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GREAT EXPECTATIONS

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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