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THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY

Finding the Perfect Cast
"The one stipulation I made to the producers and to the studios was that I wouldn't make the film unless I found a Ripley I was excited by," Minghella says. "There were several people I was interested in as possibilities and I hadn't made up my mind when I saw a cut of ‘Good Will Hunting' which hadn't been released yet. And suddenly there was Matt Damon.

"I'd seen Matt in ‘Courage Under Fire' and was impressed, but now I wanted to sit down with him and talk, and we met. Matt's a writer himself. As a writer, I think he really understood what I was trying to do in the screenplay, and he expressed his relish and understanding of the material."

"I thought the screenplay was the best I ever read," Damon says. "Magnificent. And I loved the character of Ripley. He's so different from me. He subordinates himself to the people he's with. As far as anything I've done before, it's a real departure."

The stark contrast between the nature of the actor and the characteristics of the role assured Minghella that Damon was the only person to play Tom Ripley.

"The fact that Matt's essential quality is winning, so unneurotic and warm, convinced me he would be perfect. Someone cooler would have distanced the audience. It was clear that Matt was the perfect vehicle to take you all the way in the film. He plays the tragedy of the character with the same commitment as he does everything else."

The role of Dickie Greenleaf, the rich American playboy, presented Minghella with a different dilemma.

"I had a hunch Dickie would be the hardest part to cast. I met a lot of American actors who were great. But I don't think Dickie's class, his social territory, comes easily to contemporary American actors. American actors are more streetwise, very ‘behavioral.' In Britain, actors have a much greater facility to evoke Dickie's class.

"More and more, I found myself thinking of Jude Law for Dickie. He's an important actor in Britain but Americans don't really know him yet. He's magnetic and unbearably handsome and perfect for the role. He's an amazing actor and I'm thrilled that we have him."

From Law's point of view it isn't the character's class that interests him as much as Dickie's ego, his secure sense of himself. "Dickie leads his life as he wants to live it and assumes everyone else is doing the same," Law says. "It's a fantastic life. There's a great line in the script where he says, ‘My father builds boats, I sail them.' The thing I like so much about him is that he has an incredible lust for life. I think that is what people find so attractive about him and why they want to cling to him."

The role of Dickie's beautiful expatriate girlfriend Marge Sherwood, Minghella says, was written with Gwyneth Paltrow in mind. "I have a personal connection with Gwyneth," he says. "She's a family friend. She and my son are assiduous about keeping in touch. From the very beginning I thought of her for the role and she was the first person I cast. The character of Marge in the film, womanly, trusting, compassionate, a rebel in her own way, has as much to do with Gwyneth herself as it does have to do with Patricia Highsmith's Marge."

"Anthony told me there was a part for me in his next movie but I didn't think he was serious," Paltrow says. "Then he wrote me a note saying, ‘If I can find a Ripley will you be my Marge?' And I knew immediately I would do it. When I first read the script, I didn't quite get how interesting she was. But there are so many layers to everything in the screenplay. It was wonderful during the rehearsal process discovering how full and complicated the role is. For instance, there's a scene where Marge tells Ripley how she met Dickie in Paris and moved to Italy with him. You understand from the brief exchange that she moved to Italy with a total stranger. It says a lot that she would do something like that."

Cate Blanchett plays the role

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