recruit him, Aronofsky made Crowe a promise: he would never be shot in the hoary cliche with a pair of giraffes behind his head. But once he began his research, Crowe found that trying to get inside Noah from a modern perspective was endlessly fascinating. "You start with all these preconceived notions about Noah, but when you start to break down what the world might have been like in his time, it's very intriguing," he says.

The biggest challenge for Crowe was coming to terms with how an ordinary man would grapple emotionally and morally with such an urgent but still hazy call to action from the Creator. "Noah only starts to understand the task he faces as a sort of deduction because he's not getting a lot of direct input," Crowe explains. "What he understands is that he needs to look after all the animals, but he doesn't have any information at all about how he is to address the human question, so a lot is left for him to figure out. One of the cool things about him is that I don't think he finds there's any honor in this job. In fact, he sees it as the worst job he could possibly get from the Creator. But he will do everything in his power to finish it."

Working with Aronofsky was a major lure for Crowe throughout. "I felt that we never finished a day without something really cool being captured," says the actor. "He's intense because he wants to get a lot done, but that's great because you know he's always looking for something. And here's the other thing: he never stops directing. Even in the longest, coldest, toughest night, he never stops talking about that thing that you're pushing towards, which I suppose explains exactly why he makes the type of movies that he does. He's always taking people into places and experiences that are not average or typical. And hopefully that's what this movie does as well."

Playing alongside Crowe as Noah's wife is Jennifer Connelly, an Academy Award winner for "A Beautiful Mind," in which she starred with Crowe. Connelly also garnered accolades for her work with Aronofsky on "Requiem For a Dream."

Noah's wife is not named in the Bible, but Aronofsky and Handel wanted to explore her experience more deeply in the film and gave her the name attributed to her in Jewish scholarship, "Naameh." We don't really know from Genesis what Noah's wife does or thinks, but it was important to us that she be an important part of events", says Handel. "We wrote her as a woman trying to hold her family together, even while they're under the tremendous strain of what they need to do in the world. Jennifer gave Naameh a moral strength - even as she is helping Noah follow his call, she is focused on what is right, and on whether we as humans deserve mercy or not."

Connelly says she was thrilled to reunite with Aronofsky. "It was amazing for me to see him at the helm of a film of such epic proportions, and one that is such a very different endeavor than the film that we did before," she says. "This is a story Darren's been passionate about telling for a very long time, so it was exciting for me to watch him bringing it to life. As a filmmaker he's very visually innovative and striking, but at the same time he's so very focused on performance and so sensitive to the way actors work."

With so little to go on to inhabit Naameh, Connelly conducted as much personal research as she could into the mystery-shrouded lives of women in early history, looking to create an authentic experience. "Genesis doesn't say much about my character but Darren wrote her as a loyal wife and a devoted mother who is both emotionally very strong and also virtuous. I was really curious about what her contribution to the household would have been, so I explored what archaeologists had to say, what the Bible had to say, and by incorporating all of that, she became more industrious. Emotionally and physically, she's a very capable woman."

She also found inspiration in Proverbs 31, which speaks of a virtuous wife whose "worth is far above rubies," and who "girds herself with strength" yet "reaches out her hands to the needy." Connelly comments, "I think Naameh really embodies all that Proverbs 31 talks about - not only in the way she supports Noah, but also in her strength, industriousness, wisdom and modesty. I think she's a very striking character in that way."

For Crowe, reuniting with Connelly brought an organic depth to the vital husband-wife link between Noah and Naameh. "I didn't realize just how detailed and complex my relationship with Jennifer would be because of what we'd experienced before," he says. "We hadn't seen each other much since we did 'Beautiful Mind' together, but something about that earlier experience gave us a higher starting point to find a deep connection."

Aronofsky was gratified that Connelly put so much thought and consideration into Naameh's experience. "Jennifer was one of the best choices I made on the film because she really was able to expand her character and make the whole story richer," he says.

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