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THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES

Casting The Secret Life Of Bees
Liftin' someone's heart, now that matters. The whole problem with people is they know what matters, but they don't choose it. -August

Prince-Bythewood and the producers still marvel at their unprecedented good fortune at being able to secure the actors they had imagined for leading roles in the film. "The fact that we got everybody we wanted is a great blessing,” Prince-Bythewood says. "It's a blessing beyond belief.”

Dakota Fanning was the unanimous favorite to portray Lily Owens, thanks to her previous impressive performances, her own love of the novel and her proven history of holding her own opposite such powerful onscreen presences as Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise and Sean Penn.

As Lily Owens, Fanning portrays a teenager struggling with typical pubescent angst, but her challenges are compunded by her feelings of self-loathing and sorrow – all tied to the death her mother. Lily's one saving grace is her empathetic caretaker Rosaleen, portrayed by Academy Award winning actress Jennifer Hudson

Describing her character Lily as being stuck between a rock and a hard place, Fanning enjoyed the creative challenge of portraying a white teenager in the South during the 60's, whose only mother-figure is an African-American housekeeper. "It adds a certain amount of tension to the movie,” Fanning explains, "because it was looked down upon for a young white girl to be living with African-American people. This is something my character can't understand.” Hudson says her character and Fanning's were bound together by shared needs. "They both have a struggle: Rosaleen wants to be acknowledged as a human being while Lily is looking for a mother. So where one is weak, the other is strong.”

Given that neither actress could reference the 1960's from personal knowledge, Prince- Bythewood tried to create an environment steeped in the period. "Only 60's music was allowed on the set — a lot of Motown,” says Prince-Bythewood, who would not even allow modern music in her own car on the way to work. The director also created an elaborate improv to help them get into character. Before filming began, while on location in downtown Burgaw, a little town in North Carolina, the director had Fanning and Hudson meet at a drugstore where they were told to purchase 10 items and eat a meal. Extras in the drugstore had been instructed by the director to interact respectfully with Fanning, but to ignore Hudson. "I couldn't hear what that guy at the counter said to Jennifer, but I know what I told him to say,” Prince-Bythewood recalls. "When I saw her head whip around so fast, I was thinking ‘Oh my God, is she going to hit him?' ”

Acknowledging the impact of those exercises - and the historical research she did - on her performance, Hudson says she developed an overwhelming sense of gratitude at being young today. "I was sitting watching a little white girl and a little black boy reading a book together recently and I thought ‘Wow that would have been illegal 50 years ago.'” She adds, "You have to know where you've come from to know where you're going and you need to know what mistakes you made, so you don't make them again. This was a part of our history.”

For Hudson, the closeness she experienced with her fellow actors on the set mirrored her feelings about the film itself. "It's about togetherness,” she says. "If we stick together, there's so much we can accomplish, because no matter what the struggle, as long as you've got somebody, you can make it.”

Ironically, however, Prince-Bythewood says that one of the most memorable scenes for her involved the opposite emotion, when Lily tells August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) she is unlovable. "It just kills me,” Prince-Bythewood says, noting that the sheer vulnerability exuded by Fanning, coupled with the tenderness Latifah summons to heal

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