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SEASON OF THE WITCH

All The Cardinal's Men
The filmmakers assembled an extraordinary international ensemble cast, headed up by Academy Award® winner Nicolas Cage as Behmen. "Nic Cage had a window of opportunity in his schedule and we jumped on it,” says producer Roven. "In my opinion, Nic is among the greatest actors of his generation. He's constantly challenging himself. Nic can be an action hero in National Treasure, and he can also play the twin brothers in Adaptation. When he played an angel who falls in love and wants to become human on a film I produced called City of Angels, he invested that character with an ethereal quality. He has amazing range that allows him to transcend who he is and become the character.”

Reading the script, Cage was reminded of his childhood in Long Beach, California. A solitary kid with a vivid imagination, he dreamed of being a knight. "I've wanted to make a picture in this period for a long time,” says Cage. "I feel deeply connected to it. When I was five or six, my father built a wooden castle for me in our backyard. I would spend whole days in there, imagining the heroic exploits I would have. I was on my own in that castle, exploring my imagination, and I became interested in knights and dragons and the history of the time.

"I've also always wanted to make a movie that would allow me to experience beautiful, mountainous terrain,” adds Cage. "When I got this script and realized I would be in the Austrian Alps on a horse, I just wanted to get out there.”

His character is no run-of-the-mill Lancelot, living a life of jousting tournaments and fair maidens. "Behmen is a radical thinker for his time,” says Cage. "He's a man who joined the Crusades believing he was doing the right thing, but got sick of the killing. While he's in no way an atheist, he has decided to separate himself from the church. He has a very strong connection with God, but he has abandoned organized religion, which was heresy at the time. He could be burned at the stake for it.

"When he is asked to deliver the alleged witch to the abbey at Severak, he does it to ensure her a fair trial,” the actor continues. "And along the way, incredibly spooky things begin to happen.”

Cage's engagement with the character and the time makes the story instantly accessible to a modern audience, says Gartner. "He really embraced the concept,” says the producer. "Nic is fantastic at bringing you into a story. He jumped in with both feet and was a complete joy to work with. He had great script and character ideas, plus he looks fantastic as Behmen. You've never seen Nic Cage like this before.”

The film reunited Cage with Dominic Sena, who had earlier directed the actor in Gone in Sixty Seconds. "Dominic was an enormous source of energy for us all,” says Cage. "He was completely committed to his work. Dom is incredibly visual, but at the same time, he has a sense of humor that keeps people happy and confident. One of his greatest tools is that he makes actors feel good about what they can do. He fortified us.”

Behmen's comrade-in-arms, Felson, played by Ron Perlman, is a man of action, in contrast to Behmen's more thoughtful approach to life. "If Felson hadn't gone to war, he might have become a criminal,” says Cage. "Behmen is more of a philosopher but the two of them have bonded in a way that only people under fire, fighting for each other's lives, can understand. Whatever either of them are going through, they'll go through it together.”

Perlman lends a gruff, no nonsense earthiness to the character. "Felson has his own mythic, heroic quality, but he's more a regular guy than Behmen,” says Roven. "He's hardened and tough, big in stature, and also in heart. He's a larger-than-life character who would follow his friend into the depths of hell if he had to.”

After seeing Perlman's performance, Sena says he can't imagine anyone else playing Felson. "He brings a great deal of dark humor to the character. He and Behmen have been to hell and back together, and bonded in an extraordinary way. With a word or a gesture, Ron can communicate that and make you smile.”

Referring to his character as "a rough dude who came from nothing,” Perlman explains, "He grew up on the street and has never gotten over the rush of taking life right to the edge. He became a warrior for the action. It doesn't even matter which side he's fighting for as long as he's in it, which makes him the perfect foil for Behmen.”

He and Cage collaborated in the creation of a detailed history for their characters. "They needle one another, especially in high-tension situations, because that is what guys in a war do all the time,” says Perlman. "They're constantly trying to keep it light, because if they dwelled on what is really going on around them, they would freeze in fear. Nic is a hard worker and very serious about building a foundation for his character. The smartest way for us to approach this was to sit down together and figure out a very specific back story for them.”

The actor found Sena's combination of meticulous preparation and willingness to reconceive his ideas on the fly a thrilling way to work. "I love being over-prepared,” says Perlman. "I'm also willing to throw all the preparation out the window if somebody comes up with a remarkably good idea. Dom had an incredibly well-articulated idea of the movie he was making, what it was going to look like and what it was going to feel like, but if he saw something better during the course of shooting or rehearsing, he was willing to change his whole game plan. He's such an accomplished shooter and he's so great at making beautiful images with the camera that whatever he comes up with is going to be compelling.”

For the pivotal role of the Girl, as the young woman at the center of the drama is known, the filmmakers selected British newcomer Claire Foy. "We needed somebody who had the right sort of vulnerability,” says Roven. "She had to be tough enough to fight back, but her toughness had to have a certain ambiguity to it. We want audiences to ask themselves whether she is lashing out in self-defense or because she really is a witch. Claire has a very chilling quality when she gets tough and yet she's sympathetic enough to make you to believe she's just an innocent.”

The director and producer were completing casting for the film while in Hungary for preproduction. "We saw Claire's audition online,” says Gartner. "We must have looked at twenty or thirty girls for the part. Dom and I agreed to meet for breakfast the next morning and discuss whom we liked and what the next step should be. I had put a big star next to Claire's name, because her audition was so extraordinary. The next day, as I was sitting in the dining room drinking my coffee, I suddenly heard a voice in my ear say, ‘Claire Foy.' Dom had come to exactly the same conclusion I did. And he just went off to get his breakfast. Everybody involved in the project watched Claire's audition and knew she was the one.”

The Girl has been wandering the countryside and the Plague has dogged her wherever she goes. "My character is sort of a Typhoid Mary,” says Foy. "Everywhere she's been, the Plague has appeared. Therefore, she's a witch. It says a lot about how women were treated at the time.

"She's just a young girl and all these powerful men are accusing her of something horrific,” Foy continues. "You never quite work her out, and I think that's important, because the men don't either. She's neither a femme fatale nor an innocent girl, but she is so intelligent that she's able to pit a

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