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CHARLOTTE'S WEB

Assembling A "Terrific" Cast
The filmmakers were faced with an array of casting decisions – they had to cast live actors, actors who would provide voice talent, and live animals.

With respect to the voice talent, "We thought outside the box,” explains Gary Winick. "We knew we could be eclectic, so we totally went for it. We threw out all kinds of names. 

"What's great is because of the way the film is scheduled,” the filmmakers could be flexible and work around a star's availability, says Winick. "You have access to almost anyone.”

Oscar winner Julia Roberts leads the voice cast as Charlotte, the nurturing spider whose friendship with Wilbur is the central focus of the book. Roberts had just given birth to her children, so the project seemed like a good fit for her.

"This was exactly the right time in her life for Julia to be playing a character like this,” says Jordan Kerner. "Charlotte needed to be very strong, and stubborn, and tough, and wise, and loving, and Julia embodies all of those traits to perfection.”

Winick was impressed by the rich voice that Roberts lends to Charlotte. "It's amazingly warm and gentle, yet stern and direct,” says Winick. "There's wisdom there.”

Roberts, embarking on her first vocal performance of an animated character, understood the importance of her portrayal of the adored arachnid.

"I was intimidated by the character at first,” admits the actress. "You want to capture her essence, which is so complicated and interesting, and yet she really is a spider. So it was definitely tricky.” Still, Roberts loves the idea that a new generation of children will be introduced to this classic tale.  "The book is about the most timeless concepts of our lives: fairness, compassion, understanding, and a willingness to stand up for what you believe in,” says Roberts. "Even Templeton, the most rotten of the bunch, can't help but participate in what's right. That's what sustains a story like this; those themes resonate forever.”

Dakota Fanning plays spirited farmgirl Fern Arable, who saves Wilbur's life on the night he, the runt of the litter, is born. Kerner explains that Fanning was the first and only choice for the role.  "Dakota was always the lead in this movie. There was never anyone that we wanted more,” he adds. "It was such a perfect combination of role and actor.

"Dakota combines great wisdom with youthful glee,” he continues. "She has the wisdom, sensibility, and the feeling of the ages in her, but somehow she's also able to run around and laugh and play and be a regular 12-year-old. It turns out that she had read the book and felt that it was important that she play the part, and I know we felt the same way.”

When it looked like Fanning's commitment to act in another film – Steven Spielberg's "War of the Worlds” – might keep her from joining the cast of "Charlotte's Web,” the studio and the filmmakers agreed to work around it.

"She wanted to do it, and we wanted her to do it,” says Gary Winick. "It was so worth it to wait for her. Dakota is just an amazing girl.”

Fanning was equally delighted that a scheduling conflict wouldn't prevent her from portraying a favorite character from a book she loves. "There are so many messages in the book and the movie. I'm honored that I get to bring Fern to life,” she says.

The young actress was attracted to the role of strong-willed Fern, "who is just starting to grow up,” she continues. "She begins as a tomboy, and when she finds Wilbur, she becomes mothering and nurturing. Then, when the time is right, she brings him to the barn and lets go a bit, letting him grow up and spread his wings, just as Fern's own parents let go a bit and let her spread her own wings.”

The 12-year-old Fanning completely understands Fern's fawning behavior as Wilbur's caretaker. "I know if I had a dog or a pig or a cat, I would dress it up a

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