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Casting The Production
Charlie Wilson's War marks the second occasion Nichols has worked with Julia Roberts and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he was thrilled to reunite with them. Of his interest in bringing on Roberts for the project, the director comments, ""Julia is so shockingly creative. She is a wonderful screen actor, a joy to work with, as good as it gets. Her ingenuity about costumes and makeup and what the person would and wouldn't do…she is really remarkable. We knew the character was somewhat older than Julia, born-again, a Texas millionaire who's had numerous husbands. Every second Julia's on the screen, she is so electric, surprising and somehow compelling—even though the character is apparently way held back, very controlled. You see someone you've never seen before, and that's very exciting.”

Roberts admits that Herring is unlike any character she's portrayed. "I don't know that I would have envisioned myself in a part like this, but I love that Mike wanted me for it. It is such a fabulous script; it is so much juicier and has much more depth than the usual screenplay. And Joanne is such a fantastic character, so energetic and yet so enigmatic. She is really a contrast study in every way—a beautiful socialite who also is zealously interested in the plight of these Afghan fighters.”

Whereas Hanks spent time with Wilson in advance of playing him, Roberts elected not to meet with Herring until she'd determined her character. This was no slight against Herring, but rather an artistic decision. "It's funny to play a real person; there's a fine line between imitating and interpreting who that person is,” she offers. "I was torn and felt that way when I did Erin Brockovich. It's tricky to know when the right time to meet is. So I read all the research materials I could get my hands on and watched footage, the 60 Minutes piece on Charlie, and a couple things that were about Joanne. When I finally did meet her, she was just lovely—with fine social graces, dressed impeccably.”

Nichols understood Roberts' decision to create a character uninfluenced by the person upon whom her role is based. He notes that, while the protagonists in Charlie Wilson's War are based on real people and real events, ultimately, they must behave as characters in a movie and adhere to the demands of the story. For audiences—and for Nichols—the hope is that the characters become real people.

For the director, it boils down to "obligation to the scene and the story you are making. A character is a character; most are based on someone at sometime. It goes from as specific as Karen Silkwood to as metaphoric as Mrs. Robinson, but both are real people. And the actor and I approach it in the same way: Who is this? How do they live? What do they wear? Whom do they love? You can't show everything that happened, but you can be faithful to the events—to the acts that were performed, the things that they said.”

Though Roberts was reuniting with Nichols and his team, this was the first time she and Hanks had worked together. She observes, "Mike always has a core group of people that are with him. There is a familiarity and security there that is just a joy. And then there's Tom Hanks, who is as sweet, energetic, funny, kind and amazing as I ever dreamed him to be.”

Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays the shrewd, hotheaded CIA agent Gust Avrakotos, never met the man he was portraying; Avrakotos died before the film began production. But by all accounts, the actor eerily channeled him. Indeed, Nichols marveled at Hoffman's transformation into the spy. "Phil Hoffman and I worked together on The Seagull, and he was astonishing. Every 50 years, there is a great actor of that kind,” Nichols says. "He comes out playing whomever he is playing—whether heartbreaking or terrifying or overwhelming—that makes you have very strong emotions. My guess i

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