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STRAW DOGS

Where Machismo Rules
"Peckinpah had a very definite point of view of human beings and how they behaved,” says Lurie, of the original film's shocking violence. "He was very much a pessimist about human beings, and I believe I'm an optimist. So I thought it might be an interesting experiment to see whether or not you can do the same story, but tell it from a different point of view.”

Working more from Gordon William's novel, The Siege of Trencher's Farm than from Peckinpah's film, Lurie felt that updating the story and bringing its special psychological terror into the classic American setting of a small Southern town -- where life was ruled by how the football team performed on Friday night and the townspeople's roles were a clearly defined hierarchy -- would bring a modern edge to what is at heart a powerful and ultimately terrifying examination of a relationship being incomprehensibly tested and torn apart.

Recalled Marc Frydman, Lurie's partner at Battleplan Productions, "Rod and I had been discussing ‘Straw Dogs' since we first started working together over 10 years ago. Then while we were under contract at ABC we realized that a subsidiary of the company that had been active in the 70's, but had since folded, ABC Pictures, still held the option on the project. I contacted the person handling the rights and told them that the second it became available I'd have a check to them.”

Rights in hand, Lurie then set about regrounding everything in William's novel, shifting the location to a small fictional Southern town steeped in traditions of brutality, and transforming the characters into roles within that classic American setting.

"It's not so much that it's the South,” explains Lurie. "What I wanted to define was a culture where violence was a part of their everyday life, where they're hunting, where there's football – which I adore – and where their people solve things through fights. Where machismo rules.”

Continued Frydman, ”Rod felt strongly that one of the reason's the original film didn't really work in the States was because it was set in England. By relocating the setting to a Southern football culture and transferring the characters to players in a small town ruled by that culture, it provided a background and familiar setting that we felt was missing from the original. Rod and I both felt that we weren't remaking Peckinpah, we were retelling the story.”

The southern location also provided the background for the hot and sweaty atmosphere that Lurie wanted to bring to the film, and which came to life when Screen Gems' president Clint Culpepper suggested shooting the film in Shreveport, Louisiana. "Clint knew that we wanted a heavy, intense feel for the movie and had previously shot movies there and suggested it as a perfect set-up for the shoot,” recalled Frydman. "After a scouting trip down there we knew we had found our Blackwater and other than dealing with rain issues it really was the perfect setting and provided the exact feel and look we were striving for in updating the story.”

One thing Lurie and Frydman agreed should not change, was the central core of the story's menacing buildup, which forces a reluctant hero to use violence in order to defend his wife, his property and both of their lives – and whether after being shattered, his marriage could ever be rebuilt. But it begins with a seemingly happy union.

"This is a couple at the nascent state of their marriage, where they're making an assumption that everything is okay,” offers Lurie, who modernized the marriage by making Amy Sumner a working woman, in this case an actress, and her husband David – a math professor in Peckinpah's version – a Hollywood screenwriter. "They've probably lived their entire relationship both working and not spending that much time together. And now they're beginning to learn the hard truths of their marriage, and it doesn't help that they've come into a world where her old boyfriend also exists.” Stepping into the roles of Amy and David are two of Hollywood's rapidly rising stars – James Marsden and Kate Bosworth.

For Marsden, who had most recently been seen on screen in much lighter roles, the script struck a chord with him. "When I read the script for the first time, I imagined the whole thing in my head. It felt like something I could contribute to,” he remembers.

Lurie knew exactly what Marsden could contribute: a performance completely different from Dustin Hoffman's. "Instead of going for a New York Jewish intellectual, I went for a sort of Greenwich, Connecticut country club sort of intellectual, and that's what Jimmy brought. And it was very freeing for all of us, because we were not at all beholden to anything Hoffman had ever done. He's one of the most talented people I've ever met in my life.”

Bosworth also had a strong reaction after reading Lurie's script. "I had never seen the original film and I read the script before watching it and thought it was really interesting. I'm always drawn to character relationships and the complexities that exist there and this story is rich with them.” Laughing, she adds "Then I rented the original and was immediately terrified.”

Easing that trepidation was the chance to rehearse for two weeks with Lurie before production began. "It was a great luxury to just throw out ideas and talk about the differences between the films,” recalls Marsden. "We really explored, and continued to explore while we were shooting, the dynamic between David and Amy - their marriage, the problems with their marriage, where they came from and where they're at in their lives. Rod was really great throughout the rehearsals and the shoot with giving us the room to move around a bit and find things. We had a certain amount of creative license to find the characters ourselves and make them our own.”

Adds Bosworth, "Rod had to gain a real kind of trust with me to be able to go to certain places and be courageous with certain things and learn the extent to which I'll go. It was that sort of creating – talking about trust, experiencing this together and knowing there is nothing too deep or far that will frighten me or take me out of the moment. I think we all had that mentality so the fear, in a way, was positive and fueled our performances. Hopefully that will show.”

Lurie says the trust went both ways with her and Bosworth. "I remember telling her, ‘Since I wrote the screenplay, I know the character better than you. But when we start shooting, you're eventually going to know the character better than me, and I will question myself if you challenge me.' Sure enough, a week into shooting, there was a piece of direction I had given her, and she said, ‘I think you're wrong.' I didn't think I was wrong. But I trusted her, and it turned out that she was right.”

As the shoot got underway, the decision to film in Shreveport proved to be advantageous for reasons other than the inherent heat and humidity. As Marsden and Bosworth had learned when they had previously worked together on Superman, which filmed in Sydney, Australia, shooting a film at a distant location away from your everyday life immediately forges stronger connections amongst the cast. "This existence in the trenches together creates an intense bond,” says Bosworth. "We'd be out to dinner, having lunch, at a music festival and it was a constant conversation of the characters and the script and the film. It's this inescapable existence which works so well.”

Alexander Skarsgård, cast in the role of Amy's high school boyfriend Charlie Venner, agrees that being together on location is an absolute asset. "When you shoot in Los Angeles everyone has thei

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