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Assembling The Ensemble
As the focus turned to casting, Bier was thrilled to be able to attract talents like Benicio Del Toro (who had earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar® for "Traffic” in 2000) and Halle Berry (the 2002 Academy Award® winner for Best Actress in "Monster's Ball”) for the central roles of Jerry and Audrey.

"Halle and Benicio are both great actors,” says Bier. "They're really interesting to watch and very original. I just thought it would be very exciting to put the two of them together. I could imagine a sexy, potentially aggressive chemistry between them, but also a sense of comfort…a kind of emotional recognition between the two of them, which I thought would be great.” "We lucked out in that Benicio is a genius, really, and Halle is a fantastic actress who was really passionate about this role,” says Mendes. "And of course David Duchovny provides a great foundation as Brian, the character who really sets up the story.”

Both actors pursued Loeb and barraged him with questions about the characters they had agreed to play. "Benicio wanted to know everything,” according to Loeb. "He's very detail oriented. And Halle did too. She wanted to know a lot about Audrey's emotional journey. It was very interesting talking to them about it, because it was always about finding the truth. What's the truth about where they're coming from? What's the truth of how they are feeling?” Despite her popularity and Oscar® pedigree, Berry admits that she fought for the role of Audrey Burke. "I think most actors have to fight for the good parts,” she says. "They're so few and far between, especially for women.”

"Audrey wasn't written as a black character,” she continues. "So I wasn't the first thought on anybody's mind. But very early on, I said to my manager, ‘I know the studio's not thinking of me, but if I could just meet with the director…'” Berry got her wish when Bier stopped in New York on her way to Denmark and met her for coffee. "I hoped maybe Susanne would be able to see outside the box,” explains Berry.

The director was well aware of Berry's beauty, laughing as she recalled the times the actress would arrive on set "with no make-up, wet hair from the shower and still look like a goddess.”

But what made the most vivid impression was that "Halle's an amazing actress and she brings a kind of intensity and anger to this role,” observes Bier. "At no time does she choose the safe way out.”

Describing the themes that attracted her to the story, Berry explains, "We often take our lives for granted…our lives and the things that we have. We covet things. But what's really important is what we can't even touch…the human spirit…having people we love in our lives.”

Del Toro did substantial research on drug addiction for his role. He also met with medical experts and attended Narcotic Anonymous meetings. "He got inside the head of the character and of anyone who has had an addiction,” says producer Sam Mercer. "He recognized that they are people and have to be treated with humanity. They're suffering from a disease and you have to be human about it.”

In Jerry, Del Toro saw a character who was both childlike and nurturing. "I think it was Kurt Cobain who said something along the lines that people need to get high to feel the enthusiasm that they felt as a kid,” says Del Toro. But it's Jerry's natural rapport with his best friend's children that does as much to stabilize his life and restore his spirits as it does theirs. "I think that children, without knowing it, can give someone a purpose,” he observes. "And they do give Jerry a purpose.”

Describing the unconventional relationship that emerges between Audrey and Jerry, Del Toro observes, "These are two handicapped people. It's like the blind leading the blind in a way. Audrey is trying to deal with her grief, break out an

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