Scientists and Saints
Cahill tailored the role of Dr. Ian Gray, professional skeptic and
passionate researcher, specifically for actor Michael Pitt. "Michael is an
actor I've admired for many years," says Cahill. "Meeting him, I was
immediately drawn to his energy and his intuitive emotional
intelligence. He is absolutely fearless as an actor and makes bold
choices, both in the films he chooses to do and in his performances. As
an artist, Michael is the real deal."
Casting a character who appears in every scene of a film, as Ian
does, is never a simple task, notes Orlovsky. "We knew I ORIGINS would be
defined to a great
extent by the casting choice for Ian," he says. "The truth is, there are very
few actors who are
capable of carrying a film, and fewer still who make original, unexpected
choices in the moment
that elevate a character in surprising and thrilling ways. Michael is one of
them. He brings a true
independence of spirit and charisma to Ian that is very much his own."
For his part, Pitt was immediately intrigued by Cahill's pitch. "I just
couldn't get the idea
out of my head," the actor says. "Mike gave me the treatment and we started
emailing back and
forth furiously. He put the script together in two or three weeks. From the
beginning, Mike had
very clear ideas about where he wanted to go."
Perhaps best known for his role as Jimmy Darmody on the HBO series "Boardwalk
Empire," Pitt has been acting professionally since the age of 16, and has built
a reputation for his
versatility and range. Still, he says, "I haven't played a character like this
before. Ian is pretty
straight-laced, whereas I usually play roles that lean toward off-beat. I like a
good amount of time
for preparation, especially with something like this, since I don't have much of
background. Mike's brother is a scientist and he set up some time for Brit
Marling and me to
meet some people at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore. We talked to
researchers and they let us participate in some of the experiments. It was a
Ian's hope is that his research into the evolution of the eye will impact the
between science and spirituality. "I know it's very common for people to draw a
line between the
two, but I don't think that line has to be there," says Pitt. "There is a place
in the middle where
they can meet. I hope that audiences will question their views after seeing
this. When it was
screened at Sundance, it really got people talking, which was pretty exciting."
For the role of Sofi, the filmmakers launched an international search. "The
role was wide
open from the beginning," says Orlovsky. "Casting was complicated by two things:
looking for somebody exotic and not American, and we thought it would be great
if, on top of
being a fantastic actress, she also had a unique and unforgettable pair of
Michael Pitt told Cahill about a young woman he'd met in
Paris with extraordinary eyes and suggested that they try to track her
down. She turned out to be Spanish actress Astrid Berges-Frisbey,
who received the Chopard Trophy for Female Revelation of the Year
spotlighting emerging talent at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.
"Sofi represents the unknown, all the things that Ian can't
explain, which are the things that are both the most beautiful and the
most frustrating for him," says Pitt. "Working with Astrid had to be
primal and instinctual. The way they look at each other tells you more than what
While Cahill had never heard of Berges-Frisbey before casting this film, once
he met her
there was never a doubt that he had found his Sofi.
"Astrid's name came up during the casting process," he recalls. "Sexo de Los
(The Sex of Angels) was playing right next to our office in New York, so I went
to see it. I was
completely taken by her. She is so compelling on screen. Sofi's presence has to
echo through all
of the scenes that she is not in and Astrid has that quality. When she leaves a
room, you can still
feel her with you."
The actress also possesses an unusual characteristic that Cahill had already
into the character. Sofi and Berges-Frisbey both have sectoral heterochromia, a
mutation that creates irises of multiple colors. "What you see in the film are
Astrid's real eyes,"
Cahill says. "The inner part is brown, the outer part is this greenish grey-blue
and they have
specks and spots of different colors. I wrote the character to have that
quality. When I saw
Astrid's eyes, I knew it was meant to be."
Berges-Frisbey, who had been looking forward to taking a long-anticipated
making films when she received Cahill's script, considered passing without even
reading it. "But
once I started, I couldn't stop," she says. "I was so moved by the story, the
intensity and the
complexity of it. One of the most interesting elements to me was the idea that
you can have two
great love stories in your life and they can be completely different, but
Cahill and Berges-Frisbey made an immediate connection during their initial
Skype. "We spent two hours talking about science and life and spirituality,"
says the actress.
"Mike has a very special energy. He is so passionate about what he does that you
fall in love with
him. He is actually very knowledgeable about science and can talk about it for
hours. But at the
same time, he's a very spiritual person. The movie is a lot like him in that
it's about the
connections between the two ways of looking at the world."
The actress arrived in New York just 10 days before shooting began and was
an intense rehearsal period. "I was so anxious because I had not spoken English
for two years,"
she says. "It was a very small amount of time to prepare. We worked a lot,
the dialogue and making the scenes even more real and more intense."
Despite the pressures of the shoot, Berges-Frisbey says she is extremely
grateful for the
experience. "I have no words to express it. Mike Cahill likes to improvise a lot
and to be able to
do that, I had to trust the other actors and feel comfortable with my director.
Michael Pitt is such
a hard worker. I have never worked with an actor that gave so much."
The other love in Ian's life is Karen, played by Brit Marling, who is his
research partner and eventually his wife. "Sofi and Karen are opposite
sides of the same coin," says Cahill. "Sofi believes in things that sound
very 'New Age-y' from Ian's perspective. But he is attracted to her
because she has a deep embedded intelligence within the context of her
spirituality. She may not have read the same books Ian has, but her
understanding of the world has validity."
Karen, on the other hand, pursues knowledge as fervently as Sofi follows
quite romantic, in its own way," says Cahill. "The greatest thrill for Karen is
the night after a
discovery, when she's lying in bed, the only person on the planet to know this
truth. She loves
being on the cutting edge of human knowledge. "The role is deceptively tricky,"
"When I was writing it, I was thinking, how do we make the pursuit of knowledge
And I thought, Brit Marling!"
In much the same way that it felt inevitable Michael Pitt would play Ian,
Marling was the
filmmakers' only choice for Karen, according to Orlovsky. "She has the innate
subtle charisma and beauty, that the character required. She also has a history
Marling and Cahill, who met as undergrads at Georgetown University, have been
partners for more than a decade. Marling played the lead role in Cahill's
feature directing debut,
ANOTHER EARTH. "Working with Brit is a true pleasure," says Cahill. "She's super
and hardworking. When you're creating art, you hope to find partners you can
rely on, and she's
someone I want to work with for the rest of my life."
As longtime creative partners, Marling and Cahill have developed their own
collaborative process. "We pitch each other ideas and run in weird directions
with them," says
Marling. "So I knew that this was a story that Mike had wanted to tell for a
long time. The movie
really is a meditation on faith and science. Are those things disconnected from
one another, or are
they expressions of the same things?"
The dynamic between Karen and Ian is radically different than it is between
him. "Mike and I were interested in the idea of a marriage that has real
equality," says Marling.
"Karen is not the assistant-slash-wife. This is a relationship between two
people who are equally
matched and encourage each other in beautiful, positive ways. They have a lot in
Sofi, there's a real divide. Mike does an incredible job portraying two very
different kinds of love
and not judging one or the other as better."
Pitt concurs: "The two relationships are nothing like each other. Karen is a
true partner to
Ian. They know and understand each other on many levels. Brit's really an
amazing actress, so it
it was really fun to watch her build this character. You could see the wheels in
her head turning as
the character slowly came alive. Every day we worked together was a pleasure."
Marling sees similarities in her working relationship with Pitt and the lab
between Ian and Karen. "I've loved Michael's work for such a long time," says
the actress. "You
can feel from his performances that he really takes the work seriously. He
wanted to do each
scene 50 times, pushing it to the next level. I feel like we left no stone
"And Mike kept it all grounded and in a frame," she adds. "He
creates a magic soap bubble for the actors where it is quiet and still and
beautiful. Then he'll whisper something to each of us and the scene
will come together. You know how they say some people were born to
direct? Mike was born to do this job."
Ian's best friend Kenny, played by Steven Yeun, is a brilliant
programmer who works for a company that has amassed a database of
iris biometric profiles. While he and Ian studied together, Kenny is
more concerned with cashing in on a practical application of the science than
the pursuit of pure
knowledge, according to Yeun.
"Kenny becomes entrenched in iris biometrics because it's going to make a ton
for him," says Yeun. "But he ends up being pivotal in the discovery Ian is about
to make. He
offers his help expecting one thing and then realizes that everything that he
thought, all the
research and all the technology that's been built, is being called into
Yeun's character often provides a humorous counterpoint to the films more
scenes, a quality which comes naturally to Yeun, according to his co-stars.
"Steven was so up for
everything," says Marling. "He provides a lightness and sense of humor that the
because it's dealing with so many intense things, Steven comes in as just an
amazing breath of
"On and off the set, Steven gave off an energy that drew people to him," says
stole the show with comedy in this film, but he can do anything and I am sure he
will in the
Yeun, who stars as Glenn Rhee in the hit television drama "The Walking Dead,"
got involved in the project based on his admiration for Cahill's ANOTHER EARTH.
there's a great deal in life that is unexplained," he says. "There is the sense
of inner connectivity
that we have as human beings. We're all woven into each other's lives. People
evidence to explain why, but we don't have it. What if our souls do recycle
themselves in some
I ORIGINS' climactic third act takes place in Delhi, India,
where Cahill brought in British-born actress Archie Panjabi to play
Priya Varma. An Indian woman running a community center in the
slums of Delhi, it is Priya who helps Ian finally find what he is
"Archie's humanity is absolutely beautiful," says Cahill. "Her
spirit is so warm. She brought an approach to the character that is
bulletproof and full of heart. It was just a privilege to be able to work
"Archie is just wonderful in this film," agrees Pitt. "She has a quiet
strength to her. Her
performance is very subtle, but she had all these things going on underneath the
surface that were
really inspiring for me."
It wasn't until the filmmakers reached Delhi that Cahill completed casting.
search was launched to select a little girl to play the role of Salomina, a
youngster Ian hopes will
provide the key to the mystery he so badly wants to unravel. Indian casting
director Dilip Shankar
screened more than 1,400 hopefuls for the part.
Initially, the search was focused on Indian-American girls in and around the
metropolitan area. But Cahill and the producers quickly realized that they
weren't going to find a
believable young actress there. "Everyone who came in was too Americanized to
"Ultimately, we found the marvelous Kashish, a young
girl from the Salaam Baalak orphanage in Delhi," says Cahill.
"Kashish has an astounding energy and spirit that radiates on and
off screen. She is completely natural and unselfconscious in front
of the camera, as if it doesn't exist. When we found Kashish, I
knew we had a movie."
The child not only had never acted before, she had very
limited knowledge of English, but Pitt says she is a naturally talented actor.
"Essentially it's all
about pretending," he notes. "Kids can tap into that pretty quickly. I know some
people say that it
can be the biggest challenge for an actor to work with a child, but it is also
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