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SOLARIS

Assembling The Team
From the beginning, Soderbergh felt that George Clooney should play Chris Kelvin. The challenges of portraying the emotionally complex psychologist who, light years away from home, faces the return of someone he loved and thought long dead, were formidable. "I knew George had the capability as an actor to play the role," says the director. "I just wasn't sure if he felt he was ready. It's so unlike anything George has ever done and it's such a demanding part. The role requires difficult, abstract emotions and actions that are hard to pull off."

Clooney, who had starred in two earlier Soderbergh films – "Out of Sight" and "Ocean's Eleven," and who is partnered with the filmmaker in the production company Section Eight – jumped at the chance to tackle the role of Chris Kelvin. "I actually lobbied for this job," laughs Clooney. "After I read the script, I sent Steven a letter and said ‘I don't know if I can do it, but I'd like to take a crack at it.'

"This is really an actor's piece and it's the most difficult and scariest thing I've ever done by far," continues Clooney. "As an actor, if you're going to go way out on a limb, you're going to want to do that with Steven. He's good at being very specific, which is what good directors do; there's always a point of view."

Clooney immersed himself in the role, bringing unexpected dimension to Chris Kelvin. "When you see somebody that you know well and that you've worked with do something that surprises you almost every day, it's pretty thrilling," says Soderbergh. "George would keep pushing his performance and taking it further. I live for working with actors, so watching that was incredibly exciting. His complete willingness to jump off a cliff every day was inspiring."

Like his director, Clooney embraced the story's themes. "What makes SOLARIS relevant today," he states, "is that it deals with the basic issues we constantly question and wonder about: love, death, after-life. The things we don't have any answers to. We want to define things and those things we can't define, terrify us. We want to know how high is up, how old is eternity. Everything we know as humans has limits – a beginning, middle and an end. No one in this story has answers, they just have really good, smart questions."

The film's small ensemble – there are only five characters – presented casting challenges. "The trick was to find people who are distinctive and strong," Soderbergh notes. "You have to feel the tension because the characters are at loggerheads about what they think is going on in the space station and what to do about it. And if the actors interacting with George aren't as strong as he is, then you don't have a movie."

Kelvin's wife Rheya, whose suicide had torn Kelvin's life apart, somehow has turned up on Prometheus. As the story unfolds, she undergoes a journey of self-discovery, evolving from a woman brought into the world of the Prometheus without any real history or memories that she's certain are her own.

When it came time to cast the role, which demanded an inherent intelligence mixed with the vulnerability, Soderbergh remembered the performance of Natascha McElhone in the 1996 film "Surviving Picasso." "She reminded me of the great European actresses of the sixties and seventies, like Jeanne Moreau and Dominique Sanda," says Soderbergh. "They were smart, sexy, complicated women. Not girls – women."

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