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Capturing Great Performances
Essentially, performance capture removed appearance, age, color, and gender from the casting equation. Zemeckis' choice of Ray Winstone to play the lead character is the quintessential example of the freedom in casting performance capture provides. Initially, Zemeckis hadn't thought of Winstone, but when he heard the actor's distinctive voice he was convinced he'd found his Beowulf. "My wife was watching Ray doing an adaptation of ‘Henry VIII' on TV and I heard his voice and said, ‘Oh my God that sounds like Beowulf!' I went and watched him and he had so much power and this ability to tap into the animal part of his humanity. That's a big part of Beowulf – he has a real visceral quality. He cares only about what he can kill, what he can eat, who he can screw. Ray is an amazing, powerful actor who has the ability to tap into that primeval aspect,” Zemeckis says.

No one was more surprised than Winstone when Zemeckis approached him for the part. "I was doing Martin Scorsese's film ‘The Departed' in New York when I got the call that they were interested in seeing me for ‘Beowulf.' I came to Los Angeles to meet with Bob, and I thought, I'm traveling a long way for a job interview, but I did it because I think he's a genius. He asked what I thought of the script and I told him I thought it was the story of a man whose greed for gold, ambition, power and fame ultimately consumes him. He's a bigger monster in many ways than any of the demons he faces. As the conversation went on, I realized that it wasn't an audition; Bob actually wanted me to do the film, which was quite a shock to me,” Winstone recalls.

The adventure elements of the script appealed to Winstone as did the opportunity to delve into a medium that was new to him. The candid Winstone is the first to say "… I didn't know anything about the original poem. My children tell me they know about it. But (the script) is a fantastic story and I've always wanted to play a Viking. The great thing about the (performance capture) technique, is that it allowed someone like me, who is 5'10” and a little on the plump side, to play a 6'6” golden-haired Viking. The process initially sounded complicated and a little bit uncomfortable, but I am a bit of a sucker for things I think I can't do, so I was very excited to try it,” Winstone says.

An equally important attraction for Winstone was the stellar cast of co-stars Zemeckis had assembled. "The people working in this movie are amazing – the list goes on and on. Anthony Hopkins has been one of my favorites since I was a kid, and it was such a pleasure just to watch him work. I happened to work with Robin Wright Penn in London and she is a fine actress, as is Angelina Jolie, who I'd known for five years and is just fantastic. And Brendan Gleeson, my old mate, who I worked with on "Cold Mountain,” as well as Crispin Glover and John Malkovich, who are so clever and inventive. They're such excellent actors, I knew I'd learn something on a job like this, just working with them,” says Winstone.

Zemeckis notes that performance capture, in addition to fulfilling Winstone's wish to play a Viking, gave all his actors the luxury of performing unfettered by the demands of conventional filmmaking. "The thing I love about performance capture is that it allows the actor to give the director those magic moments, those things the actor does you never expected,” Zemeckis explains.

"You have this wide open canvas where the actor can bring whatever he or she wants to the character because you're not under the same constraints that you'd have on a live-action film. The actors are liberated from the tyranny of a normal movie – it's not about lighting, it's not about setting up the camera, it's not about the hair and make-up or costumes. It is absolute performance and great actors, like th

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