Why Actors Love Ambiguities
When HWY 61 began to circulate the project, the response from actors was very
positive. The first to read the script and say "yes" were Liam Neeson (Taken,
Schindler's List) and Olivia Wilde (Rush, TRON: Legacy). Eventually, the stellar
ensemble cast grew to include Adrien Brody (The Pianist), James Franco (127
Hours, Spiderman), Mila Kunis (Ted, Black Swan), Maria Bello (A History of
Violence), Kim Basinger (LA Confidential), Moran Atias (Tyrant) and French
supermodel turned actress, Loan Chabanol.
Liam Neeson plays the central figure of Michael, a celebrated author
struggling to finish his latest novel while emotional turmoil-partly of his own
making-swirls around him. Neeson recalls: "I did a cameo for Paul Haggis in The
Next Three Days, and we struck up a relationship. He sent me the script for
THIRD PERSON and I thought it was very unusual, beautifully written with some
twists and turns and surprises so I was very attracted to it. I normally have my
defenses up when I'm working with a writer who's a director too, but Paul seems
to have broken that mold. Paul likes you to preserve his script, say the words
that he has written, but once you've done that, then he's free with you and
whatever fits in at the time he's happy for you to go for it".
"The drama develops into a thriller and a mystery where the three stories
begin to intertwine," says Olivia Wilde, who plays Michael's ambitious,
bewitching but conflicted lover Anna. "I found myself empathizing with everyone,
because everyone's damaged here-men, women and children, but they're all
ultimately driven by love. I found the parallels between their struggles really
complex and interesting."
Adrien Brody, who stars as Scott, a shady American businessman at loose ends
in Rome, agrees. "I strive to find material that is unusual and speaks to me,
and that's either something with powerful social relevance or something that is
a learning process for me as a human being, not just as an actor, and that I can
share. There's a degree of that in this piece-the processing of emotions and the
need to overcome certain things that prevent us from moving forward and being
present. Tragedy befalls many people's lives and you have
to surmount that, or it destroys any possibility of the future. All the
characters in this film are really flawed human beings. I think film should
celebrate flaws rather than create perfect people, because people are imperfect.
It's way more interesting to observe imperfections and people's ability to get
past those imperfections. That's more inspirational than overly heroic
Brody's character is swept up in the allure of the beautiful but perhaps
predatory Monika, played by Moran Atias. "Monika's a gypsy, an immigrant from
Albania trying to scrape together a living on the fringes of a world where
people like her are considered to be less than dirt-all con artists and
criminals" says Atias. "Scott sees in her everything he is not-she's vital,
dynamic, fearless, street-smart and proud." But Scott is not simply a hapless
victim. "Paul Haggis and I started talking about how difficult it is to trust
about four years ago, and also how difficult it is to get a second chance and
how we never understand the other person in our life. The story portrays so many
of our flaws and so many of our contradictions, which is what life is about."
The overarching theme of transcending human imperfection was compelling for
James Franco, as well. Franco plays Rick, a renowned New York painter embroiled
in a custody battle with his ex-wife Julia, played by Mila Kunis. "Paul writes
very intricate characters," says Franco. "I remember years ago he once told me
that he likes to make himself the villain. He likes to put himself into his
characters, but the darker sides of himself. Rick is a character who feels
justified in keeping his ex-wife away from him and away from their child. But,
in other ways he's maybe doing the child harm; Rick isn't the most equipped
person to be a father, because he's consumed by his work. I think that's Paul's
way of exploring this dilemma a lot of creative people have about balancing work
and family. In this story, the young boy suffers because Rick's not ready to be
a father. He is too ambitious and too consumed by his work."
As Mila Kunis says of her character Julia's highly ambivalent presentation of
self: "If a person has to make a right or a left turn, she always makes the
wrong choice, but it's not on purpose so you can't blame her for it." (Or can
you?) "Maybe she just has the world's worst luck, or maybe not. She seems to be
constantly put in situations where she's just being attacked or accused of not
being good enough."
Kunis continues: "When I read the script I fell in love with it-it made me
cry. I think all of them are such heart-breaking characters. There are those
movies that come along that they make you realize why you love doing what you
do, and working with Paul Haggis made me fall in love with my job again."
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