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THE HUMAN STAIN

About The Production (Continued)
Robert Benton approached THE HUMAN STAIN as a kind of modern American Greek tragedy. He explains: "For me, it's no accident that Coleman Silk is a classics professor at a college named Athena. I think Roth has written a 20th century version of the Greek tragedy around modern themes. It is really about the struggle between the individual and the community, and the price that being part of one extracts from the other. And I believe in some sense I have sympathy for both sides of the story, both for the choices Coleman made and for what he betrayed by making them. That's the beauty of what Roth accomplished in his novel: exhorting us to both care deeply about Coleman and understand the gravity of what he has done.” 

To play Coleman Silk, the fierce enigma at the center of THE HUMAN STAIN, the filmmakers chose Anthony Hopkins who, despite his Welsh origins, seemed to embody the deeper qualities that make Silk such a strong character. Says Benton: "I was moved by Anthony's humanity and his tremendous intelligence more than anything else. He goes beyond good acting into something that is more like life itself, and I felt he alone had the ability to inhabit Coleman's contradictions, to bring both compassion and ferocity to the role, and to take both physical and emotional risks.” 

Benton continues: "Coleman is a great character, but he is a deeply flawed human being. The challenge was to make him likable enough so that the audience is right there with him when he commits his crimes.” 

Says Roth of Hopkins: "You can't pull off Coleman Silk's kind of self-transformation without tremendous power, concentration, focus, cunning and toughness and Hopkins has these things.” 

To Hopkins, Silk is a kind of troubled hero. "He's a man of great conviction and passion, a man who loathes political correctness, and in that sense he is my hero,” admits the actor. "Throughout his life, he shook the rafters and shocked people, and he just didn't care. On the other hand, everything he does leads to disaster, and he is pulled into this relationship with a younger woman which ultimately destroys him.” 

Despite their radically different backgrounds, Hopkins found himself relating to Silk's desire to transcend the barriers he feels that his racial identity might present. "I've never thought of myself of being any particular nationality,” the actor says, "not because I'm ashamed of who I am in any way, but because I don't think it really makes any difference. Coleman, on the other hand, wants to escape bigotry, racism and prejudice. But when he says ‘I'm a man, an ordinary human being and I want to do what I do' I sympathize deeply with that.” 

Also compelling to Hopkins is the portrait of Silk's morally and physically dangerous but very affecting affair with a woman much younger than himself, a woman with whom he shares almost nothing, except secrecy, urgent need and a kind of search for tolerance. 

"It's interesting to me the power that love and sex have to devastate a man's life, especially at Silk's age,” Hopkins comments. "I think sex can be at once a very creative and also deeply destructive force. It has destroyed empires and destroyed presidents, and it can just rip people apart. Really, sex is one of the most powerful and frightening parts of our lives, and Coleman gives himself over to that.” 

When it comes to the power of sex to transform and shake loose Coleman Silk's long buried secrets, that power is wielded by Faunia, the damaged but strong woman, with whom he strikes up an unlikely affair. Benton describes Faunia as "possessing that dark, complicated, ambiguous, mysterious quality that I find truly beautiful, qualities Nicole Kidman also possesses.” 

Kidman so embodied the role that Benton found himself dizzied by her very appearance. "I would look at her sometimes and realize she is completely Faun

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