A History of Violence Press Kit 1

Source: Cannes Film Festival Press Kit

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© New Line Productions Inc.
 
Says Mortensen, 'What happens to Tom and the family changes her. And you know that whatever the outcome is, when these people intrude on this idyllic family setting in this small Midwestern town, that things will never be the same. From the moment that the first outsider walks into that diner, it's over. You see Tom and Edie's relationship suffering under the strain where Tom gradually finds himself unable to deal with the situation that he has been part of setting up - this family, which seems to be functioning so well. But it's not always believable. There are quirky flaws and normal tensions - it's an interesting family dynamic.'

Responds Bello, 'When we talk about the story being dark, it's really interesting, because we found so much lightness in our relationship with each other and the family in the beginning. So when it starts falling apart, it's shocking.'

Mortensen suggests, 'They will have to rebuild, retool, re-examine if they want to. They don't have to, but it's an option. In a sense David is saying, if you're not open to re-examining or retooling any relationship, whether it's a couple, a family, a town, or a country such as the United States, there will be consequences. You will eventually pay the price for not taking a good honest look at yourself. I think that's what David's doing without being obvious about it.'

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Ed Harris joined the cast as the threatening and mysterious Irish Mob figure. 'Landing Ed was one of our casting triumphs,' says producer Chris Bender. 'He's perfect in the role.'

'Ed is someone I've admired for years,' says Cronenberg. 'I thought he had the toughness, the presence and the charisma to carry off this character. I wanted him to be very real, very intense. He thinks he has a history of violence with the main character, which is why he appears in Stall's diner. And that is a critical moment in the movie. Is this a mistaken identity?'

'Ed connected with Viggo in an intense way and was also very serious about the details of everything from the scar, to the eye, to the clothes, to the body language, to the hair to make this character come alive and be real onscreen. So his style just fit in completely perfectly with what had been developed up to that point on the set with Viggo and Maria.'

Like the majority of the actors, Harris came aboard the film to work with Cronenberg. Says Harris, 'The reason I wanted to work with David is because he's a filmmaker, he knows what he's doing, he has his own vision, and it's just fun to work with people that care about what they're doing. You just know somebody is in command there. Not that you can't come up with stuff, not that he doesn't listen to new ideas, not that he isn't a collaborator, but ultimately, it's his film. Everybody understands that and I like working that way.'

'I was kind of interested in why exactly David wanted to tell this story, a pretty simple story on a certain level. David said he was "really interested in people's reality, and what is real and what isn't. How people play roles, what that's all about.' And he said "I just felt this story encompassed a certain dynamic of that.''

'In his hands it's not going to be normal. It's going to be a Cronenberg film and it's going to have his mark on it. It will be pretty interesting, I'm sure,' says Harris, who also thought it would be fun to work with Viggo and Maria.

Harris described his character. 'Basically Fogarty (pronounced Faw-garty) is a mobster. He's in an Irish second-class mob outside Philadelphia. He is probably the right-hand guy of the fellow William Hurt plays. And he's coming out to set things right as far as he's concerned.'

'When Fogarty shows up on the scene, you're not quite sure what is up, but something is up. Viggo's character has disarmed these two guys trying to rob his restaurant and kills them both and becomes a national hero. He's on TV and my character happens to see this and comes to pay him a visit. In this instance, my character feels that he was done a severe injustice some years ago, and feels it's his right to avenge it.'

Mortensen notes, 'Fogarty was in the cat bird seat because he could put me on the spot in every take. It was like a fun cat and mouse game. He was scary, which he needed to be. He has to be menacing. Ashton Holmes was a little taken aback at first.' Holmes, who portrays Mortensen's son, interjects, 'He's one of those guys who we are afraid to ever run across, but we see him in the flesh in Ed's character.'

'Ed was very helpful, not only to me, but to Ashton and the others,' offers Mortensen. 'He's that kind of actor who really tries to get you to do your best work as an actor. I also liked the fact that he brought a certain amount of humour to it - he was disturbingly funny, as was William Hurt.'

Responds Harris, 'It's fun. I've got this dead eye and a horrific scar down my face. The guy is kind of creepy. I'm trying to have a good time with it. The challenging part is to do it in some way that it's not like every other guy like this that you have seen in the last 50 years of film. You try to find something for yourself that makes it kind of interesting, that gives a guy a certain little thing. You just try and invest it with some specificity. That's an actor's job.'

Producer Chris Bender adds, 'Ed said he had fun because he'd never played a gangster before, so it was great for him to play someone menacing. He is an epic actor. His great presence on and off screen translated well to his role of a guy emanating power, fear and ruthlessness. He improvised in one scene, looking like he was going to attack Edie - it scared the hell out of everybody watching the monitor.'

Bello recalls the scene. 'Ed pushed me as an actor so that the scene became really dynamic. His performances are so stunning and so earthy. They come from such a sensual place.'

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'William Hurt as the crime boss was another casting coup,' states Bender. 'We Didn't want to play into the cliché mob figure, but cast someone who could make the antagonist more complex. William Hurt brings something so different to playing a gangster, so untypical. His voice as an actor is so unusual, I call what he brings to his part "Hurtisms'.'

'Richie is certainly a departure for me as a character. He is a criminal. I've never done any character anywhere close to that. But I don't choose the character. I choose the play, in this instance, the screenplay,' says Hurt.

Hurt prepared for his part by working on his Philadelphia accent. 'It changes how you enter into a different character physically. My preference is to transform physically, entirely.'

Hurt also longed to work with Mortensen, who met him when Hurt first arrived in town to discuss the characters. 'When we got together, it became a six-hour cup of coffee. Bill has a very unique mind and a lot of things to offer,' says Mortensen. 'My impression is that he had a lot of fun.'

Hurt smiles, 'I was right. I think there is some kinship in our approach to things. Maybe that is one of the reasons David brought us together because there was a similarity in how we approach things. Viggo is not pompous or pretentious. He doesn't arrive with an entourage. He's grounded, quirky and observant. He is artistic. I deeply appreciate that since I basically arrive on the set with my shovel in hand and go to work as well. And I love it when someone else does that.'

Ed Harris agrees: 'Viggo is a really nice guy, he's really bright, and he's a bit of a renaissance man. He paints, writes poetry and takes photos and speaks at least three languages. He's very generous and really was involved in this film. He likes to talk about it and make sure we're on the same page. I've enjoyed sharing time with him very much.'

'Viggo's like an ambassador of the production. He is incredibly generous, and has a wonderful effect of involving everybody,' says Cronenberg.

'William unearthed some incredible subtleties and unexpected layers of meanings from the dialogue, which is exactly what I wanted. As with the Carl Fogarty role, it's a relatively small role in terms of screen time. But it's absolutely a critical role. It has to be compelling, convincing, charismatic, scary and profound. So I really needed an actor of great substance to play that role,' states Cronenberg.

Ashton Holmes as 'Jack Stall'
Ashton Holmes as 'Jack Stall'
Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
 
Although A History of Violence marks Ashton Holmes film debut, he took to it like a duck to water. Says producer Chris Bender, 'Ashton's been really open to exploring the different elements of what his part entails.'

Replies Holmes, 'David has just been a dream. He's really an actor's director. He's allowed me to really search for the role myself and is constantly looking for my input, and my own creative juices. He's allowed them to flow into the character, and he's always encouraging me to go forward.

'Jack is a 10th grader in Millbrook High School. He's a kind of loner. I think he feels more at home with the outcasts, but he is able to blend into both the popular crowd and the outcasts. What sets him apart from everybody is his wit and intelligence. He likes to be more of an outsider and an onlooker.'

'When Tom and his family get wrapped up in this case of mistaken identity, it really affects the family unit. We all respond to what is happening to him. Jack's character comes in touch with a streak inside him that I don't think he was aware of before this happened. As an actor, to be able to touch into both the charm and the genuineness as an adolescent, but then to be able to delve into that anger and that violence that adolescence brings was a challenge,' says Holmes.

Cronenberg discusses the nature of violence in the film. 'In this film, I wanted the violence to be very realistic, brutal and tight. It was about real brutality and the kind of violence that you would actually see on a street fight, for example, ungainly and not too graceful, very bloody and not very pretty - the opposite of balletic slow-motion choreographed sequences seen in other pictures.

'The way the violence is structured in this movie narratively, the violence that the main character commits, is all justifiable. So the Tom Stall character is forced into violence when there was really not much of an alternative for him. At the samwe time, we don't cover up the fact that the violence that he commits now has very nasty consequences for the people who are the subject of the violence. I think you come away with thinking that violence is an unfortunate but very real and unavoidable part of human existence. And we don't turn away from it, and you can't really say that it's never justified. You can say that it's never very attractive, though, and that is the approach we've taken,' explains Cronenberg.

Mortensen notes, 'I think David shows the roots and the consequences of violence, but he doesn't really dwell on the violence itself. He doesn't linger on it or glamorize it in any way, which somehow makes it more disturbing. I think he's saying that violence is never OK. But he's not saying violence can be avoided completely. In that sense, he's just showing you life as we humans make it on this planet.'

Chris Bender points out, 'The extreme violence that takes place at the diner drives Tom's internal struggle while affecting everybody from the townspeople to Tom's family.'

Mortensen presents another view. 'it deals not only with violence and confusion of identity in society within a nuclear family, but it also deals with problems of celebrity culture. You see Tom Stall having this situation thrust upon him, to which he reacts instinctively. Violence ensues. He becomes a small town hero congratulated for committing these acts of violence. His son thinks he should be on Larry King. In that sense, David is dealing with a universal problem that's particularly prevalent in the United States. People are very excited by violence connected to celebrity.'

'Generally speaking, David has not done a lot of fight sequences in his movies before. But, if anything, that was an advantage in telling this story. It's disturbingly real. It's disturbing because the physical action is abrupt and shocking and has ugly consequences,' relates Mortensen. Says Bender, 'David is a master in creating suspense, fear and tension.'

William Hurt concurs, 'There is a lot of violence in it, but it is approached very much from David's unique point of view. This is a story about violence, therefore a story about violence in us all. We are all certainly capable of violence.'

Ashton Holmes astutely adds, 'I'm sure the majority of our society has the capacity to be very violent under certain circumstances. I think very rarely are we actually faced with that potential, but certainly I think each one of us has something lurking within us, and it could come out.'

Remarks screenwriter Josh Olson, 'David is able to tap into very primal ideas and emotions. He goes into something much darker and much deeper, showing us scary things that you can't just walk away from. He gets very deep inside our darkest psychology and shows it to us without washing it off first. And that can be very frightening.'

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Last edited: 28 May 2006 07:53:40
© New Line Cinema/Cannes Film Festival.