MONA LISA SMILE
The Best And The Brightest
To portray Katherine,
the writers wanted an actress who was charismatic, smart and vulnerable.
"So we thought of the best actress of our era," says Konner,
"Julia Roberts, who has both the intelligence and high-spiritedness the
The writers related the
story of Mona Lisa Smile to Deborah Schindler, president of Roberts'
Red Om Films and her producing partner Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas of Revolution
Studios (who had previously represented Roberts when she was an agent at ICM).
""After working with Julia Roberts for 15 years, I thought I'd heard
every good idea, but this was truly special," says Thomas. "I was
fascinated by the early 1950s and how it evolved out of World War II. The war
had been the first time in history women were told they could do a man's job.
They took off their corsets and took over the factories. Then, after the war,
they were re-corseted with clear roles as housewives who supported their
husbands and raised their children. On the surface it all seemed fine, but
underneath the seeds were planted for the next generation."
is a good example of a woman caught between the outbreak of war and the change
that happened as a result," Thomas continues. "After considering her
options, Katherine realized that she could do more. It's that realization that
inspires her to teach these young women. She believes if anyone is going to make
a difference in the world, it will be one of them."
Over the next year,
Thomas and Schindler worked closely with Konner and Rosenthal in developing the
script for Mona Lisa Smile. "Elaine was our guiding light, "
admits Konner. "Without her enthusiasm, input and support this movie would
not have been possible."
"We had an
immediate connection with her," adds Rosenthal. "She had an
instantaneous understanding of what we were trying to say, and that kept the
film true to its theme all along."
Studios' chairman Joe Roth immediately saw the story's potential," says
Thomas. "I think when he heard the idea, he realized everything it could
be. That's what's so great about Joe. He just lets you jump into the pool. If
you need help, he's there. Otherwise he just pretty much let's you swim on your
At the top of everyone's
list for potential directors for Mona Lisa Smile was British director
Mike Newell who has, over the years, demonstrated a deftness and versatility
with a wide variety of subjects from the gritty drama Donnie Brasco to
the wonderfully romantic and funny Four Weddings and a Funeral.
"What's really special about Mike's movies is his fresh, unorthodox
approach to characters. All the people in his movies are interesting,
iconoclastic and complex," says Thomas. "Even in his comedies there
are no stock characters. They're all highly individualized."
Newell was intrigued by
the story's exploration of a time and place where rebellion and individuality
were very much frowned upon, yet the seeds of change have already taken root.
"There was a great deal of debate in the story about what women should and
shouldn't do with their lives, most of which had never been publicly discussed
before," he says. "Once the subject had been broached, it would
eventually lead to a seismic societal shift. I really wanted to look at the
moment when tha
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