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STRAW DOGS

Heroes With An Expiration Date
When David and Amy first arrive in Blackwater, that romantic vision of David's is shaken somewhat by the appearance of Charlie and his three friends, Bic, Norman and Chris, who David later refers to as Straw Dogs, likening them to straw offerings that were worshipped in ancient Chinese ceremonies then tossed aside and trampled. Marsden laughs, "Great analogy but it's a pretty arrogant thing to say.” He continues, "Peckinpah was quoted as saying that David is the heavy of the film - he's the one who comes into their territory and starts pushing their buttons. And David is that guy, but in the end when he's completely isolated from everyone else, the audience roots for him.”

For Skarsgård, the return of Amy and her husband stirs up a complicated mix of emotions in Charlie. "Back in high school Charlie and the boys were living the dream. Charlie was the quarterback of the team and the star. He was dating the cutest girl in school and his life was great – college, the NFL – he was going to be a huge star. He got a full scholarship to the University of Tennessee but got injured after a year and was back in Blackwater where the girlfriend had moved to California and his career was over. So those expectations the town had of him being the kid who was going to put Blackwater on the map never happened, which I think weighs on him, and then Amy comes back with this guy who is the complete opposite of Charlie – intellectual, skinny little guy with glasses from Hollywood who doesn't work for a living. He writes scripts. Is that a job even? So, it's tough for Charlie.”

Drew Powell, who plays Bic, says the analogy rings true. "I know exactly where these guys come from. I grew up in a small Indiana town where the highlight of entertainment is the football or basketball team and I've seen these guys in my hometown. Stars at eighteen on the front page of the paper, doing radio shows and everyone is talking about you and that was the highlight of your life and it never gets as good as it was for those four years of high school. That's definitely the case for these four guys, and then to have Charlie come back, who was really the only one of us who had potential, well, if he can't make it, we don't have a prayer.”

Rhys Coiro, who plays Norman, says that his character views David and Amy coming back as threats to his big-fish-in-a-small-pond mentality. "This is his place, you know? This is his town. And he feels that he's entitled to do what he pleases in his town.” It's an aspect of Norman's personality that Coiro brought instantly to his audition for the part. Says Lurie, "I had seen Rhys on ‘Entourage' and was just so impressed with him as an actor, but he came in scary as hell into the audition room and won us over very, very quickly.”

For the role of Deputy John Burke, the filmmakers wanted an actor who could suggest familiarity with Blackwater ways but an understated restlessness when old friends lose their common sense. They found it in Laz Alonso. "We decided we wanted a young Paul Newman type to play the sheriff in the town. In the original film he's sort of a very uptight character, and older. We wanted to go younger and hipper, and I really do believe Laz has got the qualities of Paul Newman. You absolutely can never take your eyes off him on the screen.”

Alonso says the idea of leaving town and coming back can also bring a more settled perspective. "Rod and I worked on developing John's back story which is that he has a lot in common with Charlie and the boys - they all played football together - but he went to Iraq, he fought, and he came back a hero. So there is a type of respect for his authority. He's the voice of reason and is the one guy who can look at them and say ‘Enough with this nonsense. We're better than this.' ” Alonso continues, "John, because he goes away to war, doesn't experience the same level of loss for the glory days as the other guys. He comes back with more of a love and appreciation for life and is viewed as a hero. But Charlie, Norman, Bic and Chris are really heroes with an expiration date. The minute they graduated the next team came in and takes all the glory and they're on the sidelines. No one ever really prepares you for that.”

As Lurie wove the characters into the fabric of small-town Southern life, the football parallel allowed him to provide background stories and relationships for the roles that he felt were missing in the Peckinpah film. Recalls Powell, "Bic is the only Straw Dog who is not in the original film. There are other characters but it's not specifically Bic. So my take on Bic is that he's the follower, I don't know where he is on the totem pole. I feel like Chris is the bottom, Charlie is definitely the leader, he was the quarterback and as he goes, so go the rest of us. And Norman is the second, you know, whether he was the running back or received, he is the second and is aware of it.”

Also reframed is the role of Tom Heddon, who in the 1971 film doesn't have much of a background other than being a bully, but here becomes what Marsden refers to as the first generation Straw Dog. "He's the guy who was the all-important coach for the all-important high school football team that makes the cover of every newspaper.”

For Lurie and Frydman, there was only one actor in mind for the Tom Heddon role – James Woods. Frydman comments, "Both Rod and I are huge fans, and he's actually friendly with Rod and was on our list when we were casting "The Contender” but it didn't work out. When we were casting Heddon I had just seen some of Jimmy's work in ‘Shark' and was completely blown away and he is so amazing in the role of Tom – just swallows the scene and brings something different every take.”

Lurie adds, "What James Woods delivers is a classic James Woods performance, which is really a raging fire all its own.”

Woods relished the role and worked with Lurie to hone the scenes. Says the actor, "It's a wonderful character and rather than just making him a nasty, vicious, drunken fool I think he's a guy who once had a wonderful life and then all of a sudden, his life changed overnight when his wife died and things emerged in his personality that didn't go the right way and now he's one of those pathetic people who's left over in life with nowhere to go. Except the bar at Blackie's. He's a straw dog as much as the boys are who left the team.”

The cast found the chance to work with Woods an exhilarating experience. "It's just an honor to be with him and be around him,” says Coiro. "He sets the bar really high.” Known for his improvisation in scenes, Woods kept the cast on their toes delivering different lines and readings sometimes with every take. "I made a choice as an actor, and Rod like it, to make this character incredibly mercurial. Rod is one of those great writer-directors who is not married only to his words. If you can come up with something and he likes it, you can go with it.”

For Bosworth it brought back memories of working on one of her first films, Wonderland. "I remember working with Val (Kilmer) and he was the same with improvisation which was a great training ground for me. We would go way off page and kind of delve into territories that didn't even exist, we were creating it on the fly and I love that.”

The consummate actor, Woods worked with the film's costume designer Lynn Falconer, as well as hairdresser Larry Waggoner to fully flush out Heddon's look. "The look is very important and I told both of them that I was thinking Tom Landry,” says Woods. "Short hair, the hat and tattoos. Very buttoned up, like a military guy – kind of tough, wiry and lean.”

For Alonso, that attent

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