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A Commitment to Authenticity
Production began in Northern Minnesota, to capture the region's unique geography and legendary frigid, icy winter. The Iron Range had only recently weathered record-breaking cold, but when cast and crew arrived, temperatures had mercifully risen to about 19 degrees, a veritable heat wave for the locals but still cold enough to freeze sensitive camera equipment, requiring special heater units on the set.

Caro felt strongly about filming in the towns of Eveleth, Virginia, Hibbing and Chrisholm, regarding the story's location almost as another character. "Since we're working in a very specific landscape and part of the world, Niki wanted that landscape to have its own strong interplay with the performances of the actors. Her intention is to be honest to the place where the story occurs and that requires as much location shooting as we can possibly accomplish,” says Wechsler, who was on board for the cross-country maneuvers.

"I take this approach with all my films,” says Caro, a native of New Zealand, who was as enthusiastic about immersing herself into the Minnesota communities as she was about exploring the Maori culture in Whale Rider. "I'm endlessly inspired by real people and real landscapes.”

In addition to the essential Minnesota locations, production secured a number of practical sites in Silver City, New Mexico, where they had access to the Phelps-Dodge Company's Cobre and Chino copper mines. Cobre, conveniently, was a closed mine and so easily became a movie set, while the fully functioning Chino facility provided not only camera-ready trucks and equipment but safety and technical support for the production personnel.

North Country cast and crew took an educational field trip to the New Mexico site prior to beginning principal photography in Minnesota, for a hands-on tour of the mines, a requisite safety course and an opportunity to get comfortable with an arsenal of heavy machinery designed to move and crush rocks the size of Volkswagens. Lillian Medina, Phelps-Dodge Senior Safety and Health Specialist and one of their guides for the crash course, became a role model for Rusty Schwimmer's characterization of Big Betty. Schwimmer was taken with the way the efficient, direct Medina, dressed in plain work shirts and steel-toed boots, favored distinctly feminine, slender Capri cigarettes, and incorporated that stylistic detail into her portrayal.

It was here that Frances McDormand finally got her chance to climb into the cab of the massive truck she would be driving as Glory. "To start you honk once, to go forward you honk twice and to reverse you honk three times,” McDormand displays her knowledge of the protocol. "Actually, it's not that hard to drive,” she admits, "it's fully automatic. The scary thing is that you have so little visibility so I could actually be squashing people very easily if it wasn't for our fabulous crew watching out for me. I had never been in a mine before, and even though this isn't a documentary, it truly was a great benefit to shoot it in actual mines and for us to work with people who have this kind of experience.”

Not only did the cast and crew familiarize themselves with mining operations, they took time to get acquainted with their host community back in Minnesota. On the agenda were regular winter activities like ice fishing, snowmobiling, dog sledding and the region's #1 sport – hockey, while Spacek also worked on her strudel technique with help from the women at the local Slovenia Hall.

Says Renner, "it's great to learn what a stacker is,” but beyond the technical education, "as an actor, I've always enjoyed observing people and find it extremely valuable to go sit in a restaurant or bar and listen to what people will tell you, especially in small towns. I'm from a small town myself and it has always fascinated me how you will learn more about a place by talking with people than y

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