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NEXT STOP, WONDERLAND

The Improvisations
Throughout it all, however, Gelfant never really met his co-romantic lead, Hope Davis

Throughout it all, however, Gelfant never really met his co-romantic lead, Hope Davis. For although NEXT STOP WONDERLAND is about the meeting of Erin and Alan, the actors only had one real scene together. "Alan is a really nice guy, but I have no idea what he is like to work with -- we were never on set together!" points out Hope Davis.

Adds Gelfant: "It wasn't really until after the movie was shot and we were in post-production that I got to know Hope and saw how intelligent and talented she was. To me it was the ultimate kind of reward and completion of the experience to finally get to know each other."

In fact, throughout production, Gelfant and Davis purposefully avoided one another so that when their characters did meet for the first time the fresh electricity of the moment would be preserved. "So the first time we really met was the day of our sole scene together," explains Davis. "It turned out to be very moving, because we'd been waiting for so long and there was so much pent-up emotion involved."

Capturing the freshness of impulsive reactions is key to Brad Anderson's unique directorial style. As with his premier film, the award-winning "Darien Gap," Anderson utilized a mixture of tightly scripted sequences and improvisation intended to give NEXT STOP WONDERLAND an intensity, a spontaneity and a lightness that reflect the natural rhythms of real life.

"I like improvisation because you find what I call 'beautiful accidents' where something you could never have written just comes out of the air. Of course we had a script and many scenes are just as they were originally written. But especially in the conversational scenes in the bar, I just let the actors go. I gave them the themes and just waited to see what they would come up with. When you have really good actors to work with, you end up with some fascinating stuff."

"It does mean shooting a lot more film and it means a much more chaotic shoot, but it's also a more creative process," says Anderson. "Since I also edit my films, it works well for me.

The actors also enjoyed the freedom of Anderson's set. Comments Hope Davis: "The thing about Brad is that he's not at all precious about his writing. If he came to a moment where he wasn't sure if what he wrote worked, he would turn it over to us to try our own ideas. He also hired actors who were very, very good at improvising. It was really a treat for me, and very freeing."

For Alan Gelfant improvising scenes meant "coming to terms with the themes of the movie in a personal way. Brad would give us points to hit and then we would explore them in our own words." He continues: "Erin was always more delineated but my character was purposely less developed in the script. It was really a collaboration to bring it off the page and figure out as we went along who the guy was. I think that's why there's such a simplicity and a sweetness to the story -- it came from reality."

One of the most hilarious improvised sequences turned out to be the early scene in which Erin's boyfriend Sean, played by Phil Hoffman, leaves her to go protest the unfair treatment of the Tantuni Indians. Brad Anderson gave Hoffman certain key props, including a cat named Fidel and a videotaped good-bye and then let him run with the scene. "Phil just went wild," recalls Hope Davis. "He came up with amazing things. We shot a whole day's worth of film just of him making his departure speech."

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