Andy Serkis set for 'Tin Tin'

'King Kong' actor reuniting with Jackson

Peter Jackson is set to reteam with his performance-capture muse Andy Serkis for DreamWorks' trilogy "Tintin," which is based on Georges Remi's Belgian comic-strip.

Steven Spielberg and Jackson will each helm at least one of the three films, though DreamWorks declined comment on the specific lineup.

Serkis, who has collaborated with Jackson on several films by providing the human expression and movements behind such CG characters as Gollum in "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the big ape in "King Kong," has signed on to star in the films. DreamWorks was mum on which character or characters the actor will play but said it will not be the titular Tintin.

Pics will chronicle the adventures of Tintin, a junior reporter who will follow stories even though he often finds his own life in jeopardy.

Principal photography on the first film is scheduled to begin in September.

Films will be based on three stories from "The Adventures of Tintin" series by Remi, who wrote under the pen name of Herge, and will be produced in full digital 3-D using performance capture technology. Jackson's New Zealand-based WETA Digital will provide the f/x work, which will commence before the September start date.

Spielberg and Jackson are producing "Tintin" alongside Kathleen Kennedy.

Serkis was nominated for a Golden Globe last week for his supporting role in the TV series "Longford."

Juno: A funny and savvy comedy

A funny and savvy comedy about a teenage girl looking for her place in the world.

By Kirk Honeycutt

Ellen Page plays is a supersmart, cool 16-year-old whose single experimentation with sex results in pregnancy.

This review was written for the festival screening of "Juno."

Toronto International Film Festival

"Juno" defies expectations at every turn, giving the slip to anything saccharine or trite or didactic, looking to its characters for insight and complexity, reveling in dialogue that is artificial yet witty and articulate and, most crucially, taking a presumably stale storyline and making it into a buoyant comedy. The film, the second directed by Jason Reitman and first written by professional stripper-turned-writer Diablo Cody, detonates wisecracks every step of the way, yet never completely disguises the fact that this is a comedy from a couple of moralists determined to portray the great human values in love and friendship.

The Fox Searchlight picture, slated for a December release, looks like a feel-good movie for audiences and studio alike. The titular performance by 20-year-old Ellen Page is a breakout sensation that can only further boost the film's chances this holiday season. Actually, all performances are sharp, which shows what can happen when actors get to play characters and deliver lines that bristle with originality. Cody certainly knows how to write scenes that move off center as she creates a world of teens, high school and suburban families that looks typical yet is anything but.Juno MacGuff (Page) is a supersmart, cool 16-year-old (named after Zeus' wife), whose single experimentation with sex with her best male friend, Paulie (a touching Michael Cera), results in pregnancy. After visiting an abortion clinic "to procure a hasty abortion," she thinks better of the idea and falls back on Plan B. She decides to have the baby and place it with a family through private adoption. She finds the perfect couple in the local Penny Saver, right next to exotic pet adoptions. These are Vanessa (Jennifer Grant) and Mark (Jason Bateman). All this legwork comes before reporting her situation and solution, at the urging of best friend Leah (Olivia Thirlby), to her parents.

That scene is a perfect example of how Cody defies expectations. Juno's gruff yet kind dad (J.K. Simmons) takes the news with equanimity, even saying of the father-to-be, "I didn't think he had it in him." Stepmom Bren (Allison Janney) had rather hoped the bad news with be that Juno was into drugs or expelled but goes to work to support her step daughter with a program of prenatal vitamins.

The thing about Juno is that she is much older than her years and must see to everyone, especially her baby's new parents. She develops a rapport with Mark through music -- he turns out to be a composer of commercial jingles -- and horror flicks. "You have the best taste in slasher movies!" she enthuses. But all is not right in the couple's relationship. This makes her despair, not only for her baby but for herself in the future. Do all relationships -- her mother essentially abandoned her -- fizzle and die? She takes another look at Paulie, the boy she left behind who has come to love her.

The dialogue, especially coming from the teens, has a hip eloquence, coining phrases and juxtaposing arresting though sometimes corny images that startle the ear. Juno's fetus is described as a "sea monkey." She doesn't just need to piss but to "pee like Seabiscuit." She declares everyone at school sees her teen pregnancy as "a cautionary whale.

"This may sound rather coy, but Cody's dialogue has a definite rhythm and Reitman directs his actors to deliver the words in the rapid-fire precision of a '30s screwball comedy. Indeed all scenes develop a rhythm and inner logic that bring the movie to often startling revelations and insights.

Page never succumbs to the cuteness such a sassy character might encourage. There is a straightforward honesty and rigorous intellectual curiosity about Juno MacGuff. She may use a cell phone shaped like a hamburger and argue the merits of various popular musical movements, but she is a vulnerable teen underneath all that maturity.

Thirlby and Cera are refreshing in their roles as kids with smarts. When Juno tells Paulie he can be cool without really trying, he admits, in one of the movie's best lines, that he actually tries very hard.The Canadian production presents a slightly idealized, maybe a bit stylized suburbia, in which this odd yet endearing triumph of comic smartness can take place.

Fox Searchlight
Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd


Director: Jason Reitman
Writer: Diablo Cody
Producers: Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Mason Novick
Executive producers: Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Daniel Dubiecki
Director of photography: Eric Steelberg
Production designer: Steven Saklad
Costume designer: Monique Prudhomme
Music: Mateo Messina
Songs by: Kimya DawsonEditor: Dana Glauberman

Juno: Ellen Page
Paulie: Michael Cera
Mark: Jason Bateman
Vanessa: Jennifer Garner
Leah: Olivia Thirlby
Dad: J.K. Simmons
Bren: Allison Janney

Running time -- 95 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

More ‘Sex,’ and the City Is Happy About It

One recent afternoon Bettiann Fishman climbed a ladder in front of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and brought a bullhorn to her mouth. “Hey, everybody,” she said, addressing crowds gathered on the library steps, on the sidewalk and in the street. “We’re going to roll now, so please don’t shoot.”

Around her, dozens of crew members prepared for what should have been a straightforward scene in “Sex and the City,” the movie. But the 60-second moment — in which the stars arrive in a limo and walk up the steps — took hours to shoot, partly because of the constantly surging onlookers armed with video cameras, cellphones and attitude. (Just one exchange: “Don’t touch me!” “How ’bout I knock your brains out?”)

Desperate fans snapped photos of the empty directors’ chairs. “Can I sit down?” a tourist from Italy pleaded. “Just for a moment — a picture for my friends.” A publicist obliged. Nearby an assistant managed a cart laden with identical bouquets of white and red roses and purple orchids. And teetering on enormously high heels while looking way too glam for daytime were Samantha (Kim Cattrall, in a red gown with plunging décolletage), Miranda (Cynthia Nixon, in a slim royal-blue sheath), Charlotte (Kristin Davis, architectural black) and finally Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker in a poufy, off-white confection by Vivienne Westwood). The girls were — ohmigod! — going to a wedding.

When “Sex and the City,” the movie, began shooting in New York this fall, the sight of its stars was both commonplace and traffic-stopping, breathlessly chronicled by bloggers and gossip writers. ( cattily called it “The Most Important Movie Ever Filmed in New York.”) Every outdoor setting inspired wicked speculation about story lines and behind-the-scenes relationships. Even the cast and crew were surprised by the level of attention.

“It’s like seeing the movie on ‘Access Hollywood’ before it’s out,” Michael Patrick King, the screenwriter and director, said.

From the basement of the Bryant Park Hotel, where she was hiding from the crowds after the library shoot, Ms. Parker said, “I basically just look down between every take because it’s too hard if you look up and you see the perimeter is madness.”
Though the television series ended its six-year run on HBO in 2004, many viewers follow it on DVD or in syndication here and abroad. For them “Sex and the City” is a continuing affair, one that still envelops New York with the promise of liberation through trapeze lessons, bottomless cosmopolitans and will-they-or-won’t-they sex.
Melissa Rosenberg, 25, a Washington Post copy editor visiting from Vienna, Va., read about the production online and came to watch. “It’s just cool to be here, knowing this is going to be in the movie,” she said. “Unless this is one of those things they do to throw us off.”

A warning to anyone who has not obsessively followed coverage of the film, scheduled for a May 30 release: There may be spoilers ahead. Or not. Despite the nearly constant presence of cameras and the obvious visual cues (Ms. Parker’s wedding dress; Ms. Davis in a pregnancy belly), the filmmakers have taken pains to mask the plot from ravenous fans.

“They really aren’t hearing the dialogue,” Mr. King said. “They’re not knowing how the characters interact. There’s emotional stuff in the movie that no one has ever seen.”

But the audience reaction was a central preoccupation during the seven months it took him to write the script, especially since the characters are aging beyond their gal-about-town ways. At one point Mr. King, an executive producer of the series, retreated to a small hotel in the California desert to help him focus.
“I want the audience to leave the movie feeling feted and exhausted,” he said. “I don’t want it to just be cocktails or dessert. I want it to be a full meal.”
When last we left our heroines — Miranda, the no-nonsense lawyer and mother turned reluctant Brooklynite; Samantha, the sexually adventurous public relations queen and cancer survivor; Charlotte, the sweet-natured wife; and Carrie, the relationship columnist and Manolo fetishist — they seemed ready to put toxic bachelors and randy Manhattan nights behind them.

“That sort of wanton lust, it’s just not at the surface of their skin anymore,” Ms. Parker said. “What’s important to me is that Carrie isn’t frivolous and silly, that there is sophistication to her. She’s making a serious attempt at making grown-up decisions about love and about life choices.” (For the record, in the film Carrie is on her third book, Samantha has moved to Los Angeles, Charlotte dotes on her new family, and Miranda still lives in, and hates, Brooklyn.)

The characters’ aging will also determine the way they interact with the city because “32-year-olds go out and get drunk and sleep with inappropriate men in bars downtown,” Mr. King said. “And 42-year-old girls maybe don’t. Today they’re out in front of the library getting married. That would’ve never happened in the 32-year-old New York.”

Later he added: “In the series we chased the minutiae of being single a lot, the turn of a rejection phrase — you’re a ‘plus one,’ but no one came. The movie has those details, but they’re not as obsessive. When you’re four single girls sitting around a coffee shop, you have the luxury of time, and when you’re a little bit more grown up, it’s a luxury just to talk.”

But what to talk about? Once the show had to educate the world about its glitzy cocktails-and-charge-card culture. Now everyone else has caught up — and perhaps moved on.

“I sometimes get blamed for the meatpacking district, yes,” Mr. King said. “And I’m sorry. But it can be nice on certain nights. And it can be awful on other nights. Like New York, you know?”

Still, coming up with next year’s “it” spots wasn’t easy. “We talked to some people in publishing and magazines and fashion, single people who don’t have drinking problems whose recollection you can rely on,” said Ms. Parker, who has been a producer since the show’s first season. Big and crowded is out; intimate is in. They shot in classic places like the Carlyle Hotel and Raoul’s, the SoHo bistro. And they have seasons: While the series was set in what Mr. King called “eternal spring,” the movie takes place over a full year.

Which brings us to the clothing. Ms. Parker began fittings in August, just before Fashion Week, for her 80 or so costume changes. But by the time the movie comes out, this season’s version of the flower pins that the costume designer Patricia Field made famous a few years ago will be post-post-over.

“To get spring-summer for ’08, it was this strategizing and finessing and negotiating,” Ms. Parker said. “We would get clothes for, like, four hours, and then there would be someone from Yves Saint Laurent standing there and stripping me of them and taking them back.”

Ms. Parker is a hands-on producer (“I like that I feel responsible for people,” she said), but she also is actressy enough that she doesn’t watch dailies, though she did make sure there were softening filters on the camera lenses. (Wrinkles here are scarce, in real life and on screen.)

A “Sex and the City” movie was in the works immediately after the series ended but was scuttled when Ms. Cattrall wouldn’t agree to appear. “What was scary about doing a movie is that we left on such a high note,” she said in an interview in her trailer, where she retreated immediately after the library shoot. “And I think if we were going to go back into it, money was definitely a factor.”

The delay, coupled with the continuing “S.A.T.C.” mania — it is nearly impossible to reference contemporary urban womanhood without the show’s glossy shadow — has made the film harder to do, Ms. Parker and Mr. King said. Only a few series have successfully made the transition from TV screen to movie screen with the same cast. “I feel like Mr. Spock,” Ms. Nixon said.

As a lauded theater actress, did she even miss playing Miranda? “I did miss her,” she said. “I missed the whole thing. I missed the fictional people. I missed the real people. I missed the crew and the day-to-day of shooting the series.”
The movie is a different story. Despite the best efforts, and cursing, of Ms. Fishman — a first assistant director now known as Bullhorn Betti — the photographers at the library, both amateur and professional, kept shooting. “Did you hear the paparazzi yelling at me because they didn’t like where I was standing for their shot?” Ms. Davis said. “I moved, and then I was, like, what am I doing?”

Back at the hotel Ms. Parker was circumspect about the attention. “I really try to not think too much about what will people think — you know, are the homosexuals going to gag? Are the women going to be disappointed in this choice of story we’re going to tell? — because it’s just a very complicated way of working.”
In the end the film’s success will depend on much the same thing as the TV show’s: the women and the city.

“For me the whole movie is the streets,” Ms. Parker said. “Because that’s where all the promise and potential is. That’s the romance. That’s the hope. That’s where single women walk out the door every day, and they just don’t know what is two steps away.”

Helen Mirren Moves on

It was almost midnight today in London when I spoke with Helen Mirren. She and husband Taylor Hackford assured me it was ok to phone that late.

Mirren was learning her lines for Universal's "State Of Play" which was to have started Nov.15 -- but Brad Pitt dropped out. And Taylor was working on the Jan.28 start in Albuquerque (for Reno) of his "Love Ranch," which will star Mirren and Joe Pesci. As of midnight, Helen did not have word from director Kevin Macdonald ("Last King of Scotland") on a replacement for Pitt and/or the new "State of Play" start date. "Miracles happen," she said -- "It's a wonderful project " -- she loves her role as an editor who bosses the crack journalist -- formerly played by Pitt. Meanwhile, Mirren has two films awaiting release, this week's "National Treasure II," and "Ink Heart."

A new career for Helen Mirren will bring the award-winning actress new applause for her talents as a writer. Her autobiography, "In The Frame -- My Life in Words and Pictures" was published in England by Weidenfeld&Nicolson and will be published in the U.S. next April by Simon & Schuster. It reveals a multi-talented performer. She unveils every detail of her still-full and fulfilling personal and professioal life. You know every member of her loving family -- including, of course, husband Taylor Hackford -- and she takes you through a career spanning the globe in every medium. And further, there's a remarkable collection of photographs -- dating back to her father's regal beginings in Russia, his descent to driving a taxi in England. No holds are barred in either her revealing prose or equally revealing artistic (ahem!) photographs as well. She wrote every word of the book "on the positive side -- I was blessed," she explains. And, in turn we revel in her loving openness. Helen Mirren's a winner once again.

Keri Russell to tell 'Bedtime Stories'

Actress cast alongside Sandler for Disney comedy

Keri Russell has landed the female lead opposite Adam Sandler in Disney's "Bedtime Stories."

In the comedy, Russell will play a potential love interest for Sandler's character, a harried real estate developer whose life is suddenly turned upside down when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew become real.
Adam Shankman ("Hairspray") is helming the pic, scripted by Matt Lopez, that's set to start lensing in February, and will get a holiday 2008 release under the Walt Disney Pictures banner.

"Stories" is being produced by Andrew Gunn's Gunn Films, along with Sandler and producing partner Jack Giarraputo through their Happy Madison Prods. shingle.
Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot and Ann Marie Sanderlin will exec produce.
Russell stars in "August Rush," and recently wrapped "The Girl in the Park," which also features Sigourney Weaver, Kate Bosworth and Alessandro Nivola.

'Bedtime' a dream job for Russell

Keri Russell is in negotiations to star opposite Adam Sandler in "Bedtime Stories," Disney's family comedy being directed by Adam Shankman.

The Matt Lopez-scripted "Bedtime" features Sandler as a harried real estate developer whose life is turned upside down when the lavish bedtime stories he tells his niece and nephew begin to come true.

Russell would play Sandler's potential love interest.

The film will be produced by Andrew Gunn's Gunn Films and Sandler and Jack Giarraputo's Happy Madison Prods. Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot and Anne Marie Sanderlin will serve as executive producers.

Jason Reed, executive vp production at the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, will oversee.

Production is due to start in February.

Russell stars in current release "August Rush" and is coming off strong notices for her performance in the indie drama "Waitress." She is repped by WMA, the Burstein Co. and attorney Robert Offer.

Juno, Ellen Page, Michael Cera

Ellen Page and Michael Cera are expecting a child in Jason Reitman's 'Juno.'

A Fox Searchlight release of a Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd production. Produced by Lianne Halfon, John Malkovich, Russell Smith, Mason Novick. Executive producers, Joe Drake, Nathan Kahane, Daniel Dubiecki. Co-producers, Jim Miller, Kelli Konop, Brad Van Arragon. Directed by Jason Reitman. Screenplay, Diablo Cody.

Juno MacGuff - Ellen Page
Paulie Bleeker - Michael Cera
Vanessa Loring - Jennifer Garner
Mark Loring - Jason Bateman
Bren MacGuff - Allison Janney
Mac MacGuff - J.K. Simmons
Leah - Olivia Thirlby

The popular mini-genre of unwanted pregnancies being taken to term continues with Juno, an ultra-smart-mouthed comedy about a planned adoption that goes weirdly awry. Given that the girl who gets saddled with child here is a 16-year-old high schooler, played by the conspicuously talented Ellen Page, this zippy item skews younger than either Knocked Up or Waitress, the latter also a Fox Searchlight release. With Michael Cera (Superbad) as the unwitting underage dad, Jason Reitman's modestly scaled follow-up to his sharp debut feature, Thank You for Smoking, is rather adventurously skedded for release on Dec. 14, and should score well as an alternative holiday choice to year-end blockbusters and serious awards contenders.

The way the torrents of archly amusing, vocabulary-bending dialogue trip off the tongues of the characters, you know you're in the hands of some manner of distinctive writer, and she would be Diablo Cody -- a young scribe very handy at shotgunning bright teen quips, as well as catching the attitudes of two distinct types of adults.

In fact, the voluminous ruminations of precocious sprite Juno MacGuff (Page) cascade so thick and fast at the outset that they almost weigh things down, so heavy are they with self-conscious cleverness, all in the service of recounting how she recently engineered the circumstances under which she became pregnant by her best friend, Paulie Bleeker (Cera).

After a visit to an uninviting clinic for an abortive hasty abortion, Juno informs her parents of her condition and of her decision to give the baby up for adoption, in an uproarious scene marked by a succession of deliciously delivered zingers from J.K. Simmons and Allison Janney as her working-class dad and step-mom.
Juno finds the perfect couple to adopt the sprig, the oh-so-attractive and rich Mark and Vanessa Loring (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Garner), who live in an antiseptic new McMansion an hour from town (pic was shot in and around Vancouver). Vanessa is dying to have a kid, and after the deal is sealed, Juno, who keeps Paulie at a distance, makes periodic visits to the house to show the Lorings ultrasound photos and such.
But 40ish Mark, a successful music composer for commercials who's still frustrated over his failed bid for rock stardom, begins getting a funny look in his eye when Juno's around. Initially bonding through music, they subsequently debate the merits of goremeisters Dario Argento and Herschell Gordon Lewis. When he finally gets too close for comfort, it begins to throw his marriage and the adoption entirely up for grabs.

Despite the queasiness of this midstream section, final act is nicely worked out by Cody, whose dialogue occasionally seems too precociously precious for words but who nevertheless makes a decisive impression as a crafty and playful writer to watch. Under Reitman's fleet direction, pic races along at a pacey clip, propelled by generally catchy songs, many of them by Kimya Dawson.

Dialogue and pic overall are saved from cloying glibness by the fact that Juno is not only a smarty-pants, but also genuinely smart and self-possessed, even if her condition occasionally threatens her composure. Films ace in the hole, however, is Page, whose great promise indicated in Hard Candy is more than confirmed by her winning performance here. Lovely young thesp handles the reams of dialogue with poise and aplomb.

Cera's low-key modesty and reserve prove an effective counterbalance as the school track star who feels rather dissed by his old pal.

Production values are modest but up to the job.

Camera (Deluxe color), Eric Steelberg; editor, Dana E. Glauberman; music, Mateo Messina; songs, Kimya Dawson; music supervisors, Peter Afterman, Margaret Yen; production designer, Steve Saklad; art directors, Michael Diner, Catherine Schroer; set decorator, Shane Vieau; costume designer, Monique Prudhomme; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), James Kusan; supervising sound editor, Perry Robertson; assistant director, Jason Blumenfeld; casting, Mindy Marin, Kara Lipson. Reviewed at Telluride Film Festival, Sept. 1, 2007. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 96 MIN.

New Line lands on 'Planet 51'

Animation feature written by Stillman


Venturing for the first time into toon pic distribution, New Line Cinema has taken U.S. domestic rights to “Planet 51, one of Europe's most ambitious CGI animation movies, penned by Shrek and Shrek screenwriter Joe Stillman.

Budgeted at $60 million, alien planet spoof Planet One is produced by Madrid's Ilion Animation Studios and London's Handmade Films, and sold by Handmade Films Intl.
It turns on a lantern-jawed U.S. astronaut, Capt. Charles Chuck Baker, whose shuttle touches down on a supposedly uninhabited planet. But he discovers a civilization whose banana-haired denizens live a 1950s lifestyle in a world that looks like Pleasantville meets Cuba's Havana.

And the planets inhabitants live in paranoiac fear of an alien invasion, repped by Baker.

Comedy, which allows Stillman to take swipes at cross-culture paranoia and contempo mores, is directed by Jorge Blanco and produced by Ilion's CEO Ignacio Perez Dolset.
The domestic deal was initially discussed by Handmades Guy Collins and New Line co-chair Bob Shaye this fall, and closed this week by Collins and Dolset and New Line's head of business affairs and co-production Carolyn Blackwood and head of acquisitions Guy Stodel.

The alien planet comedy has already sold to north of 30 territories, including the U.K. (Entertainment) and Spain (DeAPlaneta).

Planet 51 is skedded for completion by March 2009. Its producers are aiming for list Hollywood talent to voice the toon feature.

“The deal has been made with the objective on everybodys part of going out on no fewer than 3,000 screens,” Dolset told Daily Variety.

Pic marks the entry into feature filmmaking of arguably Spain's most successful international entertainment company, vidgame and cell-phone contents specialists, Supreme Ent., which also co-owns mobile contents multinational, the Zed Group.

Perez Dolset and Blanco broke through internationally as the producer and lede artist on cult vidgame franchise Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, launched in 1998 by vidgame developer Pyro Studios, another Supreme subsid.

Pyro is prepping a Planet 51 video game to roll out over the five leading console platforms.

Pic will be co-helmed by Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, who worked with Blanco on Commandos.

New Line takes trip to toon 'Planet'

By Borys Kit

New Line is venturing into the animation business for the first time in its 40-year history by acquiring Ilion Animation Studios' $60 million feature "Planet 51" from Handmade Films International.

Written by Joe Stillman ("Shrek"), the story is set on Planet 51, whose inhabitants live in fear of an alien invasion. Their paranoia is realized when astronaut Capt. Charles "Chuck" Baker arrives from Earth. Befriended by a young resident, the astronaut has to avoid capture in order to recover his spaceship and return home.

The film is produced by Ignacio Perez Dolset, directed by Jorge Blanco and co-directed by Javier Abad and Marcos Martinez, who worked with Blanco on the worldwide best-selling video game "Commandos."

Ilion set up a studio in Spain five years ago to start work on "Planet 51," where it developed technology in-house.

"Planet 51" is in production and scheduled for completion in March 2009. A search for A-list voice cast is under way. The project already has sold to more than 30 territories.

New Line is planning to release the movie in 2009 backed up with a merchandising push. A video game is in production at Pyro Studios and will roll out across the five leading console platforms. Also involved is mobile phone marketing and development company LaNetro Zed.

New Line's Guy Stodel and Sejin Park and will oversee.

Variety: Javier Bardem

Gotham Tribute

Bardem hadn't heard of the Gotham Awards prior to news of his tribute, but he promises, "I'll be there."

This year, auds will have seen him go from totally love-struck, in "Love in the Time of Cholera," to soft-spoken agent of the Spanish Inquisition, in "Goya's Ghosts," to an icon of death, in "No Country for Old Men."

"It's a coincidence, all these films coming out at the same time. Which is good," says Bardem. "It's a way to show my work, and it's nice that they are quite different from each other. I'm happy about it."

The actor had a month break between "No Country" and "Cholera," and he enjoyed the challenge of making the switch from a character who hates to one who loves. "In my body I was feeling the fickleness of pulling that out of me and bringing in just the opposite," he says of the emotional range. "That's what I love about this job. Because now I'm forced to see the world with different eyes, the opposite eyes."

Changeling, Clint Eastwood, Angelina Jolie John Malkovich


Genre: Thriller
Cast: Angelina Jolie, John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Colm Feore, Amy Ryan, Michael Kelly
Directed by: Clint Eastwood
Screenplay by: J. Michael Straczynski
Producers: Clint Eastwood, Brian Grazer, Ron Howard, Robert Lorenz
Executive Producers: Tim Moore, Jim Whitaker

Clint Eastwood directs Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich in a provocative thriller based on actual events: Changeling. In the film, Christine Collins’ (Jolie) prayers are met when her kidnapped son is returned. But amidst the frenzy of the photo-op reunion, she realizes this child is not hers. Facing corrupt police and a skeptical public, she desperately hunts for answers, only to be confronted by a truth that will change her forever.

Los Angeles, 1928: On a Saturday morning in a working-class suburb, Christine said goodbye to her son, Walter, and left for work. When she came home, she discovered he had vanished. A fruitless search ensues, and months later, a boy claiming to be the nine-year-old is returned. Dazed by the swirl of cops, reporters and her conflicted emotions, Christine allows him to stay overnight. But in her heart, she knows he is not Walter.

As she pushes authorities to keep looking, she learns that in Prohibition-era L.A., women don’t challenge the system and live to tell their story. Slandered as delusional and unfit, Christine finds an ally in activist Reverend Briegleb (Malkovich), who helps her fight the city to look for her missing boy. Based on the actual incident that rocked California’s legal system, Changeling tells the shocking tale of a mother’s quest to find her son, and those who won’t stop until they silence her.

Angelina Jolie Cutouts

Charlie Wilson's War Cast

CharlieWilson's War Cast
(in order of appearance)

Charlie Wilson: TOM HANKS
Bonnie Bach: AMY ADAMS
Joanne Herring: JULIA ROBERTS
CIA Award Presenter: TERRY BOZEMAN
Crystal Lee: JUD TYLOR
Limo Driver: ED REGINE
Jane Liddle: EMILY BLUNT
Larry Liddle: PETER GERETY
Jim Van Wagenen: P.J. BYRNE
Maintenance Man: THOMAS CRAWFORD
President ZiavOM PURI
Brigadier RashidvFARAN TAHIR
Colonel MahmoodvRIZWAN MANJI
Refugee in Wheelchair: MAURICE SHERBENÉE
Refugee Building Wall: SALAM SANGI
Refugee Camp Translators: NAVID NEGAHBAN, MOZHAN MARNO
Afghan Boy: HABIB SABA
Refugee Camp Nurse: MICHELLE ARTHUR
Embassy Marine: EDWARD HUNT
Embassy Official: R.M. HALEY
Harold Holt: DENIS O’HARE
Egyptian Defense Minister: IPALÉ
Doc Long’s Secretary: MARY BAILEY
Doc Long’s TranslatorvENAYAT DELAWARY
Mujahideen Translator DASTON KALILI

Universal seeks Crowe for 'Play'

Studio searches for Pitt replacement

Universal Pictures spent the weekend trying to convince Russell Crowe, its "American Gangster" topliner, to replace Brad Pitt as the star of "State of Play."

The result of that courtship will be known early this week and will determine how ugly things get between the studio and Pitt after he exited the picture over disagreements about the shooting script.

Pitt's exit on Thanksgiving eve not only put the picture in a state of flux, it also left a studio and star with differing opinions on which one caused the exit. And it left Hollywood questioning how valid pay-or-play deals are in a strike climate where studios are venturing into production starts on scripts that can't get a rewrite if they need one.

U claimed Pitt left a pay-or-play commitment and left open the option of suing him; Pitt's camp claimed he was essentially forced out of a movie he's been eager to topline for almost two years just because the studio wouldn't wait for a strike resolution and a rewrite to bring the script back to a place that made him comfortable.

While the writers strike has so far had its greatest impact on network series, it has wreaked havoc over the past two weeks on films including "Angels & Demons," "Shantaram" and "Pinkville," which were postponed. "State of Play" is now struggling to avoid that fate.

Weeks ago, "State of Play" headed toward its Nov. 15 start date with a sparkling cast. Now, if Crowe doesn't fit in the pic before playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in the Ridley Scott-directed U drama "Nottingham," which begins shooting in March, "State of Play" will be in jeopardy.

Actors like Johnny Depp and Tom Hanks are available after their pictures ("Shantaram" and "Angels & Demons," respectively) were postponed, but Universal is in a hurry to keep "Play" cast members Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Rachel McAdams, Robin Wright Penn and Jason Bateman in place. Mirren needs to begin production soon so she can finish in time to start "Love Ranch" early next year with husband-director Taylor Hackford and co-star Joe Pesci.

The role Pitt exited and Crowe is considering is a politico-turned-journalist who spearheads his newspaper's investigation into a killing that leads to a fast-rising pol (Norton). The journalist faces two conflicts: He once ran campaigns for the pol and was his confidant, and the journo develops a romance with the pol's estranged wife (Wright Penn).

If the studio chooses to sue Pitt, it would test the validity of a pay-or-play deal. Universal believed that Pitt signed one, while Pitt's reps believed he didn't, because he never approved a shooting script that got rewritten numerous times and never to his satisfaction.

Pitt was dedicated to "State of Play," having been attached for 16 months to a project that has been a high U priority since the studio, producers Andrew Hauptman and Working Title partners Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner landed the project after a hot bidding war. Pitt had a say in selecting the director and the cast.

Unfortunately, Pitt and the studio never quite meshed on the script, said several sources. He sparked to Matthew Michael Carnahan's original adaptation of the Paul Abbott-created British miniseries but apparently liked it more than the studio. While the actor made several movies in quick succession, Universal got rewrites by the likes of Peter Morgan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray. Pitt's vision departed from that of the studio somewhere along that rewrite trail.

Pitt wanted to wait for a strike resolution to get a rewrite that brought the film closer to Carnahan's original. Studio, eager to keep its late 2008 release date, told Pitt it liked the script as is and encouraged him to honor his commitment. The start date was postponed, while helmer Kevin Macdonald and the studio spent several days trying to make Pitt OK with the script they had since rewrites weren't an option.

U announced his departure in a statement released last Wednesday: "Brad Pitt has left the Universal Pictures production of 'State of Play.' We remain committed to this project and to the filmmakers, cast members, crew and others who are also involved in making the movie. We reserve all rights in this matter."
The studio has sued stars before. It filed a breach-of-contract suit against Mike Myers when he ankled "Dieter" because he was unhappy with the script. A settlement was reached.

Uni's $42.5 mil wins 'Bruno' auction

By Borys Kit

Universal Pictures has won the intense bidding war for "Bruno," Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up movie to "Borat."

Sources said that Universal is paying $42.5 million, beating out such other contenders as DreamWorks, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox and Warner Bros. Pictures for the worldwide rights to the film (HR 10/27). The price includes the production budget of the film, rumored to be in the $20 million-$25 million range. Also included is a significant backend component, believed to be the 15% range.

The price has raised eyebrows in Hollywood because Baron Cohen's much-hyped "Borat" has yet to open. Despite much advance praise for "Borat," distributor Fox scaled back its Friday opening to about 800 theaters because it is concerned that the movie wasn't registering high enough in audience-awareness tracking.

With "Bruno," Baron Cohen is calling upon another of his comic alter egos, Bruno, a gay fashionista from Austria who fancies himself as "the voice of Austrian youth TV" and who sashayed from New York Fashion Week to Miami nightclubs in his previous appearance on HBO's "Da Ali G Show,"on which Baron Cohen also first introduced Borat to American audiences.

As in the case of "Borat," Jay Roach would produce with Baron Cohen. No director is on board, though it has been reported that Baron Cohen wants to shoot the movie during the summer.

Endeavor, which reps Baron Cohen, declined comment, as did Universal.

'Bruno' next for Sacha Baron Cohen

'Borat' star to also appear in 'Dinner'

After months of vacillating and speculation, Sacha Baron Cohen is ready to follow "Borat" with two starring film roles.

The comic thesp is firming plans to next star in "Bruno," the Media Rights Capital-financed picture based on his fashion reporter character. Universal will distribute in the U.S. and other English-speaking territories.

After Baron Cohen completes that film, his intention is to follow with "Dinner for Schmucks," a DreamWorks remake of the French comic hit "Le Diner de Cons," from Francis Veber. A deal has not been closed and the timing of that project is still indefinite.

Jay Roach will direct "Dinner" and Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald are producing. Roach was a producer on "Borat" and is producing "Bruno."

"Dinner for Schmucks" hasn't yet been completely pieced together, and is subject to several variables. Roach committed to replace Sydney Pollack as the director of "Recount," an HBO pic about the drama behind the 2000 presidential election that is being timed for the heat of the 2008 presidential election.

Both he and Baron Cohen will have to get past their fall projects and leave DreamWorks enough time to shoot "Schmucks" before next June.

David Guion and Michael Handelman wrote the most recent draft of "Schmucks," a Veber project that Baron Cohen attached himself to in 2003. The French film focused on a weekly dinner party held by a Paris publisher who challenges his friends to bring the most pathetic guest to the gathering. Cohen will play a character blessed with such extraordinary schmuckiness that he can destroy the personal life of anyone with whom he comes in contact.

Baron Cohen just worked with Parkes and MacDonald on the Tim Burton-directed "Sweeney Todd," playing Signor Adolfo Pirelli, rival to the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Johnny Depp).

Waters rolls lucky 'Seven'

By Gregg Goldstein

"Mean Girls" helmer Mark Waters is attached to direct Joshua Ferris' comedy-drama "Seven Days" for Universal Pictures.

Watermark Pictures' Jessica Tuchinsky and Waters will produce the feature.

The script chronicles seven pivotal days in a man's life during the course of 20 years, with each segment of the film beginning as he wakes up that day.

Ferris, a National Book Award finalist for his novel "Then We Came to the End," signed his contract before the recent WGA strike. "I can't remember large periods of my life that well, but certain days stick in my mind, for good reasons and bad," he said, noting the origin of the "Seven" plot. "At the end, hopefully it will be a portrait of a life as it's lived."

Tuchinsky and Ferris first discussed the idea a year ago and developed it for six months, eventually bringing it to Universal exec Peter Cramer to develop at the studio. Ferris is waiting for the end of the strike to resume work on the script and hasn't yet finalized which days of the lead character's life will appear in the final version.

Ferris has worked on two screenplays for Focus Features and is looking to find a producer for "The Life and Death of Jimmy Katz," an ensemble piece about a young man who commits a murder for hire. The first act presents Katz's life as it happens, the second act shows his fantasy of the life he could have lived, and the final act places him in purgatory, where he has to make amends for his crime.

Waters is gearing up to direct "The Ghosts of Girlfriends Past," starring Jennifer Garner and Matthew McConaughey, for New Line. He and Tuchinsky have several Watermark projects in development.

Animals and humans join 'G-Force'

By Carolyn Giardina

Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan will be three of the lead voices in "G-Force," for Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Bill Nighy and Will Arnett also have joined the ranks of the human actors in the live-action/CG film, which marks the directorial debut of Oscar-winning visual effects innovator Hoyt Yeatman.

The story follows a group of ultra-intelligent animal commandoes who work for a government agency trying to prevent an evil billionaire from taking over the world.

Cage will play Speckles, a mole; Buscemi will portray Bucky, a hamster; and Morgan will voice Blaster, a guinea pig. Nighy will portray an industrialist, and Arnett will play an FBI agent.

Live-action leads also include Zach Galifianakis, Kelli Garner, Gabriel Casseus and Jack Conley.

Production is currently under way in Los Angeles. Jerry Bruckheimer is producing. Executive producing are Bruckheimer Films' Mike Stenson and Chad Oman, along with Duncan Henderson.

"It's a good story; it's unique characters, it's half animation, half live action," Bruckheimer told The Hollywood Reporter. "It falls right into the Disney family of films -- the kind of films we make, like 'National Treasure,' which entertain everybody from the smallest kid to the oldest grandparent."

Yeatman -- who won an Academy Award for visual effects on "The Abyss," as well as a Technical Achievment Award -- is "a visual effects genius, and he has worked on a number of our movies in the past," Bruckheimer said. "(Yeatman) came up with this idea with his son, believe it or not. We developed the screenplay. ... Now we are filming. It's pretty exciting for him -- it's his first time (directing) -- and it's exciting for us to get into a whole new medium."

Cage is repped by CAA. Buscemi and Morgan are repped by Endeavor.

Cage, Buscemi, Morgan enlist in "G-Force"

Nicolas Cage, Steve Buscemi and Tracy Morgan will provide three of the lead voices in "G-Force" for Walt Disney Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

Bill Nighy and Will Arnett have joined the ranks of the on-screen actors in the live-action/CG film, which marks the directorial debut of Oscar-winning visual effects innovator Hoyt Yeatman.

The story follows a group of ultra-intelligent animal commandoes who work for a government agency trying to prevent an evil billionaire from taking over the world. Cage will play Speckles, a mole; Buscemi will portray Bucky, a hamster; and Morgan will voice Blaster, a guinea pig. Nighy will portray an industrialist, and Arnett will play an FBI agent.

Live-action leads also include Zach Galifianakis, Kelli Garner, Gabriel Casseus and Jack Conley.

Yeatman -- who won an Academy Award for visual effects on "The Abyss," as well as a Technical Achievment Award -- is "a visual effects genius, and he has worked on a number of our movies in the past," Bruckheimer told the Hollywood Reporter. "(Yeatman) came up with this idea with his son, believe it or not. We developed the screenplay. ... Now we are filming. It's pretty exciting for him -- it's his first time (directing) -- and it's exciting for us to get into a whole new medium."

No Country for Old Men: Javier Bardem Q & A

Spanish actor Javier Bardem is probably best known outside his homeland for his Oscar-nominated performance as Cuban poet Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls and for his two outings with his fellow countryman, acclaimed director Pedro Almodovar: High Heels and Live Flesh. This year Bardem stars in Goya’s Ghosts for Milos Forman and Love in the Time of Cholera for Mike Newell and has already made a splash at the Cannes Film Festival with a striking turn as hit-man-cum-angel-of-death Anton Chigurh in Joel and Ethan Coen’s No Country For Old Men. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s novel of the same name, the Coens’ latest film is at once a darkly comic chase movie shot with the visual flair that is a Coen Brothers trademark and a surprisingly rueful meditation on ageing and the seemingly unequal battle between good and evil.

At the center of the story is army veteran Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) who unwisely opts to keep the $2½ million he accidentally discovers at the scene of a drug deal gone badly awry. The grizzled local Sheriff (Tommy Lee Jones) attempts to protect Moss from the inevitable, bloody consequences of his action, but when vengeance comes lumbering along in the considerable shape of the implacable Chigurh (Bardem gained weight for the role), the best Moss can hope for is the opportunity Chigurh throws some of his victims to try their fate with the toss of a coin. Bardem talked to us about his darkly humorous and discomfortingly effective performance as a character who, as well as being insane, sports one of the worst haircuts in the history of cinema.

Q: How aware of the Coen Brothers were you before being cast in No Country For Old Men?

A: They are my favorite directors. The first time I went to the Toronto Film Festival, which was for Before Night Falls, I met the person who became my American agent. She asked me who I wanted to work with and I told her the Coens, and she said, “Well that’s impossible because they are so deeply American.”

Q: So presumably you jumped at this part?

A: In fact, I read the script and I was reluctant because of the violence in the film, but I talked to the Coens and read the book and finally I thought that there was something behind the movie, not a message exactly, but something that if people want to see and hear it, then it’s there and it’s something about how violence can’t be stopped with violence.

Q: Chigurh is clearly out of his mind, but in order to play him did you have to find a rationale for his behavior?

I had to go in the direction of him being a symbolic figure, like violence itself: he comes out of nowhere and doesn’t have a meaning, he comes from nature but he isn’t part of it. So there’s no human reason for what he does because he’s part of something bigger than that, like fate or destiny.

Q: And what about his pudding bowl hairstyle? Where does that come from?

A:I liked the hair because it felt like it was part of Chigurh’s disguise that wasn’t working. He doesn’t really pay attention to the physical world, he’s clumsy in a way -- I always pictured him like a tree trunk -- because what matters to him isn’t the world around him but the destiny that he thinks rules things.

Q: Playing someone that diabolical, can you just switch the character off at the end of the day?

A:Characters stay with me in little details, so for example in this case I was unconsciously getting physically and socially detached from people, when I am the opposite of that in real life. Josh [Brolin] knew that and told me about it. It wasn’t that I became nasty or violent, just that I was isolating myself. And there was something about the location too. It was a great place and everyone was truly nice, but I don’t know whether it was me or Chigurh, but I felt strange, I felt isolated, and that sensation stayed with me for the whole shoot and that was good in terms of playing him because he doesn’t have any contact with anybody. That landscape helped me understand that he didn’t belong.

Q: The film was shot in New Mexico, wasn’t it?

A:Yes, Las Vegas, New Mexico – not Las Vegas, Nevada – and also Martha, Texas. You take a car and there are these vast plains, a whole world of desert. Of course, the Coens choose where to put the camera but you could put it almost anywhere and you would have this landscape. It’s amazing and it’s a character in the movie, no? And it’s funny because there’s all this space, but you also feel that no matter how far and how fast you run you will get caught.

Q: Many characters in the Coens’ films never stop talking yet no one wastes their words in No Country For Old Men, Chigurh least of all. Is it hard to create a character without much dialogue?

A:[Laughs] I was very happy because I had to work so hard to get rid of my Spanish accent that the fewer lines I had the better. But no, I never wanted Chigurh to speak more. Every word in the movie is important and has a meaning, and after that, I enjoyed the silences. It’s great for an actor to have the chance to be silent.

Q: How would you characterize the experience of working with the Coens?

A:There is this sense of pleasure and playing and enjoyment in working with them. There is not an inch of tension on the set, not one inch. I think that they believe that nothing good comes out of tension on set, and I think the same thing. For me at least, in order to create something, I have to be relaxed.

Q: Since they famously storyboard their films in advance, right down to deciding where the camera will be for a particular shot, does that limit your freedom as an actor?

A: I was little bit scared of that to start with but when we started I realized that there is no law being laid down. It’s much more, you know, here’s one option and if it’s good for you, then fine, if not we’ll change everything. That’s pretty good. And about the positioning of the camera, yes, they are good enough to know exactly where the best place for the camera is. There were times I would arrive on set and think, I don’t understand that, but when you get in to do the shot you realize that yes, that really is the best place for the camera.

Q: How do they divide their responsibilities as directors?

A: They are very much the same. One day one talks a bit more than the other, something like that, but you never see any contradiction or a fight. It’s like one man with two complementary heads.

Q: What was your reaction to the finished film?

A: I think audiences finish a film and seeing the film with an audience, I really enjoyed it and loved the reaction it got. I like that people want to talk about it once they have seen it.

Q: So any more plans to work in Hollywood?

A: I’m interested in working outside Spain if it’s an opportunity to do something that I couldn’t do in Spain, like this experience with the Coens. But it’s not as if I am looking to get somewhere specific, to achieve some level in Hollywood. And in English I worry that there will always be something missing for me. The language holds no memory for you, no history. Sometimes it feels like a tight suit and you can’t relax. But I also can tell that the more I work in English, the more comfortable I am getting, though I’m still glad Chigurh didn’t talk too much.

Love in the Time of Cholera

Ambitious literary adaptation loses some magic in its translation to the screen
By Sura Wood

Benjamin Bratt plays a worldly doctor in this adaptation of the sprawling novel.

"Love in the Time of Cholera," Mike Newell's handsomely appointed but disappointing adaptation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's complicated, sprawling novel retains the essential flavor of the book. Audiences are likely to split into two camps: Fans will mourn what's left out; and those unfamiliar with the book might find the film mannered and slowgoing. The filmmakers, Oscar-winning screenwriter Ronald Harwood ("The Pianist") and Newell aim for a lush romantic fantasy about enduring love spanning 50 years in late-19th century Colombia. Instead, they create an overheated melodrama with abundant complications and hammy acting.Taken on its own terms, the film would have been well served if the veteran team behind it had been ruthless in jettisoning material. The film's prestigious literary pedigree, international cast and Oprah's Book Club imprimatur will help make it a solid draw for the art house crowd.When teenager Florentino (Unax Ugalde), a clerk with ghostly pallor and a knack for writing ardent love letters, spies Fermina (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), it's love at first sight. That passion will remain unrequited until the two are in the final chapter of their lives. Fermina's father (John Leguizamo in a broad performance) disapproves and whisks her away to the countryside. He plans to marry his daughter up. He succeeds when she catches the eye of Juvenal (Benjamin Bratt), a worldly doctor whom Fermina marries after rejecting Florentino's overtures.

Playing a pretentious lout, Leguizamo, chomping on a cigar, utters the film's worst, anachronistic dialogue. Bratt, whose accent is more Pepe Le Pew than cultivated aristocrat, has the second-worst batch of lines in a scene where he promises his sexually inexperienced wife "a lesson in love."Meanwhile, Florentino (played as an adult by Javier Bardem) rises to the top of his uncle's shipping company. He carries the torch for Fermina over the next half-century and consoles himself with hundreds of sexual conquests, dutifully recorded a la Casanova. Years later, Juvenal dies, and Florentino declares his love to the grieving Fermina on the day of the funeral. The film starts with Juvenal's death, flashes back and then forward again -- shifts adeptly handled by Harwood and editor Mick Audsley.In a touching section toward the end, Fermina relents, and the pair finally consummate their love. "Cholera" is at its most sage and romantic in its portrayal of mature marriage, older love and sexuality.Shot on location in vibrant Cartagena, the film's strong suit is aesthetic. Cinematographer Alfonso Beato, designer Wolf Kroeger and costume designer Marit Allen evoke aged exotic locales, rugged rural settings and dimly lit period interiors. A closing, aerial image has a breathtaking, spiritual beauty.


New Line
Stone Village Pictures


Director: Mike Newell

Screenwriter: Ronald Harwood

Producer: Scott Steindorff

Executive producers: Danny Greenspun, Robin Greenspun, Andrew Molaski, Chris Law, Michael Nozik, Dylan Russell, Scott LaStaiti

Director of photography: Alfonso BeatoProduction designer: Wolf Kroeger

Music: Antonio Pinto, Shakira

Co-producer: Brantley M. Dunaway

Costume designer: Marit AllenEditor: Mick Audsley


Florentino: Javier Bardem

Teenage Florentino: Unax Ugalde

Fermina: Giovanna Mezzogiorno

Juvenal: Benjamin Bratt

Hildebranda: Catalina Sandino Moreno

Uncle Leo: Hector Elizondo

Lotario: Liev Schreiber

Transito: Fernanda Montenegro

Sara: Laura Harring

Lorenzo: John Leguizamo

Running time: 139 minutes

MPAA rating: R

December Movie News

Marc Forster Director, 'The Kite Runner'

The German-born Forster carries the weight of bringing one of the decade's most popular novels to the bigscreen this year with December's Paramount Vantage release, "The Kite Runner." The story of two economically diverse children frolicking in1970s Kabul, Afghanistan -- their lives splintering in very different directions -- could give the director an even stronger awards candidacy than he has had in the past with "Finding Neverland" (which earned him a Golden Globe nom) and "Monster's Ball."

Ronald Harwood Writer, 'Diving Bell,' 'Love in the Time of Cholera'

Born in South Africa from Lithuanian-Jewish lineage, Londoner Harwood has become one of the go-to scribes for literary adaptations. He already boasts an Oscar for "The Pianist" and a prior nom for "The Dresser," and this year weighs in with two screenplays: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," from the book dictated by paralyzed French journo Jean-Dominique Bauby, and "Love in the Time of Cholera," from the novel by Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The pair are contrasting challenges, one a memoir of a man trapped in his body, the other a sprawling love story playing out over decades. Harwood handles each with aplomb.

Daniel Day-Lewis Actor, 'There Will Be Blood'

Rarely has such a voracious roar been heard from the staid Oscar inhouse audience as when Day-Lewis won for his turn as Christy Brown in 1989's "My Left Foot." Eighteen years and two more nominations later, the 50-year-old London native will receive plenty of kudos chatter for his role in Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," in which he plays the Texas prospector from the Upton Sinclair novel. Just wondering ... do oil and Oscar mix?

Javier Bardem Actor, 'No Country for Old Men'

While Bardem, one of Spain's most popular exports, was mysteriously left out of the Oscar race three years ago for his stellar turn as a paraplegic in "The Sea Inside," the Academy may redeem itself this time. As a cold killer in the Coen brothers' "No Country for Old Men," Bardem places himself onto the Mt. Rushmore of badasses. Never using a gun, Anton Chigurh's expressionless stare does the job quite well in scaring us silly.

Alexandre Desplat Composer, 'Caution,' 'Compass,' 'Emporium'

For too long, Desplat's music was known mostly to film score connoisseurs. They savored his elegant expression and deft orchestration in films including "Girl With a Pearl Earring," and "Syriana." But Desplat's relative obscurity faded last year when the Paris native's witty soundtrack to "The Queen" nabbed an Oscar nom. His rep should grow even more thanks to transcendent work in "Lust, Caution" along with fantasies "The Golden Compass" and "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium."

Russell Crowe Actor, 'American Gangster,' '3:10 to Yuma'

The great film star has gravitas. The great actor has a capacity for total self-surrender to a role. Rarely does a performer have both. Compare the lethal force Crowe personified in "L.A. Confidential" with his worn, bureaucratized but dogged police investigator in "American Gangster." Raised in Australia, where experience is less suburbanized and media-filtered, Crowe has something more real to reach for in "3:10 to Yuma." Don't buy the bad-boy image. Inside, there's a serious, gifted artist.

Johnny Depp named Best Autograph Signer

Sweeney Todd actor Johnny Depp has been named the ‘Best Hollywood Signer’ when it comes to signing autographs for fans. People magazine’s ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ Matt Damon came in second place, followed by George Clooney in third.

The 44-year-old actor is the most gracious celebrity — for the third year in a row — on Autograph magazine’s annual list of the “10 Best and 10 Worst Hollywood Signers.”

“Though soft-spoken and laid-back, (Depp) likes to talk to fans and get to know them while signing,” New York autograph dealer Anthony Risi explains in the December issue, now on newsstands. “He’ll sign more than one item when he has time, too.”

The 10 Best Hollywood Signers

Johnny Depp
Matt Damon
George Clooney
Jack Nicholson
Rosario Dawson
John Travolta
Katherine Heigl
Jay Leno
Dakota Fanning
Russell Crowe

The ‘10 Worst’ was topped by funny man Will Ferrell. Spider-Man Tobey Maguire was second. Joaquin Phoenix, William Shatner and Renee Zellweger rounded out the top five of the bottom ten.

The 10 Worst Hollywood Signers

Will Ferrell
Tobey Maguire
Joaquin Phoenix
William Shatner
Renee Zellweger
John Malkovich
Julie Andrews
Bruce Willis
Teri Hatcher
Scarlett Johansson

Johnny Depp to Marry this Summer

One of the world’s most famous bachelors, Johnny Depp, is reportedly going off the market this summer when he marries long time girlfriend Vanessa Paradis.

The couple’s seven-year-old was hospitalized in London for nine days in March suffering from E.coli food poisoning and her condition was touch and go.

The Pirates Of The Caribbean star and Vanessa, 34, kept a vigil at their daughter’s bedside. Depp, 43, refused to return to the set of his latest film Sweeney Todd in London until she was out of danger, forcing filming to be stopped.

The source, who lives in the village, said: ‘Johnny and Vanessa have one of the strongest relationships in Hollywood but after their daughter was taken ill the family became an even closer-knit unit.

‘They have talked about marriage on and off for a long time but the recent emotional roller-coaster they have had to endure seems to have spurred them into action.

The couple, who have been together for eight years and have two children, are understood to be planning a discreet ceremony in the south of France where they live.

Congrats to the happy couple! Hopefully there is more validity to this story than mud in a pig pen.

Johnny Depp is certainly one cool cat, but can you imagine how freaking off-the-charts cool he would be if he didn’t live in France.

The Media and Penny Dreadfuls

Todd was arrested without incident, but when authorities arrived at Bell Yard for Mrs. Lovett, her pie-eating customers learned both about the murders and that they had consumed some of the victims. The crowd tried lynching her on the spot, but Lovett was quickly taken to Newgate Prison. She confessed to her and Todd's dark dealings before committing suicide, while Todd was granted a trial, found guilty, and eventually hung; all told, Sweeney Todd is believed to have murdered over 160 people.

The public voraciously followed these larger-than-life events, and newspaper publishers took advantage of this sudden interest to increase their print sales. Reporters combined rumors with facts, sensationalizing the story in such a way that Sweeney Todd soon became prime tabloid fodder and the stuff of urban legend; indeed, it's because of these numerous retellings that there are no accurate descriptions of Todd's actual appearance.

The obvious popularity of these real-crime stories, combined with a growing number of reading adults, inspired the creation of penny part magazines, so named because they contained serialized tales sold for one cent. Due to their graphic subject matter and as a comment on the writing quality, they soon became known as Penny Bloods, and later Penny Dreadfuls. The most popular of these Penny Dreadfuls was Thomas Peckett Prest's 1846 story entitled "The String of Pearls," featuring a Demon Barber named Sweeney Todd. Between Prest's story and Todd's history within popular culture, it wasn't long before this blood-soaked tale was adapted for the stage.

The Grand Guignol Tradition

"George Dibdin-Pitt was one of the most popular playwrights of his day," explains Stephen Sondheim. "He made Sweeney Todd into a play in the late 1840s and it became a big hit." While the story certainly spoke to the public's fascination with horror and the macabre, Pitt's Sweeney Todd also amazed audiences by styling itself like a French Grand Guignol melodrama.

Named after Le Theatre du Grand Guignol, which was founded by Oscar Metenier in 1897, Grand Guignol plays are known for their grisly stories and lavish special effects. Now considered a quaint form of entertainment that became obsolete with the success of horror movies in the 1960s, at the time of Pitt's Sweeney Todd production it was a stunning sight for audiences. That success inspired numerous other adaptations over the years, but it wasn't until the early 1970s that playwright and actor Christopher Bond wrote a version with significant changes. Bond inserted the Judge Turpin revenge plot, transforming Sweeney Todd from a simple thieving serial killer into a complex, haunted man.

"In 1973 I was in London and that's the version I saw," Sondheim says. "I've always been very fond of melodrama and I just thought this play would make a really good musical. So I asked Christopher Bond permission and then I wrote the musical."

The Legend of Sweeney Todd

"Walking into this production I said to the studio, `You know, guys, there's going to be a lot of blood in this movie,'" recalls director Tim Burton, who clearly understood that such a twisted tale needed to be as packed with gore as one of Mrs. Lovett's infamous pies; after all, Sweeney Todd was a truly horrific figure.

Though some claim he never existed, others have documented a concise history of the 18th century's legendary "Demon Barber" of Fleet Street. To the tabloid press who adopted him, the "Penny Dreadfuls" that exploited him and the theatrical stage, which immortalized him, "Sweeney Todd" is proof positive of the maxim (acknowledgments to John Ford's "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance") "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Sweeney Todd was reputedly born in 1748, the only child of poor, alcoholic silk workers. At that time London was plagued by disease, pollution, poverty and corruption, and young Todd grew up working alongside his parents in the clothing mills. His mother and father disappeared under mysterious circumstances and, at age 14, Todd was arrested for a petty robbery and sent to Newgate Prison; this was actually considered merciful, as most child thieves were hung for their crimes.

Living among killers and crooks, Todd allegedly became the apprentice of a prison barber and fellow-convict, Elmer Plummer. Since barbers also performed certain surgical duties (hence the origin of the blood-red stripe on a barber pole), Todd learned his trade, aspects of anatomy, and how to pick the pockets of his reclining customers. These skills served him well upon release, but greed, jealousy and unbridled anger overtook the young man and his killing spree began.
Todd soon opened up shop at 186 Fleet Street next to St. Dunstan's Church, beneath which lay forgotten tunnels and catacombs holding dead parishioners. Todd advertised his services by displaying jars of teeth, hair, and blood in the window, while in the center of the room lay his most ingenious and sinister device of all: the barber chair.

To disguise his crimes, Todd reportedly created a trap door that swung a full 360 degrees. He attached a barber chair on each side, so that when a lever was pulled the customer's weight caused the occupied chair to flip upside down, dropping the victim onto his head in the basement many floors below. As the panel continued its rotation, leaving an empty barber chair in its place, Todd would race down into the basement. If the fall hadn't killed the customer, he used his razor to finish the job. Todd then stripped the body of all valuables and hid it amongst the ancient corpses under St. Dunstan's. This plan worked for a while, but as the killings continued, Todd started to run out of places to hide his victims.

Meanwhile, Todd met the money-hungry widow Margery Lovett. The two became lovers and partners-in-crime after Todd set up Mrs. Lovett's pie shop in Bell Yard, which was connected to his barbershop via the underground tunnels. Todd used his surgical skills to butcher the bodies, delivering the meat to Mrs. Lovett for her pies while hiding the skin and bones in the church catacombs.

As Todd's bloodlust flourished and Mrs. Lovett's pie business boomed, a foul stench rose up from the bowels of St. Dunstan's. Authorities investigated and it didn't take long to connect a string of missing men with piles of rotting corpses and a trail of bloody footprints leading from under Todd's business over to Mrs. Lovett's. That's when the public hysteria began.

Sweeney Todd Epilogue

The first audiences to be treated to a view of "Sweeney Todd," were at the Venice Film Festival in September where Burton was awarded the Golden Lion for career achievement. Eight minutes of the film were unveiled, including Depp singing the song "My Friends." The reaction to the footage was excellent and wildly enthusiastic.

"I pray it's going to be at least half as enjoyable and exciting and thrilling as making it has been," says Bonham Carter. "It should be great. It's a true marriage of Sondheim and Tim, because they've both got very similar sensibilities and the same black humor. And the romance of the music also, and the tenderness too, because both Tim and Johnny are both very tender."

"There's always a possibility it might upset the purists because it's not the show, and there are numbers that are not in it," muses Burton. "I'm trying to be as pure to it as possible, but I don't know how the purists will respond to it, but then again, how many purists are there? A movie like this is a strange gamble because it's an R-rated musical, it's got blood in it and people that go to Broadway shows don't usually go to see slasher films and people who see slasher films don't usually go to Broadway shows."

For fans of the original musical, Sondheim does acknowledge that some material was cut. But, he adds, "I urge them as much as possible to leave their memory of the stage show outside the door, because unlike all other movies of stage musicals that I know, this really is an attempt to take the material and completely transform it into a movie. The nice thing about `Sweeney Todd' is that this is not a movie of the stage show. This is a movie based on the stage show."

"I'm most excited about the people who have never heard of Stephen Sondheim, who have never been to a Broadway show in their life, who are going to get to see this majestic piece of work," says Logan. "They're going to get to hear a score unlike anything that has ever been composed by an American composer. They're going to get to see a story that is unique, that they don't know. And they're going to get to understand why we, who love `Sweeney Todd,' have loved it for so long and so passionately. In a way, they will get to be John Logan or Tim Burton watching this for the first time and being inspired with a passion that has lasted now 25 years. At its heart, `Sweeney Todd' is a horror musical. It is a horror movie with music that supports it. It is also, I think, a riveting character drama and a wonderful black comedy. It is an exercise in Guignol. But above everything else, it is pure entertainment. It is the genius of Stephen Sondheim, the genius of Tim Burton, the world of Sweeney Todd, coming together to create something unique and very entertaining."

Designing Sweeney's World

Burton's films have always been lauded for their amazing set designs and stylish visuals. The man charged with bringing his vision of 19th century London to life was the two-time Academy Award®-winning production designer Dante Ferretti.

One of the masters in his field, Ferretti first gained international recognition through his work with the late Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini on six films before making his mark in Hollywood, collaborating with Martin Scorsese on several films including "The Age of Innocence," "Gangs of New York" and "The Aviator," with Brian De Palma on "The Black Dahlia" and Neil Jordan on "Interview with the Vampire."

"I've seen Dante's work since the Fellini days and there's just an energy about working with somebody who's worked with Fellini," Burton notes. "It roots you in the fact you're making a movie and not just doing it as a business. He's an artist. You walk by his room and he does his own drawings. There's some real energy to that, and the history and all the stuff he's done, that was exciting to me."

For his part, Ferretti always thought Burton reminded him of Fellini, not least because of Burton's artistic nature, always drawing, always sketching. "I always thought so, I always thought he reminded me of Fellini," says the Italian-born designer. "Because he is so creative, he always makes a little sketch, exactly like Fellini. They are very close to each other."

Burton wasn't interested in creating a historically accurate recreation of 19th century London for "Sweeney Todd." "We decided not to be real hardcore because it is kind of a fable and it's slightly stylized," he explains. He sent Ferretti a DVD of "Son of Frankenstein" as a guide to the look he was after in the movie.

"He said, `I want to do a London that's a little bit like an old black and white Hollywood movie,'" recalls the production designer. "Not too many details, like black and white in color, just a few colors. It's very graphic. Tim is really creative. He has a very clear idea what he wants. He's a great, great director and if you look at all his movies, the look is one of the most important things."

Adding to the movie's distinct look was the use of brightly colored flashbacks to explain the characters' backstories or fantasies. "The original music and lyrics talk about Sweeney losing his wife and having her tragically taken away by Judge Turpin," says producer MacDonald. "But the movie gave us the opportunity to visualize that, so we actually see who Sweeney was before and how he was forged. These vibrant punches create a sharp contrast to Ferretti's stark design and convey the juxtaposition between who Sweeney was and what he has now become."

Renowned for creating amazing fantasy worlds using traditional filmmaking techniques - building sets on soundstages and back lots rather than using CGI - Burton had initially planned to shoot "Sweeney Todd" in the manner of "Sin City" and "Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow," using minimal sets and props, and filming his actors against green screens. "Part of the reason was the budget," he explains. "But when I really thought about it, being on a set helps me, it helps the actors, it helps everybody. And at the end of the day, people are singing. And singing on a green screen, you're so far removed from any reality that it would have been a really scary nightmare. I think that made it even more important to have sets on this one, because of the singing."

Producer Zanuck says the difference in cost between building sets and using the green screen method was minimal. "We realized that for substantially the same as doing it digitally, we could, if we did it intelligently with set extension and a little green screen, build sets," he reveals. "And Tim certainly feels much more comfortable and so do the actors."

While Ferretti welcomed the decision to build sets, it would ultimately mean more work for him and his team. Under the initial green screen scheme, the set for Judge Turpin's house was planned to have been little more than a simple window and door shot against a green screen.

Swapping to a more traditional method meant building an entire house set, along with a tree-lined street and an enormous painted backdrop. In all, Ferretti designed and supervised the construction of more than a dozen full sets at Pinewood Studios. A shortened pre-production period and a relatively tight budget required much ingenuity on Ferretti's behalf to not only create the large number of sets required by the script, but also build them on the small number of soundstages available to the production at Pinewood. Ferretti's solution was ingenious and remarkably cost effective. By incorporating movable walls and interchangeable storefronts, he designed sets that could be reused, and so the St. Dunstan's Market, which was built on Pinewood's S Stage, transformed very easily into Fleet Street, saving the production both time and money.

"This is our first time with Dante and he's exceeded our expectations," says Zanuck. "We didn't have a lot of money and we couldn't build everything we wanted. He's taken certain sets and made other sets out of them, by just changing the structure. There are sets behind sets because we couldn't afford to have a lot of stages. It's extraordinary what he's done. You're going to feel like you're in London at that time period, and obviously we have set extensions that are done digitally so you'll get the feeling that it's a big outdoor picture."

"There's something miraculous when, as a writer, you write INT. PIE SHOP and then you see what Dante and Tim have created," explains screenwriter Logan. "I know Dante very well because he did `The Aviator' and I knew he would bring his fine love of detail to this world. In the screenplay, I said the barber shop looked haunted and that's what every square inch of this world looks like. They are very unsettling sets to walk through because they're dark and they have strange broken angles and you never quite know what might come round a corner, whether it's Sweeney Todd with a razor, Mrs. Lovett with a pie or Jack the Ripper. They're frightening sets, which is appropriate because it's a horror movie."

For the actors, the detail in Ferretti's work was nothing short of inspiring. "I loved the sets," says Bonham Carter. "I loved walking onto Fleet Street. The atmosphere helps you considerably if your environment invites your imagination to travel. And I loved my shop."

Another crucial element for the actors was Colleen Atwood's wardrobe because "the costumes are another character in the movie," Burton explains. "I've worked with Colleen many, many times, and she gets that. She's as important as any designer in terms of helping the tone of the whole piece. Her costumes help the actors find who the character is and that helps their performances."

The job on "Sweeney Todd" was particularly challenging because of the limited color palette used for all the present-day scenes, but by playing with various textures and styles Atwood achieved the feel Burton was seeking. "Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett are strong," he says. "When you see a picture of the old Frankenstein or Dracula, or any classic movie monster, you want to have that kind of strength of image. And so that was always the goal: if you ever saw the two of them it would create a new version of those images."

In keeping with that sensibility, Burton wanted "Sweeney Todd" to look almost like a black and white film, devoid of virtually all color. "The first idea was to make the film as close to black and white as possible," explains director of photography Dariusz Wolski. "Tim showed me a lot of old horror films. We both like film noir. We like old black and white movies. So that was the general approach, to make it very moody, very dark, a lot of contrast, very graphic. Dante built sets that were very monochromatic, very stark. Then I came in with the lighting. We looked at a lot of photographs of Old London. We tried to make the film look like an old movie with contemporary technology and a modern way of making an old-fashioned film."

Later, in post-production, the Polish-born cinematographer used a Digital Intermediate process to strip out even more color. "What we're doing in this film is a combination of make-up, wardrobe, set design and me treating the film, pulling the color out," Wolski explains. "We're trying to make this movie almost black and white, except for some faded colors here and there. And blood."

Given that Sweeney's method of murder is cutthroat, it was inevitable that "Sweeney Todd" would be awash with blood, although Burton's film is, of course, following in the footsteps of the stage production. "The first time Tim and I met, the first thing we talked about was when we first saw `Sweeney Todd' and how much we remember the blood," notes Logan. "At the first throat-slitting, the razor goes wide, the blood arched across the stage, the light hit it and it was this unique red.

"In reality when you slit someone's throat it is a messy business and we don't shy away from that," Logan continues. "We are in no way coy about what Sweeney Todd is doing because to understand the tragedy of Sweeney you have to understand the degradation which he inflicts on himself and other people. You have to understand he is, in fact, a homicidal maniac and yet your heart breaks for him. That is the genius of `Sweeney Todd,' and we thought it was very important not to shy away from the reality of the blood. So when he slits a throat arterial blood sprays and people are coated with it."

"Tim was reared on horror movies," laughs Bonham Carter, "that was his treat every Saturday night and Johnny loves them too. And they've definitely looked back at their old favorites for a lot of inspiration. It is a horror movie. But Tim's quite mischievous. There's a lot of schlock, which he finds incredibly funny, and a lot of gore, which again he finds incredibly funny. There's a lot of black humor in it. And hopefully it'll be scary but at the same time it will be very funny, I hope, in a perverse way and very entertaining."

"'Sweeney Todd' is, in the classical dramatic sense, a blood tragedy," concludes Logan. "Obviously it plays homage to Grand Guignol, it plays homage to the `Penny Dreadfuls' of Victorian London. But it's important to say that the blood in `Sweeney Todd' is not sadistic, it is not unnecessary; it is absolutely a part of the world that these characters inhabit, so to shy away from it would be dishonest and coy in a way this story is not and this filmmaker is not. The truth of this is, people are being killed, this central character is motivated with so much desire and passion that he has to kill people with his hands and their blood gets on his hands and on his face, and he is coated with it figuratively and literally."

Sweeney Todd Music and Songs

"The music is so important," says Zanuck. "The story is being told through the singing. We were determined that every cast member use his or her own voice. Everybody sings themselves."
And yet apart from Laura Michelle Kelly, who plays the Beggar Woman, not one member of the "Sweeney Todd" cast was a professional singer.
"Stephen Sondheim writes the most complicated music in the history of the musical theatre, so for these performers it's like a mountain climber climbing Mount Everest without oxygen and without Sherpas," explains John Logan.

To give all the actors something to rehearse to, music producer Mike Higham, who had previously worked with Burton on "Corpse Bride," created a version of the score without any singing.

"To be able to hear the various layers, the string section, the horns, to hear them almost isolated, was a real eye-opener," remembers Depp who laid down most of his songs as demos in Los Angeles before recording them again in London. "I didn't realize it was that complicated. Even when I saw it on stage, it didn't seem that complicated to me, or listening to the CD. But when you hear it without the vocals, there are these really incredibly dissonant chords."
"When the harmonies happen, they're so beautiful because it sounds so unlikely," says Bonham Carter. "But what I love is that there's always an emotional sense. I've got `Wait,' which is a lovely lullaby. It seems rather simple, but underneath it's horrible. The piano sounds so disturbed but that, of course, is the character of Sweeney's state of mind. A lot of themes and the unease and the fact it never resolves itself is a reflection of Sweeney's mind, heart and emotional landscape."

The music was recorded over a four-day period at London's Air Studios and the 64-piece orchestra assembled for the film was the largest orchestra ever to have played Sondheim's score. "We added 30 violins, some more horns, a tuba, just to give it a bigger, fatter, wider sound," Higham explains. "This is definitely its own unique thing."

The recording sessions were overseen by Stephen Sondheim and conducted by his musical supervisor Paul Gemignani. "To sit there with Tim on one side and Stephen Sondheim on the other was a fascinating experience for all of us," remembers Zanuck. "This was his arena because he can hear a flute that's slightly off, the same way that Tim can see out of the corner of his eye an extra one hundred yards away down the street."

Once the score was laid down, the songs were next. But before any of the tracks could be recorded, the cast was required to rehearse for Sondheim who flew into London for a few days to hear them. "That was really nerve-wracking," recalls Bonham Carter. "I'd been cast by him, then I had to sing for him. But thankfully, he was fine."

Adds Timothy Spall, "I can sing, but I'm not a singer. To have to sing in front of him was a bit like doing `Hamlet' in front of Shakespeare, really."

Though Sondheim was naturally concerned about the musical adaptation, he was just as focused on the performers themselves. He explains, "I prefer actors who sing over singers who act. That doesn't always do the music good, but it does keep the story going and that's what I believe is important."

The songs were recorded over a period of six weeks throughout November and December 2006 at Air Studios and Eden Studios, London. "I did the majority of songs in demo form in the studio in Los Angeles," Depp explains, "then came to London and re-recorded them with the orchestra music. The process felt oddly natural to me, music being my first love and all."

It was Bonham Carter, however, who had not only the most songs to sing, but arguably the most complicated ones too. Her character's signature song, "The Worst Pies in London," required her not only to sing but to make an entire pie from scratch while doing it. "It's a brilliant song," she notes. "Sondheim did write it as a bravura piece for the actor. It's very complicated. It's incredibly fast and it's really brilliant at setting up her character because it sort of captures her as somebody who just goes off her tangents, is all over the place, frenetic, it just speaks to how she thinks. But equally, it gets over the fact that she's running a pie shop, it's not doing any good business and she's down on her luck. And she makes a pie at the same time as singing all this, so it's quite hard work."

Bonham Carter even took lessons in pie making from a period pie maker, and the movements of her character making the pie had to be factored into the recording sessions. "In film, when you do anything, you have to do it exactly the same because of continuity," she continues. "You have to do every single thing on the same lyric. I think I've sung that song so many times now, probably nearing 500 times, factoring in when I started singing it, the auditioning, and then recording it and making the different choices."

With the story of "Sweeney Todd" told mainly through music and lyrics as opposed to dialogue, the recording sessions became more than just about the cast getting the songs musically correct. Because the actors would be singing to their pre-recorded tracks on set, they had to find their performance in the recording booth and commit to it there and then, rather than months later during filming. "It's a very different discipline," says Depp. "The second you laid down the song you made your choices, you committed months in advance. At the same time, you've got to match yourself to it on set, but make it bigger, make it better."

Principal photography began on February 5, 2007 at Pinewood Studios in England, where Burton had previously filmed both "Batman" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." On set, the cast was required to lip-synch to the playback of the songs, a difficult enough discipline even for professional singers. "You've got to act it as if it's new and yet you are obeying something you've done in the past," Bonham Carter reveals. "Don't look as if you're remembering, illustrating or demonstrating something - you've got to be in the moment or try and do something to keep it alive. In some ways, I thought I wanted to do it live, but the sound wouldn't be as good."

"Watching Helena and Johnny, I'm amazed," says Laura Michelle Kelly, a professional stage singer making her movie debut in "Sweeney Todd." "I wouldn't have imagined that it was the first time they'd had to sing in public view. Everyone was so confident. It helps to be able to express a lyric as opposed to singing it with no meaning and they've taken to it like ducks to water. Most people find Sondheim the hardest thing to sing, what with the tempos and the changes and the lyrical melodies; all of them are difficult. Some people try for years to do what they're doing just naturally. I learned a lot watching them."

For the film, Burton was determined to remove anything that smacked of being too "Broadway" in terms of the orchestration or the acting. "On Broadway you're sitting in an audience and a song ends with a ta-da, cue for applause, and you don't want to do that in a movie," he insists. "On one level you say you're doing a silent movie so there's a certain amount of acting style that you might say is a bit broad, but at the same time you try and cut out completely any Broadway kind of singing, although there are a couple of moments. So it was a weird dynamic to find. Being broad like you might be in a silent movie or an old horror movie without being Broadway."

"This is not a recording of a Broadway show, this is a movie," says Logan. "Tim has been hyper-conscious of anything that smacks of being too emotive, too presentational, too `cute' in terms of the actors over-performing or playing to the back balcony, because there's a certain amount of scope to the score that could allow a performer to overact, to play too large; it's a very large story with very sweeping emotions and full-bodied music. Tim has been wonderful about keeping it real, keeping it honest and making sure these are real people going through this terribly difficult story and not shying away from the really harrowing emotions. As a theater fan and a movie fan, I think he's doing the perfect thing, saying, `We respect the stage play, we love the stage play, it will always be there in our hearts, but this has to be first and foremost a work of cinema.'"

Sweeney Todd The Cast

"'Sweeney' has had a long and successful career on stage, and yet, in a way you've never had the opportunity to get emotionally close to Sweeney," says producer Parkes. "It's the nature of the stage. You don't have close ups. But when you bring Tim, and particularly Johnny(Depp), to the mix, you have an opportunity to get inside Sweeney emotionally. In a way, it almost redefines the way you look at the play."

While on stage Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett have usually been played by actors in their 50s and 60s, Burton was determined to skew the cast younger for his film. "It just felt that part of the energy on this was to make them a bit younger, in their 40s, and have the kids be kids, so the ages were a bit more appropriate to what the story really was, and it's not a teenager being played by a 30-year-old," he explains. "That, to me, was an energy that was very filmic as opposed to a stage thing when you could get away with it."

"Tim very much wanted there to be a potential for romance, two people who had a moment and lost it," observes producer Walter Parkes. "I think Helena does as much as Johnny to deliver that. There's a moment at the end where she sings one of my favorite songs, `By the Sea,' in which she is imagining the life she and Sweeney and little Toby could have if they could just let this all go. It's so poignant and so beautiful because it's simple, direct, unadorned and legitimately emotional -- and made all the more so because you know this cloud of tragedy is hanging over these three peoples' heads."

"The absolute core of Mrs. Lovett is that she's in love with this man who never notices her," says Bonham Carter. "He doesn't even look at her, except when she comes up with the genius idea of how to dispose of his bodies when, suddenly, she's visible. And she is a good partner, a good foil for him, because whereas he's a total introvert, she's extroverted. She's practical and, I think, a lot cleverer, frankly. She was Sweeney's landlord 15 years ago, when he was married. So when Sweeney comes back from Australia and finds her, she gives him back his old room, above her pie shop. But the thing is, she's always been in love with Sweeney. And I don't think he gives two hoots about Mrs. Lovett. He's so obsessed with avenging his wife's death. But there's something quite crucial she fails to tell him..."

"When we first meet Sweeney Todd he's a very mysterious character," says Logan. "He doesn't say a lot but you know from his eyes that there is something haunting him, that he has a secret, that his past is haunting him, literally haunting him. As the story goes on, we learn what led him to this very dark place. He's just escaped from penal servitude in Australia. He was floating on a raft in the middle of the ocean, trying to make his way to London because he is on a mission of revenge. He wants revenge on the people who essentially destroyed his life."

To play his Sweeney Todd, director Tim Burton had only one actor in mind. "Johnny Depp plays Sweeney Todd as only Johnny Depp can," says producer Richard Zanuck. "Talk about a risk taker. The bigger the risks, the more attractive a role is to Johnny. He's built his whole career on pictures and roles that most actors have turned down or would turn down. He's the master of disguise. He's the master of doing something unique every time out. He has a different look, a different personality, and in this case, he'll have a voice that people will be absolutely astounded by."

Considered to be one of his generation's finest actors, Depp's stock has skyrocketed in recent years thanks to his starring role as Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl," a global box office smash for which he received an Academy Award® nomination for Best Actor, which was followed by two enormously successful sequels. "I've always admired Johnny because of his choices as an actor, and because he's always done things according to his own lights," says Bonham Carter. "He's never done anything according to any sort of pattern or formula or to create a career, or because he was relying on his looks. I think, in a funny way, we're a bit similar, in that we don't have much respect for what we look like, we rather like camouflaging and getting away from ourselves."

"Sweeney Todd" marks Depp and Burton's sixth film together, after "Edward Scissorhands," "Ed Wood," "Sleepy Hollow," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Corpse Bride." "They are like any good team with almost an unspoken way of doing things, and can practically read each other's minds," says Zanuck. "Johnny looks to Tim for guidance and Tim looks to Johnny for taking what he has outlined and pushing it a little further. They really love each other and would do anything for each other. It's a deep friendship, and they're both lovely people, fun to work with and hard-working. And they're both at the top of their game. So the combination is wonderful in terms of freshness and inventiveness."

"Every time Johnny and I work together we try to do something different -- and singing for a whole movie is not something we're used to," says Burton. "You never just want to feel like, `Okay, that was easy. What's next?' Johnny and I are always wanting to stretch ourselves, and this was a perfect outlet for that."

In late 2001, before Burton was even attached to direct "Sweeney Todd," he visited Depp at his house in the south of France and gave him a copy of the Angela Lansbury stage production on CD. "He said `I don't know if you've ever heard this. Give it a listen,'" Depp recalls. "I gave it a listen and thought, `Wwell, that's interesting.' Then, five or six years later the question comes. `Do you think you can sing?' The answer I gave him was, `I don't know. I'll see if I can.'"

"I know he's musical," says Burton, "because he was in a band. But I think I saw him so clearly as Sweeney Todd, in a way. And I know he wouldn't just do anything with me just to do it. That's all I needed and I just knew he could. It was just a feeling I had that he could do it."

In the 1980s, Depp had played guitar in a band in Florida called The Kids, although he says he never actually sang an entire song. "I was the guy who would come in and sing the harmony, very quickly," he laughs. "It would be all of like three seconds and then I was out, and I could find my way back to the dark and continue playing guitar. So I had never sung a song, certainly not. I said to Tim, `I'm going to go into the studio with this pal of mine and I'm going to investigate and try and sing the songs, and if I'm close then we can talk about it, or I'll just call you and say, you know what, I can't do it. It's just impossible.'"

To find out whether he could sing or not, Depp called his former bandmate Bruce Witkin, who had been the singer and bass player in The Kids, and the pair went into Witkin's Los Angeles studio to record Depp singing "My Friends." "That was the first song I ever sang in my life," Depp explains. "It was pretty weird and scary." But Depp trusted his friend to be honest enough to deliver a verdict on whether he could sing or not. "I was like, `Do you want the good news or the bad news?'" Witkin remembers. "He goes, `Well, give me the bad news.' And I said, `The bad news is you're going to have to do this.'"

"I was in my office on the phone," recalls Zanuck of the day he first heard Depp's singing voice. "Tim bursts in and lays down a little cassette player and his headphones and he walks out. So I got off the phone, put them on, and listened to Johnny sing for the first time. I went into Tim's office, and we both just stared at each other with great relief. We had the biggest smiles because we knew we had a great voice with Johnny Depp, and we knew he could really pull this off."
"It's very sexy," says Bonham Carter of Depp's singing voice. "It's very sexy singing, and it sounds like him, that's what's exciting. He really sings from the gut, and it's a very emotional role. So it's very naked and very sexy and very touching and brave and beautiful, very beautiful, and soulful."

Agrees Burton: "Johnny's got a nice timbre to his voice. It's coming from within and that's what's so great about it."

For Depp, the key to Sweeney Todd was to think of him not as a killer but as a victim. "Sweeney's obviously a dark figure," he reflects, "but I think quite a sensitive figure, hyper-sensitive and has experienced something very dark and traumatic in his life, a grave injustice. But I always saw him as a victim. I mean, anyone who is victimized to that degree and then turns around and becomes a murderer, can't be all there. I always saw him as a little bit slow. Not dumb, just a half-step behind. The rug was pulled out from under his perfect life, his perfect world. He was in a 15-year hellhole. The only reason he came back was to eliminate the people who had done him wrong."

"Johnny Depp's performance is quite remarkable," says Sondheim. "Sweeney's desire for revenge and the simmering anger and hurt that he feels carry the story forward, and Johnny finds the most remarkable variety within that narrow set of emotions. The intensity is at a boil all the time and he never drops it. It's real anger."

"He's incapable of feeling happy," says Depp, "unless this corner has been turned and he's that much closer to his objective, which is slaughtering the people who have wronged him."
Sweeney's favored instrument of death are his cutthroat razors, the shiny implements that are also his tools of trade as a barber, and which we learn Mrs. Lovett held on to while Todd was in jail in Australia. "I think it's an indication of how much she loves him because she could have easily sold those razors," says Bonham Carter. "They're worth a lot. But she doesn't. She keeps them. I think she's been holding on to the hope that he might return. His razors are a completion of his self."

Once back in Sweeney's hands, they become both his lifeline and his means of revenge, and he serenades them in the song "My Friends." "These blades are his family," explains Depp. "They're an extension of him, the only love in his life now that his family's gone."

"When Johnny picks up the first razor and holds it, it is a pure moment of love," remarks Logan. "And when he sings to his razors, it's a love song, and he holds them very close. He keeps them in a special sheath, a special holster, the entire movie."

Sweeney's one connection to the real world is Mrs. Lovett, who "is one of the great dramatic creations of 20th century theater," says Logan. "She's a counterpoint to Sweeney, because Sweeney is very grim and brooding and very, very, very serious about what he's doing. Mrs. Lovett brings life and energy and has a sort of twinkle in her eye. Together she and Sweeney are an unstoppable combination."

"There were a lot of people who wanted the role," says Richard Zanuck. "A couple of major stars who wanted to do it came in and exposed themselves, singing the score with just a piano player. There were about eight in all. We did several auditions in London, several in New York, and there were major people who didn't come in but made their own recordings and sent them in."

Bonham Carter ("Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix") has been enamored of Sondheim's musical since she was a teenager. "I remember sitting in my drawing room looking at the score, going through the lyrics and listening to it," she says. "I got completely hooked on the music. I've always loved Sondheim. He's such a genius to be able to write both lyrics and music." But her love extended further than just an admiration for Sondheim's music and lyrics.
"I wanted to be Mrs. Lovett since I was thirteen," she laughs, "and I went around, apparently, in Mrs. Lovett hairdos."

Even though she'd wanted to play Mrs. Lovett since she was a teenager, Bonham Carter didn't know if she could really sing the role. "I've always wanted to be in a musical but I never thought I could sing, except in the bathroom," she says. And so Bonham Carter gave herself three months to learn. "I went to this amazing teacher named Ian Adam," she explains. "He died recently, but he was quite famous for making actors who can't necessarily sing, singers too. Ninety percent of what he does is give you confidence and a self-belief that makes you able to open your mouth and produce a sound. From June to September of 2006, I sang every single day and I learned pretty much the whole score because I was very, very keen. I thought my only chance was to act it as well as I could. I knew Sondheim loved Judi Dench's performance in `A Little Night Music' because it was the most well-acted. I thought `If you go for the truth of the lyric, that's your only chance.'"

Although Burton had worked with Bonham Carter on "Planet of the Apes" and later "Big Fish" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," the idea of casting her as Mrs. Lovett brought a unique set of complications, not the least being the perception he was giving her the part because she was his girlfriend. "I was very nervous about it, because it's a big role. And it wasn't just me. It was Sondheim who had to okay it," he reflects. "With a role like this, you've got to be able to really, really deliver."

"Despite the close relationship between Tim and Helena, he was absolutely not biased," insists Richard Zanuck. "I'd never seen anyone deal with someone he's so close to and be as objective as he was."

Without knowing Burton's choice, Sondheim watched all the candidates' audition tapes and also opted for Bonham Carter. "He said, `I think she is far and away the best,'" recalls Zanuck. "Not voice-wise, because there were some real skilled singers, but voice and personality and look and everything, she was Mrs. Lovett."

"That was probably the best day of my professional life to be absolutely honest," Bonham Carter recalls. "I was in complete shock and, to be honest, Tim was, too."

"She's very brave," says Depp. "I mean, without question, that's the toughest part in the movie and she beautifully made it her own. She made Mrs. Lovett kind of vulnerable and horrific and funny and sweet. There's a lot of angles on that woman that Helena brought to her."

"I saw her as totally amoral, full of zest and full of life, and a survivor," says Bonham Carter. "Somebody who was as zestful and vital as Sweeney, was depressive and introverted, and very canny and a wannabe middle-class person. But the main thing that motors her, and the main thing that defines Mrs. Lovett is that she's tragically in love with somebody who doesn't love her back."

"I think she'd rather he didn't think about killing so much and maybe he were slightly more romantic and paid more attention to her," says Depp. "Eye contact is not one of his strongest points, even with Mrs. Lovett, bless her."

"There's something very sad and haunting and emotional and delusional about that kind of a character," explains Burton. "That's why they make such a perfect couple, really. It's a relationship movie."

But Mrs. Lovett's affections aren't directed solely towards Todd. There's also Toby (Edward Sanders), Pirelli's young assistant who becomes her charge. "I think she's got a mother obsession," says Bonham Carter. "She thinks that she's Mother Lovett, as it were, that she's Mother Nature, and she's got this maternal instinct towards people, a bit towards Sweeney, and definitely towards Toby. She's a frustrated mother. I made a bit of a thing of maybe she was a mother once and she lost her child. That might have sent her over the edge. But she's with Toby because she's a frustrated mother and because Toby looks up to her. Toby listens to her. Sweeney doesn't. So she's pretty lonely. But Toby thinks she's a lady. And that's the other thing she's always wanted - to be a lady and be posh. Toby sees her as she likes to be seen."

To play Judge Turpin, the object of Sweeney Todd's unquenchable revenge, Burton needed an actor of substantial stature.

"The Judge is a pivotal role," says Zanuck. "He's the reason for Sweeney being sent off to prison, and when he lands back in London, he's the one guy Sweeney wants to get. We needed someone who would be an equal opponent of Johnny. He had to sing. He had to be very nasty. And nobody can be meaner, while doing very little, than Alan Rickman."

"Alan has always been one of my favorite actors, and I didn't realize this until later but he has a wonderful singing voice," says Burton. "He's also got a strange Vincent Price quality to him. He doesn't have to have a line of dialogue or be saying something to register a feeling. He's able to be bad, but you also kind of understand because there's a strange vulnerability about him as well."

"He's amazing," says Depp, "because he can be unbelievably creepy and then, in the same shot, turn his head and be super-sweet and have these puppy dog eyes. Rickman's really something."
Although singing was part of his training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) in London, Rickman had never sung on film before. "I played the male lead in the end of finals musical and, during my early days in rep, I was in the chorus of `Guys and Dolls,'" he reveals. "I'd always enjoyed singing, but never thought anything like this would come along. It's quite good to meet those Waterloos when you least expect it."

For Pirelli, the flamboyant barber who rumbles Barker's new identity but also hides a secret of his own, Burton cast the talented British comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen in his first film since his breakout success with "Borat: Cultural Leanings of America Make For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan." "Pirelli is the competing barber in town who has a great confrontation with Sweeney in one of the town squares," explains producer Laurie MacDonald. "He is a big comic character, so that obviously played into Sacha's gifts, but I think what people will be really surprised to see is how beautifully he sings and how strong he performs in this other world."
"We got him before we saw `Borat,' and before he became a household name," notes Zanuck. "He asked to come in. We met him for the first time in a recording studio. I didn't realize how tall he is, about six-five or six-six, and very handsome. He told us he's always loved this show, and that he had sung early on in his life in choirs, so we asked him to step into the booth. He wasn't prepared to sing from `Sweeney Todd,' but he sang practically all of `Fiddler on the Roof' and did it in such a way that Tim and I were literally on the floor, buckled over. He was so funny, but despite all the laughter, we realized this guy had a great voice. He had the part right then and there as far as we were concerned. And he's wonderful. Sacha is extraordinary in the picture."
Depp agrees, saying, "Sacha is someone I'd admired greatly for a number of years, all the way back to Ali G. The guy came in and won us all over in no time. He was a pleasure to watch and a pleasure to work with. It's like meeting the new Peter Sellers. He's clearly an incredibly gifted actor."

Playing Judge Turpin's nefarious henchman Beadle Bamford is Timothy Spall, one of Britain's most respected film, television and stage actors, who starred in the "Harry Potter" series as Peter Pettigrew. Like Rickman, Spall is a graduate of RADA and had sung there as well as in Mike Leigh's Gilbert & Sullivan musical comedy "Topsy-Turvy." "My character, he's a nasty piece of work, really," says Spall of Bamford. "He's a small-time sort of parish official who has adopted authority because of his association with the Judge, who he's ingratiated himself with in many ways. He's sort of his bodyguard, his henchman. He's a procurer of various things, seemly and unseemly. Also he's a pretty violent piece of work. He's not very nice."

Rounding out the rest of the cast were a coterie of talented newcomers all making their feature film debuts: A-level student Jamie Campbell Bower (Anthony), Jayne Wisener (Johanna), who's in her second year at the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow, and schoolboy Edward Sanders (Toby), as well as Laura Michelle Kelly, a veteran of London's West End whose theatrical credits include the musicals "Mamma Mia," "Mary Poppins" and "The Lord Of The Rings," in which she starred as Galadriel.