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AMERICAN BEAUTY

About The Production (Continued)
Scott Bakula and Sam Robards play the couple to which Cooper refers, namely Jim and his partner, also named Jim

Scott Bakula and Sam Robards play the couple to which Cooper refers, namely Jim and his partner, also named Jim. Robards laughs, "I think they're probably the most normal people in the neighborhood."

Bakula agrees, "Their relationship seems to be the only functional one in the movie.

Completing the main cast is Peter Gallagher as Buddy Kane, the "king of real estate," who, Gallagher notes, "comes to represent the pinnacle of success and the epitome of what can be achieved in this small town-especially in the eyes of Carolyn Burnham."

Mendes states, "I think one of the greatest strengths of Alan Ball's script is that he managed to imbue every part with an inner landscape and a complete back story. Even when the parts are relatively small, you feel they bring a whole world with them onto the screen."

Part of that world was constructed during a lengthy rehearsal period, in which the actors themselves contributed to the back stories of their characters. Alan Ball recalls, "We spent several weeks sitting around a table talking about the script. The actors were able to offer ideas about story and lines that ended up in the script because they were so right on the money."

Mendes allows that, in films, rehearsal time might be considered a luxury, though coming from the theatre, he regarded it as a necessity. His cast agrees that the rehearsal process was invaluable, not only to hone their characters, but to create the relationships that were so integral to the story.

"The rehearsals were such a bonding experience for everyone," Annette Bening reflects. "One of the most difficult things about most films is portraying a relationship with people you haven't spent any time with, but, in contrast, this was wonderful. We got to know one another as we explored the script and talked about past histories of the characters, which were important for us to know and helped us to develop our performances. It was obvious Sam Mendes had come from the theatre, because on a play you become like a family, and that's what we did on this film. There was a camaraderie, a feeling of comfort and safety; it was really a joyful experience."

That joy translated into a great deal of fun on the set, of which Kevin Spacey was usually at the center. Thora Birch attests, "Kevin is quite an entertainer. I remember shooting one scene-a dinner table argument-which I thought we'd never finish because we couldn't stop laughing."

"We were laughing about 17 hours a day," Spacey says. "We were having so much fun, it was probably illegal."

Fun might not have been how Spacey would describe the preparation needed for the more tangible requirements of his role. Over the course of the story, Lester Burnham transforms his middle-aged paunch into a lean and fit shadow of his former self. To depict this metamorphosis, Spacey embarked on a regimen of diet and exercise, working out with a trainer twice a day in a special gym housed in a large truck near the set.

"The physical transformation was the biggest challenge for me in the film," Spacey admits. "I start the film as sort of a schlub-bad posture, overweight-and through the course of the story completely change my appearance. It was very time consuming and demanded a great deal of commitment, but on the other hand, I saw results pretty quickly, which was inspiring. It dramatically changed not only my eating habits but

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