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The Cast
Polanski then assembled his cast - Academy Award®-winner Kate Winslet (Mildred Pierce, The Reader) and Academy Award®-winner Christoph Waltz (Water for Elephants, Inglourious Basterds) as Nancy and Alan Cowan, opposite Academy Award®-winner Jodie Foster (Panic Room, The Silence of the Lambs) and Academy Award®-nominee John C. Reilly (We Need to Talk About Kevin, Chicago, Magnolia) as Penelope and Michael Longstreet.

All of the actors were required to be on set all day, every day, throughout the shoot, as they all feature in every scene. "To film in that way you must have actors who can live with each other,” says Polanski. "The four characters they were playing were of such different traits and types. It was a stroke of luck that these four actors could function so well together, in complete harmony. It just doesn't happen on every production!”

Kate Winslet describes investment broker Nancy Cowan as "an extremely busy working mother, who constantly feels desperately guilty about not being present enough in her child's life and yet has very forthright opinions about motherhood and parenting when in fact she's clutching at straws. Although she loves her child, there are certain areas where she doesn't really know what she's talking about.”

For Winslet the play's success resides in how its universal themes are couched in humour. "It's a window on so many of our worlds,” she says. "It's about the complexities of parenting, it's about how children should be raised, and it's about the endlessly complex dynamic that is marriage. And to have turned it into a comedy in the way that Yasmina did is even more enriching and enlightening for everybody. To be able to laugh at ourselves, to be able to make fun of the human condition, is the thing that no matter what language you speak or which country you're in or what your personal circumstances are we've all experienced in some way.”

"It's very real,” continues Winslet. "For example, in the school playground when you're negotiating with other parents there's always an air of ‘I have to be nice to you even though I hate your guts.' There's always glossy air of making nice, a fakery that goes on which is part of how you operate as a parent when you're trying to protect your child.”

The actress also responded to the piece's savage depiction of how our lives are dominated by technology. "It shows how easy it is to become disengaged from your own reality. It's as though we've gotta get that quick fix you know to plug the gaps in our relationships. We rely on checking our texts or sending a text back or waiting for that ‘brruuupp'. We've all become so accustomed to this way of existing and validating our friendships through those non-verbal connections.”

Winslet was enthralled by the multi-layered nature of the piece. "What's fascinating about this is that it starts off being about one thing and it becomes very quickly entirely about something else,” she says. "I love that about the story; it's very real but it's unpredictable. You think you're watching one type of movie and actually, it changes very quickly into something very different.”

For Jodie Foster, who plays campaigner Penelope Longstreet, it was the ideas the story tackles that provided the strongest attraction. "Although it's satirical and outlandish in some respects, the relationship between the characters have a genuine grounding in real psychology, in family psychology, and it's the tapestry of people's lives that I find most fascinating - how they interact with each other, how they drive each other crazy, how they stab each other over and over again, not just in this generation but in the next generation, too. Our ideas about morality are constructs and in fact we're all very primitive. We're all monstrous in some ways and if we took responsibility for that we'd probably be better off.”

"The question of morality is interesting,” Foster continues. "Four people are trying to figure out what's the right thing to do and is the right thing the right thing? As time goes on, they start revealing just who they really are. They become more and more monstrous, and I guess that's what makes it funny. They are all polite people, they're all well educated and older and are from upper middle class families and live in a very polite suburb and you'd think that everything would go very well and instead it all goes very badly indeed.”

"It's a comedy of manners and how people lose those manners,” says Foster. "What really makes it work is that each character is so well drawn and how different they are. So Kate's character is so good at always trying to be the liaison between everybody and yet we know that's not what she's really thinking, so we watch her cover up by becoming more and more solicitous.”

Foster says she felt Penelope was "a very good fit.” "She's very politically correct and takes everything way too seriously,” says the actress. "She starts out as normal, but as the story progresses she becomes more and more of a caricature of a regular person. The character's relationships have a lot of layers. The problems in our marriage get worked out during this negotiation. She's an uptight woman who works in a bookstore but who's writing a book on suffering in Africa and who can't get that out of her mind. She's appalled by these two people who come into her home who, she thinks, don't seem to care about the plight of the world. Her husband is a good guy and he thinks that my uptightness is little too much and the way he avoids that is by drinking his favorite scotch.”

Foster relished the twists and turns in the relationships between the four characters. "For much of the time, it is Penelope and Alan who dislike each other because he's a very cocky lawyer who likes to tease me because he's irritated by how politically correct I am. But soon all four are trading sides and by the end of the film we all hate each other. The story underlines the fragility of relationships and how scarred we all are.”

The language also drew in the actress and she was intrigued by how Reza has the characters reveal themselves through coded language. "Penelope tends to continually say "that's disgusting” or "that disgusts me.” Disgust seems to be my number one thing. And Nancy keeps saying "naturally” and yet she's the least natural person. Michael is the kind of guy who keeps saying "why can't we all just get along,” you know, and "why do we have to think about things, why do we have to think about things at all.”

For Winslet too, the opportunity to immerse herself in the piece‘s rich and textural language was an immediate draw. "We hear the characters use really aggressive, robust words as either weapons or ways of explaining their own emotions or their perception of what someone else is thinking,” she says. "And none of them take responsibility for the words that come out of their mouths. That's one of the reasons why the story unravels in the way that it does – no one takes responsibility for anything that they say.”

John C. Reilly takes on the role of Michael Longstreet, a houseware supply salesman with social ambitions. "He aspires to be a class higher than where he came from. His wife Penelope is much more intellectual, she's a writer, and she's very concerned with global issues and justice in the world. In some ways each of the characters is a hypocrite who thinks that if only everyone thought the way they thought then the world would be perfect. So Michael puts on his best face for the meeting with Nancy and Alan but eventually he can't take it anymore and explodes. It was a refreshing character to play within the piece. Each of the characters

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