THE RAILWAY MAN
Firth had known a man who'd been on the Death Railway. "He was actually our
local Labor parliamentary candidate and it was often told how this is something
he carried with him and that he'd actually had some sort of experience of
reconciliation. It all connected."
"In an awful lot of screenwriting you get a generic hero of one sort or
another. There was nothing generic here - the character jumped off the page.
Eric felt completely unique to the story; his passion for railway timetables and
trains, his extraordinarily intense, soldierly qualities - loyalty and a
commitment to a sense of honor, all combined to make a very dynamic personality.
There's also this very dark side which has to do with the degree to which he'd
suffered. That was also very powerful to read. So you have a man who's
delightful, but there's a mystery to him."
Jeremy Irvine had actually read the book a few years before being sent the
screenplay and arrived at his first casting meeting with fifty pages of notes.
"This was a story with real integrity, real emotion and also something that
needed to be told because it's truly extraordinary - and I don't use that word
Did Irvine find it intimidating to find himself playing the young Firth?
"Suddenly I was working with one of the greatest actors of a generation. Colin
was so open about his process and so helpful and kind and understanding and
really did want us to work together so it was just wonderful. I could phone him
up and say 'do you think this will work?' and he'd say 'well I don't know, let's
play with it' and we'd workshop together and that's something that most 21
year-old actors only get to dream of, doing this sort of masterclass with an
actor like Colin."
For Teplitzky, the time the two spent together was the best kind of
rehearsal. "Because it's a split experience, where Colin has to deal with the
emotional consequences of what Jeremy physically and emotionally goes through,
there needed to be a trading of what those experiences mean for each of them."
Nicole Kidman read the script and responded immediately. "I'd never had the
chance to play a woman who gets to stand by her partner, her lover, her husband
through very difficult times. It's something I feel very strongly about and have
done in my own personal life. I do believe there's a way in which love can heal,
by just gently, slowly, encouraging someone to confront things, and I wanted to
do that on screen. That's the thread Patti and I share, obviously in very
different situations, but I connected to her."
"I've always believed that people fuse through pain. People don't fall in
love, or really find deep love when everything is good. When you really find it
is when you have to go through pain together. And if you choose to stay together
you really find something much deeper."
Firth and Kidman had both worked with Stellan Skarsgaard before. Teplitzky
remembers that "as soon as Stellan's name came up we all just fell in love with
the idea. It needed an actor who brought great weight, truthfulness and
believability to an enigmatic role. He anchors the film. He's sometimes the
narrator and he brings great warmth, helping Patti to understand why her husband
is shutting her out."
Hiroyuki Sanada was stunned when he read the script. "I had heard about the
Death Railway before but I didn't know any details. The Japanese education
system doesn't talk about this. When I started research I was shocked and
surprised and felt a kind of mission as a Japanese born actor, to tell this
story to the world and to the young generation, to re-examine history. I believe
learning language means learning culture. Mr. Nagase was a translator, so he had
a chance to find out what the rest of the world thought about Japanese
militarism. That's why he started trying to pray for the Prisoners of War. The
Asian workers and I felt the same mission. If we don't know what happened in the
past, how can we learn from it? That's why I wanted to join this film as an
actor and as a Japanese man."
Tanroh Ishida, who plays the young Nagase, feels that his generation will be
very surprised because they don't know about this story. "You're not taught it,"
he says. "You only find out about it if you choose to look." But Ishida was keen
to understand the pressures his character would have been under. "It's something
very hard for us to get hold of because it's new for us in our generation. The
belief was that the Emperor was the god and you had to give your life to him.
There was no 'you.' You're just part of the group or the nation. Especially for
Western society it's very hard to imagine, but that's how it was back then."
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