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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 role demands."

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."

"Katherine Watson 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."

"Revolution 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 own."

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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