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ALPHA DOG

Designing The Despicable
Before production began, in true Cassavetes fashion, the director explored an unconventional approach to preparing the actors for their roles. Instead of the customary scene rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the start of principal photography, the young performers were put through a fitness program that involved intense workouts and a very strict diet, all of which were supervised by the director's brother, Frank.

The characters in Alpha Dog have known each other for a while, having gone to school together and lived in the same neighborhood since early childhood. The challenge for their creator, then, was how to replicate that sense of camaraderie born out of years of being together. "They have a certain ease and familiarity with each other, and how do you direct that? I don't happen to believe that blood is thicker than water—that if you're stuck in the same house with somebody it gives you a proper amount of time to develop a deep relationship with that person. I think that's why we're close to our parents, our brothers and sisters, because we've been forced to live with them…it's shared misery. And I had to think of a way to make these kids ‘miserable' together.

"So I got them all to come to this house in the [San Fernando] Valley at the crack of dawn to start training. And a little bit in, they started getting into it. Pretty soon they were cracking jokes and challenging each other, and even showing up 15 minutes early to the sessions—and this was already really early in the morning. And I knew I had them when they called and told me that they wouldn't do any more unless I came, too. So I dragged my fat, old ass to training every day. And they laughed at me when I couldn't do some of the stuff, and I got to laugh at them, also. Pretty soon, I realized that we would move on to set together as a unit, as a pack. They would trust me. I would trust them.”

This process created a bond among the actors that allowed them to organically explore their characters and helped to create an environment of familiarity. "I don't know if Nick had a clear plan for what he wanted to accomplish with the preparation process, but I think it was more instinctual,” explains Foster. "We ended up cutting out the world and creating our own little subculture away from where we live. It was like forming a little cult where you create a different language and environment that really brings everyone together.

"Outside of Nick just wanting to torture us, what that process did was create a strong sense of who we were with each other, of camaraderie,” adds Timberlake. "It's interesting because when characters butt heads in a script, actors tend to act that way towards each other in real life. I think, however, that the closer you get to someone before shooting, the easier it is to have conflict onscreen, because you feel comfortable with each other. Although the process was grueling, it definitely heightened our performances.”

In addition to the group's physical preparation process, the actors were provided with materials with which to familiarize themselves to help them gain understanding of the types of people who informed Cassavetes' development of their characters.

Dealing with a story as complex as Alpha Dog, actors are confronted with a particular challenge—just how much real life is bled into the on-screen character? "I thought long and hard about how to create the character Frankie,” recalls Timberlake. "I took the opportunity to really develop my own character from Nick's words.”

Actress Olivia Wilde, who plays Johnny's thrill-seeking girlfriend, Angela, found it challenging to play a character lacking a great deal of ethical merit. "What I heard around the set is that a lot of people felt a little uncomfortable playing these characters, because they didn't necessarily like them. As an actor,

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