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THE BLACK DAHLIA

Casting Films Noirs
"She looks like that dead girl. How sick are you? You're going to end up like Lee, you will. But I will not.” —Kay Lake

A challenge with The Black Dahlia was in finding a group of actors who could flesh out a modern film noir—and give nods to the Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall and Fred MacMurray-Rita Hayworth thrillers of the '40s and '50s—without becoming caricatures of the very roles that inspired their performances. De Palma and the producers would turn to five young-yet-established actors and a collective of seasoned performers who could play the assortment of toughs, lovers and deceivers from Friedman's screenplay and Ellroy's mind.

De Palma admits of working with certain talent, simply, "Great actors will create something that will completely surprise you.”

Long involved with Dahlia's production was Josh Hartnett, cast as Bucky Bleichert, whose world begins to spin out of control the minute he becomes attached to the case. De Palma felt that the actor could easily reflect Bucky's inherent good intentions found in the script. "Even in this corrupt world, there's such a decency about Bucky,” he observes. "Like in the old noir movies in which Bogart played, he has this moral weight.”

"Josh is becoming a man,” offers Linson. "To see him grow up from the young kid in Virgin Suicides to becoming this detective with a very complex life—in love with two women and haunted by a murder—is fantastic.”

Hartnett was attracted to the challenging role because it wasn't a "morality tale after all. The characters have certain flaws that they'll follow to the end, and no one deviates from those.”

Friedman's rat-a-tat period dialogue wouldn't be the only challenge for Hartnett. The physicality of the part would require the actor to train for four hours a day for seven months to play seasoned boxer Bucky (known in the ring as Mr. Ice), who happened to have a light-heavyweight record of 36-0-0.

De Palma's films are known for trios or quartets who come together in curious ways. Drawing side number two to the Bucky-Kay-Lee love triangle is actor Aaron Eckhart, someone De Palma describes as a "young Kirk Douglas.” The director knew he wanted to cast a performer who could give a manic quality to Mr. Fire, Lee Blanchard. The actor chosen would need to fuel the Benzedrine-popping, hotheaded cop with an explosive sense of regret and rage…a man who could provide a strong parallel to Bucky's by-the-book detective. As the Dahlia case unfolds, we learn that Lee has had a string of women in his life that he couldn't save, including a sister who died at 15.

Eckhart chose the physically challenging role (with Mr. Fire's own boxing record of 43-4-2) because Blanchard is "a fast-talking, hard-drinking, quick-witted, no-bull kind of guy—which is very fun to play as an actor.”

Discussing his interest in the films noirs era of the '40s, he relates, "Their cadence was faster than today. If you watch Cagney or Edward G. Robinson, they had this way of speaking that was rapid-fire.”

His partner-in-crimefighting Hartnett laughs, "Aaron would be a great Iago. He doesn't hesitate to go over the top in a performance. He's a big personality who has this on-screen presence that makes you believe he could bring down anyone in his path.” With the testosterone-fueled roles cast, De Palma was next on the lookout for three dames who could play anything but damsels in distress. Of his leads, the director commends, "The girls are just magical, so mysterious. There's always something unsaid.”

To find his Kay Lake, the wounded lady that Lee takes in and Bucky covets, De Palma decided he needed a young woman with a world-weary look in her eye. He had met Scarlett Johansson years earlier when she was in the film The Horse Whisperer. The actor had made such an impression on him, he<

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