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THE DEBT

About The Production
After the Israeli feature film Ha-Hov [The Debt], directed by Assaf Bernstein and produced by Eitan Evan, opened in 2007, the thriller received four nominations for Israel's Academy Awards equivalent. Evan credits the film's having been sold for distribution to countries beyond Israel to "its original story, combined with the thriller plot about Mossad agents on a mission. Mossad is an institution, one of the best in the world for espionage and intelligence, and the film had an authenticity to it with regard to them.”

Producer Eduardo Rossoff took note of the film as being ideal for an English language remake, tied to its unique two-tiered storyline revolving around 30-yearold secrets coming to light, and brought Ha-Hov to the attention of producer Kris Thykier.

Thykier was instantly intrigued. He recalls, "It was a spectacular story, and brilliantly acted. I did feel that there was an opportunity for a little more complexity and scale; I saw the potential of making a smart thriller that would be relevant to – and entertaining for – a world audience.”

After viewing the film, Thykier's producing partner Matthew Vaughn agreed. As Evan spoke with Thykier by phone and then in person to finalize the new project, Vaughn started work on the script adaptation for the remake with his screenwriting partner Jane Goldman.

Six months later, the producers presented the script to Oscar-nominated director John Madden. He found the screenplay to be "offering a visceral narrative in which both the emotional and moral stakes are very high, coupled with depth in the characterizations. One's engagement in the material deepens as the story becomes more complex and begins to exercise more of a grip. I was transfixed. "I hadn't seen the Israeli film when I read the script. I felt I needed to watch it – and I'm glad I did, but then I didn't look at it again.”

Thykier says, "We were thrilled that John was interested, and we quickly started preparing the project with him. He is a genuine renaissance man, totally involved and committed from the start to making the material work as a movie.”

Madden began honing the script with screenwriter Peter Straughan. The director notes, "The level of narrative development in the material is unusual in that the audience is constantly kept guessing about just what's going on – and we wanted to heighten that.

"Assaf Bernstein and Ido Rosenblum's script for the original film had an underlying foundation and structure that was solid, and Matthew and Jane had already developed the story in some interesting ways. But as Peter and I began to work on the story, we found new directions emerging. And the thematic emphasis of the film started to shift.”

Evan agrees, noting that "the new film involves the past much more than the present, and there is more action. The Debt also delves deeper into the psychology of the Israeli characters.”

Thykier observes, "With the script's intelligence, and depth of character, we now had what I saw as a return to the 1970s thrillers that I had grown up on, like Three Days of the Condor and Marathon Man.”

With such actor-driven thrillers in mind, Madden knew that the cast "would be central to The Debt. Inevitably these characters would be close to us, often very close. We watch them making a choice, see it ripple through a lifetime, and witness its profound effects.”

Nowhere was this more important than with the lead character of Rachel Singer. The filmmakers needed an actress of a certain age to embody Rachel in 1997. She would have to be someone capable of conveying the uncertainty that haunts her, and embracing the physical challenges. With those prerequisites, Thykier states, "Who else could it be but Helen Mirren? We'd always thought of her for this role.”

Madden had previously directed Mirren in one of her celebrated Prime Suspect telefilms. He notes, "That was a fantastic experience for me. Helen is an actress at the top of her game, and she likes to test herself. She is fearless. Helen responded immediately to the challenge of this material.

"Here's a role which required her to intimate the wounds and the corrosive effect of events suppressed over 30 years. The tension and pain of a decision made long ago are evident; she literally bears a scar from what happened back then. All this has to come across amidst the pace and excitement of a thriller.”

Mirren comments, "Aside from wanting to work with John again and the fact that this was a good thriller story, I was interested in exploring the notion of how every action you take in life has a result, a consequence, and sooner or later you are going to have to face up to it.”

"Having learned to live with compromise, Rachel is finally realizing that it doesn't always work. She is not a person who reveals much to anyone, not even to the daughter who has written a book about her and her colleagues. Rachel has buried her true emotions and has existed for many years on a superficial level, not confronting the depth of her real feelings about things. She finds she has to do that, and much more.”

For that "much more,” Mirren rose to the occasion, learning the basic moves of krav maga, the renowned tactical defense skill that is rooted in hand-to-hand combat. Krav maga is the official self-defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces.

However, Mirren points out that "at this point in her life, Rachel is retired and hasn't fought in some years, so I wanted to keep that realistic. While she was trained in krav maga, that was a long time ago. So when she is called upon to defend herself again, she's far from a credible fighter.”

With their latter-day Rachel set, the filmmakers turned to casting the younger incarnation. Madden wanted to "not to be enslaved by the necessity to find a lookalike actress.

"But then we did find the perfect actress, who has an extraordinary physical affinity with Helen.”

Rising star Jessica Chastain was recommended to Madden "by an agent I trust, someone who didn't even represent her.” Chastain had recently filmed The Tree of Life for director Terrence Malick, who when phoned by Madden offered an overwhelmingly positive recommendation. "He was happy to talk forever about her,” Madden says.

Chastain remarks, "When I first read the script, I didn't even see it as a thriller. To me, it was a drama and a love story. It was so good that I felt, ‘I have to be in this movie.'

"I wanted to work with John Madden because he works both in theater and film, and that's what I like to do as well.”

The actress reveals, "I do a lot of research, and I went into my first meeting with John very prepared. I had found out that Helen Mirren and I are the same height, so I said, ‘Just to throw it out there…'”

Impressing the filmmakers with her grasp of the character, Chastain got the plum part. "She is magnetic to watch,” says Madden. "She elicits an emotional involvement from the viewer. There's no equivocation in the choices she makes, and emotionally she is absolutely clear.

"Helen has exactly that same quality. You can see the tiniest change of mood flutter across her face. That kind of transparency is rare, and it's a gift. The baton of Rachel passes effortlessly from one actress to the other.”

Unable to share the screen, "the two Rachels” instead met to compare notes well before filming began. Mirren and Chastain read scenes together and worked out shared characteristics that would resonate within the film.

Chastain remembers, "Helen and I got together in London with [productio

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