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NORTH COUNTRY

Lives Touched & Challenged by Josey
As much as they concurred on the themes of the story, Wechsler and Caro found themselves similarly in sync when it came to selecting actors for leading roles. "We cast the movie together,” says Wechsler, "and I don't think either of us ever came to a decision that was more than a few degrees from the other person's point of view.”

Acknowledging the stellar cast North Country attracted, Caro says, "We have three Oscar-winning women working together: Charlize Theron, Frances McDormand and Sissy Spacek.” Equally important, she says, is the subtle poignancy that Michelle Monaghan brings to the spirited character of Sherry and the range of male roles brought to life by Sean Bean, Richard Jenkins, Jeremy Renner and Woody Harrelson. "Although some of the men in this story behave horribly, there are many good ones and we have these first-class actors who brilliantly bring out their flaws and their virtues.”

In casting Charlize Theron as Josey Aimes, Caro cites her body of work (The Cider House Rules, Curse of the Jade Scorpion, The Italian Job) as well as the power of Theron's widely acclaimed performance in the 2003 crime biography Monster, which earned the actress both Academy and Golden Globe Awards as well as a BAFTA nomination. "A lot of attention was given to her physical transformation in that film, but it was what she was doing emotionally that most impressed and moved me,” Caro says. "It was truly no contest – I wanted Charlize in this role. She proved to be a real collaborator, completely invested in telling the story.”

At about the same time, Theron saw Whale Rider and loved it, prompting in her a keen interest in working with Caro. "I asked my agent to try setting up a meeting with her for whatever she was doing next and then, unbelievably, five days later I got the call for North Country,” Theron relates. "I was ecstatic. I've been completely overwhelmed and inspired by the whole experience; there isn't a word in the dictionary to explain how it felt for me to be a part of this picture.

"I'm fascinated by people who don't realize they have incredible internal fortitude and ability. They discover it only when they get themselves into situations that require it or realize some truth that others are not seeing. That's Josey to me,” says Theron, describing one of the reasons she was attracted to the story and its heroine. "The road she takes is a very lonely one and not one she is obligated to choose, but she does and she paves the way for others who are going through the same difficult circumstances. That takes a special, strong person and I love the way Josey finds this inner reserve of courage that I don't think she even realized she had.”

Another aspect of the film that appealed to Theron was the disarmingly straightforward way in which Caro approached it. "What I like about Niki's direction is that she doesn't complicate anything that doesn't need to be complicated. There is something beautiful in the simplicity of her style; the way she sees the world and people in general, and these people and their struggles in particular and how she taps into that. She understands that it all comes down to wanting to keep your head above water. I came into this project with enormous respect for her and that respect has only grown.”

Frances McDormand, who takes on the role of Josey's self-assured friend Glory, a worker and union rep at the mine, offers a similar perspective and was especially interested in Caro's treatment of the script. "For me, this is a movie about human dignity,” she says, emphasizing human over female. "Niki Caro is a smart person and an incredibly insightful filmmaker. I can trust that her storytelling comes from an original place, as opposed to a sappy, sentimental one, and that she would make this a story about people, not just women.”

McDormand's versatility has shone through a wide range of screen, stage

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