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The Stellar Cast
Director Hicks felt from the outset that a strong ensemble cast was required to tell the story, and he was fortunate to be able to put together just that. From international cinema, ranging from Ethan Hawke, one of the new generation of America actors, through to Max von Sydow, a giant of European and world cinema.

  "Some of these actors' performances I've grown up with. In fact, they were part of my inspiration to become a filmmaker," Hicks says. "Then there is Sam Shepard, a legend of his own both as a writer and an actor, and powerful actors such as James Cromwell, James Rebhorn and Richard Jenkins and Celia Weston. There are also many, many strong character actors and a wonderful Japanese cast."

The role of Hatsue Miyamoto proved to be the most challenging one to cast. Hicks' wife, Kerry Heysen, must be credited for her acumen in spotting Youki Kudoh in the Australian film, Heaven's Burning. After watching her in Picture Bride and Mystery Train, Hicks was convinced he had found Hatsue. "It was obvious that Youki claimed the role, which is the ideal thing you look for. She has a unique sensibility, placing herself within the emotions of the character so accurately and profoundly it's quite remarkable to watch."

Ethan Hawke became entranced with the idea of playing Ishmael Chambers upon reading the book. "It's rare you read something where all the characters are fully constructed representations of human beings, with a past and a future. There is so much richness of detail and it's a very interesting story; mysterious, romantic," he says.

Max von Sydow, indelible in the films of Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring), memorable as Tracker in What Dreams May Come and as the priest in The Exorcist, was cast as Nels Gudmundsson, the defendant's lawyer.

"I loved the script very much," says von Sydow. "It's a wonderfully intelligent, rich story with many levels which are cleverly interwoven. It deals with real people that you care about, whom it's possible to understand. Also, Nels is a man of common sense and that's very appealing."

  Playwright and actor Sam Shepard was impressed by the humanity of the characters, and identified on a personal level with the story's historical events. "This aspect of American history means something to me because my dad was in the Air Force and I grew up in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor. I remember very clearly the resulting prejudice against Japanese Americans. Pearl Harbor was still an enormous shock well into the 1950's so it's understandable, as in this story, that people were still full of fear and suspicion."

James Cromwell comments about the importance of the story to modern audiences. "This is that rare kind of film which informs an audience and alters its perception. Even though I knew this history, it's still compelling. When you adjust your view, you can see it's still mirrored in the events of today."

The narrowness and prejudice of the story's general populace is honed to crystalline perfection in the character of Etta Heine, portrayed by Celia Weston. "The character leapt out at me when I read the book," she says. "I tracked its film prospects and when I learned that Scott Hicks would direct it, I called my agent and told him I wanted to be seen." The part was hers because, says Hicks, "She wasn't just Etta the villain but Etta the grieving mother who'd lost her son." Weston, who can also be seen in

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