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About The Casting
Having secured approval for his script, Zaillian's next challenge was to work with the producers to secure the ideal cast. Several of Hollywood's most respected leading men were mentioned for the pivotal role of the charismatic Willie Stark, who starts out as a small-time rural politician and transforms himself into one of the most flamboyant and controversial political office holders of his time.

But in fact, there was only one actor the filmmakers were truly intent on securing. "We never wanted anyone else but Sean Penn,” says Medavoy. "Willie Stark is a perfect match for him. He understands the character better than almost anyone else. We've done five films together and his process is always the same. He bites deeply into the character. He becomes him.”

Zaillian shared those sentiments. He and Penn had been friendly since the actor starred in The Falcon and the Snowman, Zaillian's first produced screen adaptation. "Sean is powerful, he's thoughtful and he's charismatic — all the same qualities that Willie Stark possesses.”

Winner of the Best Actor Academy Award® for Mystic River, Penn has also been nominated for Dead Man Walking, Sweet and Lowdown and I Am Sam "I'd known Steve Zaillian since The Falcon and the Snowman, which he wrote,” says Penn. "I liked him then and I liked working with him then. He's a tremendously talented and tremendously committed man. I'm very glad he gave me this part.”

"Sean completely understood the duality of Willie Stark's nature,” says Lemberger. "Willie is simultaneously good and evil, humble and ambitious, a man of the people and a sophisticated politician, a naïve idealist and ruthless realist. Best of all, this is exactly the reaction to Willie that Warren wanted us to have.”

The next crucial role to cast was Jack Burden, the lapsed idealist who is in many ways the conscience of the story, as well as the audience's eyes and ears. Jack represents the Old South and its aristocratic values, but also aspires to destroy them. Witnessing Willie's rise to power — first as a journalist and, after Willie becomes governor, as his right-hand man — Jack becomes a party to Willie's compromised morality. When Willie asks him to dig up dirt on the universally respected Judge Irwin, a man who has virtually been Jack's surrogate father, he does so despite his misgivings. In so doing, he embarks on a journey that forces him to re-examine his past and, at the same time, sets events in motion that will ultimately lead to Stark's undoing.

As with Penn, the filmmakers had the ideal candidate in mind for Jack Burden, the British-born star Jude Law.

The two-time Oscar® nominee for The Talented Mr. Ripley and Cold Mountain recently starred in Columbia Pictures' hit drama Closer. "Jude is one of the most interesting actors working in films today,” Medavoy says. "He has a natural aristocratic manner that's a wonderful fit for the character. You see so much in his face and particularly in his eyes.”

Zaillian was particularly keen on Law because Jack Burden is a tough character to play. "He's very internal,” he says. "While the format of the book allowed the reader to understand his inner thoughts, you often can't do that on film. You must have an actor who can suggest the character's inner self. Jude was so right for this character because he can convey all that just through his physical behavior.”

Law was eager to play Jack, especially since it offered an opportunity to work opposite Penn, whom he describes as an idol to his generation of actors. "My first impression when I read the script was how powerful the story was and I liked the fact that it was an ensemble piece,” the actor remarks. "It seemed that as Jack was telling the story, he was learning it along with the audience. The story is viewed through his eyes and it was a great chal

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