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I, ORIGINS

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 a science 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 the researchers and they let us participate in some of the experiments. It was a really positive experience."

Ian's hope is that his research into the evolution of the eye will impact the ongoing debate 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: We were 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 eyes."

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 they say."

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 Angeles (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 incorporated into the character. Sofi and Berges-Frisbey both have sectoral heterochromia, a rare genetic 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 break from 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 equally powerful."

Cahill and Berges-Frisbey made an immediate connection during their initial meeting via 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 thrown into 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, rewriting, changing 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 intuition. "It's 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," he continues. "When I was writing it, I was thinking, how do we make the pursuit of knowledge seductive? 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 intelligence, the subtle charisma and beauty, that the character required. She also has a history of collaborating with Mike."

Marling and Cahill, who met as undergrads at Georgetown University, have been creative 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 talented 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 unique 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 Sofi and 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 common. With 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 partnership 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 unturned.

"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 of money 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 question."

Yeun's character often provides a humorous counterpoint to the films more dramatic 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 film needs, because it's dealing with so many intense things, Steven comes in as just an amazing breath of fresh air."

"On and off the set, Steven gave off an energy that drew people to him," says Gray. "He stole the show with comedy in this film, but he can do anything and I am sure he will in the future."

Yeun, who stars as Glenn Rhee in the hit television drama "The Walking Dead," initially got involved in the project based on his admiration for Cahill's ANOTHER EARTH. "I think 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 want concrete evidence to explain why, but we don't have it. What if our souls do recycle themselves in some sense?"

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 searching for.

"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 with her."

"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. An epic 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 New York 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 feel authentic," says Orlovsky.

"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 really rewarding."

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