About The Characters
As the screenplay continued to take shape, Cuaron and Linson turned their attentions to casting
As the screenplay continued to take shape, Cuaron and Linson turned
their attentions to casting. Ethan Hawke, who has made a strong
mark with roles in such films as "Reality Bites," "Before
Sunrise" and "Dead Poet's Society," got the nod
to portray Finnegan Bell, the film's central character.
Hawke saw the role as a perfect fit, one that continues to make
a vivid impression on the actor. "So much of GREAT EXPECTATIONS
felt like the story of my own life," he offers. "The
idea of a small kid finding himself in the center of things, the
way Finn handles success and how he grows as an individual are
all important themes that drew me to the project.
"But," he continues, "at the core of this tale
is the idea that we have very little control of our lives. For
example, I started acting when I was thirteen but very little
of it was my own doing. There are people who have been incredibly
kind to me and have changed my life, just as the characters in
the film change Finn's life."
A driving force in Finn's life is his undying and unrequited love
for Estella. The icy beauty is portrayed by Gwyneth Paltrow. "Who
else could play Estella but Gwyneth?" asks Cuaron, who cast
Paltrow after seeing an early cut of "Emma." "I
was struck by how easy Gwyneth makes acting seem. She has wit,
sophistication and she definitely has beauty."
Paltrow and Hawke had been friends for many years and embraced
the opportunity to work together. "When you're really comfortable
and good friends with someone," she explains, "you feel
relaxed and open around them; this really helps open yourself
up to the work."
Paltrow's close working relationship with Hawke and director Cuaron
helped the actress shape her character. "Estella is the ice
princess," claims Paltrow. "She is unattainable, but
she is also selfaware. Estella has been taught not to love."
Another character who is an important and unexpected influence
on Finn is Lustig, the terrifying convict who later becomes Finn's
gentle mysterious, benefactor. Twotime Academy Awardwinning
actor Robert De Niro takes on the critical role.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS marks De Niro's fifth film with producer Art
Linson, and it was his friendship with the producer that brought
him to the film. "I trust Art completely and he'd been telling
me about this project for a long time," claims De Niro. The
opportunity to work with Cuaron was another draw. "I had
seen 'A Little Princess' which I thought was a wonderful film,
and I wanted to work with Alfonso."
Linson relished the prospect of reuniting with De Niro. "He
always brings something special to a project," notes the
producer. "As he does so often, Bob has created a memorable
character who has a lot of levels."
De Niro's casting indeed was the realization of Cuaron's hopes
for the part. "Art Linson had asked me who I wanted to play
the convict," Cuaron remembers, "and I said, 'Bob De
Niro, of course!' And he said, 'Okay, you've got him.' It was
like a dream.
"What most impressed me," adds Cuaron, "was De
Niro's extraordinary attention to detail, in everything from makeup
to wardrobe." The actor's signature and legendary preparations
for this film included shaving his head for the film's opening
sequences and meticulously and subtly building his overall "look"
for Lustig's later years.
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