Viggo Mortensen The Road

Viggo Mortensen The Road

The Road

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Guy Pearce
Director: John Hillcoat
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Thriller
Rated: MA
Running Time: 113 minutes

Synopsis: From Cormac McCarthy, author of No Country For Old Men, comes the highly anticipated big screen adaptation of the beloved, best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road. Academy Award-nominee Viggo Mortensen leads an all-star cast featuring Charlize Theron, Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce and young newcomer Kodi Smit-McPhee in this epic post-apocalyptic tale of the survival of a father (Mortsensen) and his young son (Smit-McPhee) as they journey across a barren America that was destroyed by a mysterious cataclysm. A masterpiece adventure, The Road boldly imagines a future in which men are pushed to the worst and the best that they are capable of-a future in which a father and his son are sustained by love.

It is more than ten years since the world was destroyed-by what, nobody can say. It could have been a nuclear event, or the collision of the Earth with another cosmic entity. Or the sun may have imploded and taken out the planet as collateral damage to its own flameout. One day there was a big flash of light, and then nothing. The result of this cataclysmic event, whatever it was, is that there is no energy, no power, no vegetation, no food. Millions of people have been eradicated, destroyed by fires and floods or scorched and incinerated in their cars where they sat when the event hit or suffocated by starvation and despair in civilisation's slow death after the power went out.

The Man (Viggo Mortensen) and The Boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) - "each the other's world entire," as McCarthy describes them in his novel - are on the move with all their precious possessions-whatever food and clothing they can scrounge, utensils and tools, plastic bags, tarps, blankets and anything else to keep warm in the frigid, sunless, ash-filled outdoors-on their backs and in a shopping cart outfitted with a bicycle mirror so they can see who's coming up behind them. Their desperate, improvised traveling gear and their scruffy unwashed bodies give them the look of the homeless. And that is what they are. That's what everybody is in this lifeless frontier.

As they trudge along on foot, following the once-magnificent American highway system west toward the ocean, they hide in the woods and in old abandoned structures, any shelter they can improvise that keeps them safe from the elements and the wandering bands who would think nothing of taking everything from them. They come across all sorts of desperate people. There is a road gang, a bunch of tough hombres who have somehow managed to fuel their big semi. There are scavengers and hunters of anything that moves, some well-fed cannibals who keep a cellar-full of barely human cuisine in a big house on a hill. And there are all manner of thieves.

And then there is an Old Man (Robert Duvall), who they come across bent and shuffling down the road in front of them, walking with a makeshift cane in shoes made of rags and cardboard. The Boy takes a liking to him and persuades his dad to share some of their food and camp with him. The old man, who admits his name is Ely, is equally impressed by the boy-impressed at his very existence as they are by his. He tells them that he's been on the road forever. He tells them that when he saw the boy he thought he'd died and gone to heaven, seen an angel.

Even in this bleak universe, there are moments of happiness. Occasionally, the pair comes across some food long forgotten in a cupboard or stashed in a fallout shelter. While rummaging in an abandoned mall, the father finds a forgotten can of Coke stuck in the bowels of an upturned vending machine. When he gives the treat to his son, who has never indulged in anything like it, the father is amused by his son's astonishment of the drink's fizzy sweetness. And when they come across a waterfall with relatively clean water; both jump right in for a session of skinny-dipping.

And then there are the numerous flashbacks to the man's life with his wife (Charlize Theron) before the great disaster, before she took her own life rather than see it taken by what or who she knew was coming. The man clings to these memories that nourish him spiritually and help him to push his increasingly frail body ever further in the quest to get his son to some kind of safety. The sweet memory of his life before the fall, and of his halcyon childhood days are some of the bright spots that enliven the terrain for him and the boy.

The child's innate goodness, his compassion and his sense of wonder and curiosity are also bright spots in this story, reminding the man of why he must keep on going no matter what even when he has forgotten why he must do it.

The Road is an adventure story, a horror story, a road movie and ultimately a love story between a father and his son, between a man and his wife, as it is a celebration of the inextinguishable will to live. It is a thrilling evocation of human endurance and an unflinching examination of people at their worst-and at their best.

For every mother, every father who's ever had a child, for every son of a father, The Road will be a journey into the human spirit. It is a survivor's story in which the heroes carry the fire that is the life force that keeps hope alive no matter what.

Release Date: January 28th, 2009

The Road is a movie that had to get made. On the surface, a story about the Earth's end-game scenario that includes cannibalism and brutality and other unsavory elements is not exactly the right material for a popcorn movie. And though some studios initially passed on the project for these reasons, the producers, the director and the talent who were drawn to it were motivated by an absolute belief that Cormac McCarthy's novel would make an incredible picture.

Producer Nick Wechsler, a huge fan of the author, got beat out when he tried to buy the rights to Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, which went on to win the Oscar™ for the Coen Brothers, so he alerted literary agents to let him know when the next Cormac McCarthy book became available. He and producing partners Paula Mae and Steve Schwartz took advantage of competitors' skittishness and optioned the property when it was in manuscript form. "The great thing about this particular book was that it was so dark and so bleak that all of the studios and other producers were cautiously approaching it, weren't sure whether it could be made into a movie," he says. "That gave me an opportunity to seize the moment, outbid everybody else with the help of my partners, the Steve Schwartz's, and acquire the material."

Like all the other filmmakers involved in making this movie, Nick Wechsler was deeply moved by the experience of reading Cormac McCarthy's page-turner. He saw instantly, he says, that it would be great movie material. "I read the novel the evening that it was given to me and I thought it was an extremely powerful, emotional experience-the story of the father and the son and the journey they take and the passing of the fire, the passing of the idea of humanity from one to the other and back again.

"And I also thought that there were some good genre elements as well. The suspense and tension of the need to survive in an extremely hostile world-really obvious elements to make into a movie. I wasn't worried about the bleak aspect at all. I thought that an apocalyptic world is bleak and cannibalism in an apocalyptic world is bleak but that the emotional core of the piece was so fresh and so powerful that that's what would shine through in the making of a movie."

When Nick Wechsler invited Rudd Simmons to come aboard as the film's executive producer, his choice of John Hillcoat to direct was already established. Rudd Simmons hadn't seen John Hillcoat's film The Proposition, but when he did, he too was hooked on the director. "I was quite taken with John Hillcoat's film," he says. "What was interesting to me was what he did with the landscape and how much the characters seem to come right out of the landscape. The Road is a fairly simple story in a way but it's mythic and the characters seem to just come right out of the earth. So, I talked to John Hillcoat and he and I got along great."

Another thing that impressed Rudd Simmons about the director's process was how prepared and how focused John Hillcoat was on exactly how he was going to transform this great novel into a great movie. "At the very beginning John Hillcoat wrote a position paper-and I've never had that on any of the movies I've done," he says. "It was about three or four pages of what he was looking for, the themes that he was interested in, it had to do with genre and the overall look he wanted for the movie, and along with it were a lot of photographs.

"It was a pretty great thing because we gave this to everyone who came onto the project and right off the bat we were all on the same page. We knew exactly what he was looking for. We knew exactly what it was he saw in the story," he says.

"What makes a really good adaptation is if the filmmaker finds something in the book that he is passionate about and tells the story from that point of view," Rudd Simmons adds. "And we knew what that was for John Hillcoat."

Some of John Hillcoat's statements do read like a manifesto, but in hindsight, the director was analysing the movie thematically, even philosophically, much as a professor of cinema studies might do. Here are two paragraphs from John Hillcoat's position paper that illustrate this:
"The movie will operate on a number of different levels, where it can be viewed as a more mythic metaphoric journey of the soul, a fable, an adult fairytale about the passing of one generation to another, that inescapable reality of mortality and the archetypal parent's greatest fear, guilt and heartbreak in leaving the child behind (and by extension everyone's fear of being left behind utterly alone). On another level is the morality tale, an urgent wake-up call to us all where kindness, trust, hope and faith must prevail against all odds in the face of impending destruction and horror. On another is the immediate visceral reality of a dark epic adventure filled with terror and tenderness.

"As we all bear witness to a new age of violent global conflict together with the specter of apocalyptic environmental catastrophe, The Road manages to tap into our collective psyche with the force of a universal nightmare. It evokes our deepest and darkest fears -and with prescience and lucidity addresses what matters most."

In adapting the book, the filmmakers took great pains to retain the simple, gut-wrenching directness of it while bringing in some universal truths about this collective psyche so that a science fiction story about the end of the Earth could jibe with some of the most common fears of our post-9-11 era-global warming, high gas prices, economic uncertainty and the real possibility of a monumental natural catastrophe due to mankind's abuse of the planet. So while McCarthy was ambiguous about what actually caused the great conflagration in his story when all the lights went out, the filmmakers were free to frame theirs in an ecological disaster.

"We did actually depart from the book," says John Hillcoat. "In the book it was very much like a nuclear winter-everything was completely covered in ash and totally monochromatic with a thick layer of black soot and ash in the air."

In scouting locations, the filmmakers gravitated toward natural disasters that wiped out huge swaths of territory, leaving it in a ravaged state. Prepping the film John Hillcoat embarked on a long journey with Rudd Simmons and his longtime production designer Chris Kennedy, in which they sought out places around the country that had been ravaged in that way, knowing that the locations would connect the audience with a modern-day horror story that could happen here. These distressed landscapes would tap into the collective American psyche by referring to some major traumas that devastated parts of this country.

"What was great about the book was that incredible, visceral reality to it," says John Hillcoat. "Neither Chris Kennedy or myself have ever really liked apocalyptic films that much as a genre. But this felt so different from anything else. So we immediately thought this story seems to tap into experiences of natural disasters and man-made disasters-so why not utilise all of that.

"So we immediately began doing a lot of research in which we were basically looking at man-made and natural disasters that have occurred, and that's what led us to things like New Orleans post-Katrina, and Mount St. Helens in Washington and mining in central Pennsylvania and around Pittsburgh where that industry left a kind of man-made disaster area in terms of the landscape-what's left of it. So the process was about utilising all those things and gradually piecing it all together. It was like this huge tapestry."

For producer Paula Mae Schwartz the story was eminently filmable because of its inherent hopefulness and the tender emotional core of the novel. "We admired Cormac McCarthy very much, thought he had an original voice, and this particular book captured a unique love story between a father and son," she says. "We felt that the power of the love between the father and the son was palpable-so strong that it helped mankind survive after the apocalypse. So it's the ultimate story of survival."

Viggo Mortensen, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his riveting performance in Eastern Promises, rooted his portrayal in the father-son dynamic as well. And though at the time he was offered the role, the actor was coming off a period of working a lot and looking forward to a break, he says, but when he got the script and read the book, there was no way he couldn't do it.

"I thought, 'Wow, it's going to be pretty hard to say no to something like this, this kind of character.' It's one of those books that's hard to put down, once it gets going you want to know how it turns out," he says.

When The Road was first published, the novel was chosen by Oprah Winfrey for her influential book list, and that helped get it out there in the universal consciousness, to be accepted by the public in addition to the critics who have always sparked to Cormac McCarthy's work. "The reason so many people have read this book," adds Viggo Mortensen, "is that it really struck a chord in America. The story is universal. Any parent that cares about their kid has these feelings, these doubts, these fears, these concerns. What's going to happen when I'm gone? Is my kid going to be all right? If my kid gets sick what's going to happen? But the main one is what will happen when I'm not around."

In this story, Viggo Mortensen notes, that basic human concern is cranked up a few notches because it takes place in a bleak universe where every human certainty is gone. "It's taken to an extreme," he says. "It's not just that I'll be gone and his mother will take care of him or his aunt, extended family or just society somehow. There's nobody. Zero. If I'm gone he's alone in the world. As extreme as that is, it still connects for people with their own families. Any mother, any father, how they feel about their child, what they worry about.

"So, all those things are worth exploring," he says of his preparation for playing The Man in this movie of Cormac McCarthy's dystopian saga, "I realised that I had that inside of me. I needed to just sort of look inside to play this."

The story of The Road is simple, yet compelling, and though there are other characters, it's really about the father and the son. Viggo Mortensen says the deep questions the book raises were what led him to find the soul of his character. "Because of what the story's about, and because of the thoughts I had when I first read the script and the book,' he says, "It made me think about what's happening, what does the future hold? When we are no more, what does it mean?

"In a way, that's what this story is about. What happens when everything is taken from you? I mean everything. These two people, this man and this boy, that's what's happened. And when you think nothing else can be taken, the boy loses everything. Even more. That's a pretty good recipe for a drama, if it's handled right. What happens when everything is taken from you? How do you behave, how do you react? How do you deal with people who you fear might take more things from you? Or people who have things that you don't have. And when you're tired, when you're afraid of them, how do you react. Do you act aggressively? Sometimes. Do you try to stay away from them? Probably. If you think you can, do you take their things? Sometimes you do, even if you think of yourself as a good guy. All those things happen in the story, all these tests. The tests of: what happens when you think everything's been taken from you. That's what carrying the fire means, even if you think they've taken everything from you, the fact that you're sitting here, thinking about it and complaining about it means they haven't. You're still here. Until you're not here, they haven't taken everything from you."

Viggo Mortensen adds that the film's title is more than ironic. "I knew that if we did it right, it would be a challenge emotionally. I would have to go on a journey."

For director John Hillcoat, there was never any question that Viggo Mortensen should play the father. During the concept stage of pre-production, he says, his vision for the father was one of stolid strength heartened by a palpable inner vulnerability. His ideal for the role would be someone on the order of Gregory Peck. "It became clear that Viggo Mortensen could be an everyman but also could have the intensity and the physicality the role demands. His character goes through a range of emotions."

If anyone could survive in a post-apocalyptic world, the director says, it would be Viggo Mortensen. "It's such a challenging and extreme survival world that he has to do things that have to be credible," he says. And yet, the role requires not only physical verisimilitude, but the ability to show tenderness and inner strength. "For some actors it might be a stretch that they're so tender and sensitive to a child and yet be able to physically do what he has to do. Viggo's very intense and very wound up, and that is what the father is all about. He's so haunted by the suicide of his loved one-his wife and partner-and yet he has this incredible protective relationship with his son. It is a love story, and in such a challenging and extreme survival world, he has to do things that have to be credible."

When Viggo Mortensen committed to the role, he began a period of intense preparation involving research the character and the extreme milieu of the story. He immersed himself in the world of the novel and its extreme hypothetical situation. His research took him not only to books and materials, but also to noticing the patterns and habits of people in our times who must exist by their wits, scraping the refuse bin of society-the homeless. The actor also had some conversations with Cormac McCarthy, mostly about Cormac McCarthy's own relationship with his young son John Francis, to whom he dedicated the novel. "We talked about his relationship with his own boy and I talk about my son and how he was at the age of the character in the book," he says. "I thought about what I felt about my own family, my relations. A lot of chapters have ended as I was starting to shoot this and while I was shooting this. It's made me think about things, from years ago that I hadn't thought about. In terms of my son, when he was the age of the character of the boy now. "

But for this movie, a science fiction tale about two isolated people walking thousands of miles across a dead planet, the actor's preparation would have to be about a lot more than internal geography. Viggo Mortensen has been described as a physical actor who incorporates his surroundings into his method, and this is another reason why he was perfectly cast to play the father. When the elements, the weather and the terrain get tough, Viggo Mortensen gets going.

"Different actors have different process that they use. What I've seen with Viggo Mortensen is that he is able to use the environment more so than any other actor I've worked with before to put him where he needs to be emotionally," says producer Rudd Simmons, who had a lot to do with the physical setup of the film and its locations. "And maybe it's pouring down rain, and he'll walk away from umbrellas, raincoats. He'll walk away from any tent that's being offered or any blanket to be intentionally cold and wet, and it seems to take him to a place that's quite remarkable. I've seen it happen over and over again in the snow, the rain, cold, the fog - anything that he is able to use that puts him in the world of the character. He's a very physical actor as well, and it's been a remarkable process to watch that. I would imagine it takes an enormous amount of concentration to be able to not let the cold ground or the rocks on the road or whatever it may be break your concentration, but it's taken him to a place that is pretty amazing over and over and over again."

Nick Wechsler concurs. "Viggo Mortensen has the perfect qualities as a man and as an actor to do this part. He's got incredible depth of soul. He so immerses himself in a particular character you think, 'Wow, that is the character. That's not an actor playing the character.' And that's what we wanted for this part- somebody who submerges himself into the role as well as any actor I've ever worked with."

Though the role of the father was sought after by many leading actors in Hollywood, there was never a question in the minds of the filmmakers that if they could get him, he would define the character. "Viggo Mortensen was born to play this part, and he's absolutely riveting," says producer Steve Schwartz. "Part of the challenge for an actor doing a movie like this-where the material is so dark and where there is so much sadness and cruelty-is to stay in role amidst the tumult of the set. There's a lot of stuff going on this set. There's stuff being moved, there's noise, there's rain and horrific weather-a lot of diversions. I was overwhelmed by the actor's ability to stay focused and stay in role. And I hope I'm not saying something out of school here-and I don't know how Viggo Mortensen will feel about this-but for the first few days of the shoot, he slept in his clothes to stay in role. He paid attention to every detail. If his shoes weren't wet enough, he would spray himself. He was totally absorbed and obsessed with the part. He became The Man."

The producer continues, "As a result of that, I would say that this probably wouldn't be described as a particularly chatty set because when Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee were in the zone, people didn't want to mix it up with them. So, I don't know how Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee felt about being ignored sometimes, but when we saw them in that zone, we gave them space. And Kodi Smit-McPhee had his own way of staying in his zone. It was very impressive."

In order for The Road to come together, it was clear to the filmmakers that casting the role of The Boy would be crucial. As grueling as the shoot was for Viggo Mortensen and the crew, the pre-teen actor who plays the son would have to be both a survivor and a great natural actor to keep up. After a series of casting sessions, they found that actor in Kodi Smit-McPhee, scion of a thespian family whose father Andy is an acting coach. Kodi Smit-McPhee's portrayal of another son opposite Eric Bana in Romulus, My Father brought him to the attention of the filmmakers.

Though the casting process was thorough, encompassing a few hundred boys from around the United States and in Canada, an audition tape that Kodi Smit-McPhee's dad had sent from Australia was the one that won out. Nick Wechsler explains that Kodi Smit-McPhee was the obvious choice. "This movie rises and falls with how well the actor does that plays the boy," he says. "And Kodi Smit-McPhee survived the challenge of all those boys and ultimately was the one that we had to go with because he had a soulful quality to him. He had charisma if you can attribute that word to a young boy. We knew that he would pop. We knew that he was the one."

The choice of Kodi Smit-McPhee made sense for many reasons, not the least of which was his affinity with the camera. The producers-and Viggo Mortensen, his co-star- were taken aback by the young actor's talent, professionalism and work ethic. "What does it mean to have talent as an actor?" says Rudd Simmons. "You look at Kodi Smit-McPhee and he can get to these moments that are real. It's a remarkable thing to see from take to take. He'll be working on something and all of a sudden he'll hit it and it just rings true. The thing I'm most impressed about with Kodi Smit-McPhee is his discipline - his concentration.

"I mean he's an 11-year-old boy. I remember what I was like when I was 11. I was running around playing army, doodling cartoons, and all of that. But Kodi Smit-McPhee comes in-Kodi Smit-McPhee works nine hours a day. He comes to set in the morning, goes through make-up and hair, he's on the set and he's focused like an adult actor. He has a presence that's quite remarkable. And then he'll turn right around and run off the set and play with another 10-year-old boy, and they're out there playing cowboys and Indians and it's a great thing to see. And then when he's done with that he comes back on the set and he's this amazing actor again."

To hear Viggo Mortensen tell it, the movie will be memorable not because of anything he might have done, but because of the extraordinary talents of his child-actor co-star.

"He's an extraordinary, extraordinary actor." Viggo Mortensen says. "I think that his performance will be a historic performance. Honestly, I think it's going to be one of those that people remember for years."

Were it not for the young actor's intensity, he adds, the movie would be a good movie, but with it, it'll be a real film. "When I read the script, I thought 'Well they need to find the best child actor ever, or the best young actor in the world to play this part. With an actor as good as Kodi Smit-McPhee it could be a really good movie. I have really enjoyed being on the ride with him."

And like the father in the saga who learns from his son, Mortensen says that working with Kodi Smit-McPhee was a revelation as an actor. "Kodi Smit-McPhee has great instincts, great presence and most importantly he has the gift of being able to relax to the point where he's always in the moment. He's almost never out of the real moment that's happening, not the script but what's really happening on the set, what's happening between the two of us. Most of the story is these two people-a man and a boy. They are pretty much always wearing the same filthy clothing. They don't talk much. The weather is uniformly terrible. It's brutal, very hard core. But if it works you can go on a real emotional journey, you could use the word spiritual journey."

The interaction between the boy and his father is what carries the story and elevates it above mere science fiction. While in the novel, there is much description of how the two interact with the tortured landscape and the battered environment, in a movie, which is a visual medium, all that must be conveyed with nuance and acting alone. Mortensen is convinced, he says, that the core of this inspired exposition in The Road comes from Kodi Smit-McPhee.

"The book has some vivid descriptions of these barren landscapes of this inhospitable weather, it's very beautiful," he adds. "But we don't use that. What you get though, that you can't get in book, is all the subtleties of the interaction of the character with their environment and most especially of the Man and the Boy, how they relate to each other. So much happens between the words, and that is especially true because Kodi Smit-McPhee is such a fine actor. He's very attuned to what's going on, anything that happens, any error that happens. He welcomes the little accidents that happen. Kodi Smit-McPhee always goes with it so there is something extra.

"Each scene that's already on the page looks likes it's charged with emotion and you think, 'Well, how are we going to there,'" Viggo Mortensen says. "I think without exception, thanks to Kodi Smit-McPhee's way of working, we've always taken it a step further. There has been another layer, there's been something unexpected that came out of him or that happened between us. It has been a great ride, I can honestly say that in all the movies I've been a part of, all the scenes, all the rehearsals with actors from all over the world-I've been lucky, I've been able to work with some very good performers-I have never had a better acting partner, ever. That's from the oldest most experienced decorated performers to newer, younger, raw talent. I have never worked with someone who is so consistently in the moment, so consistently there with you. His performance will make this one of those movies that you watch years from now. I really think that."

There is a pivotal scene in The Road which illustrates the bonding that took place between the two actors. During an encounter with a member of a roving gang, the father has to shoot the man to protect his son. Later, he takes the boy to a stream and attempts to wash the boy's hair in the freezing-cold water. "Now, that stream is snowmelt, so that stream is probably forty-five degrees - it's really cold," says Rudd Simmons, who along with an astonished crew watched the scene in awe. "The man takes the boy in his arms, and he dips his head in water-the blood and the gore from the gang member is splattered all over the boy-and he very gently rubs away the blood, and the boy comes back to life. Now that's the way it's scripted."

Simmons continues to explain the scene: "What happened was Viggo Mortensen picked up Kodi Smit-McPhee, dipped his head in water, and the water was such a shock to Kodi Smit-McPhee, it literally jolted him alive. And he started to cry because it was so painful, and he couldn't stop. And so Viggo Mortensen took him in his arms and cradled him, and literally brought him back to life in that moment. It's a remarkable scene. Viggo Mortensen picked him up in his arms and took him over to a clearing right away from the stream in the sunlight. And he put him down, and he just cradled him and rocked him in the sun.

"Kodi Smit-McPhee's dad, Andy, came over and-if that had been my son, I would have jumped right in to see what I could have done. But Andy's a wonderful actor, he's a wonderful director, he's been working with Kodi Smit-McPhee as an acting coach. And Andy knew to step back and let Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smit-McPhee as actors have that moment together, where Kodi Smit-McPhee has gone to a place-a bad place-and Viggo Mortensen is now helping bring him back. It was a remarkable thing to see. I think from that moment on, their relationship changed, and they became inseparable for the rest of the movie. They became like father and son to each other."

Viggo Mortensen picks up the story of that pivotal scene from his own generous point of view: "It was quite cold, there was still snow on the ground, and when I had to wash Kodi Smit-McPhee's head in that stream it was really, really cold water-there was still ice on the edges. And it was one of those moments that actually could have gone different ways, but the way it went was that when I pulled his head out of the water on the second take he was almost in shock, his head was hurting so bad from the cold, and I didn't realise how much it had upset him until I looked right into his eyes, right in the middle of the take, and he wasn't gone but he was really in real pain."

The actor, who has played opposite some of the seasoned greats-Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Ed Harris, Cate Blanchett, Robert Forster, Armin Mueller-Stahl-speaks of his young co-star in tones normally reserved for some icon of the Actor's Studio. "And I just looked at him, but he stayed in character, this is the kind of actor he is," Viggo Mortensen says, "And he called me Papa and he's crying there for real, but he played the scene, yet I knew that it was really him. He's a brilliant young actor. He has a presence, he is appealing to look at and he is consistent from take to take pushing himself, pushing himself, pushing me pushing everybody."

It is both a tribute to Viggo Mortensen's own generosity and to Kodi Smit-McPhee's talents that Viggo Mortensen's assessment of Kodi Smit-McPhee's performance is so effusive. "That day, it was almost like something broke and expanded inside him as an actor," he continues. "I've seen Romulus, My Father, the movie he won awards for in Australia, and he's very good in that movie-really good-yet I think, however, that in this movie he goes way beyond what he did in Romulus. He had already done that by the time we were done shooting the scene by the stream. But that day he kind of stepped it up, he went into another gear and most importantly I think the connection between us really was cemented somehow, in that moment and in the aftermath of that take. His father Andy is really good with him and he's also an actor, so he's very grounded and he has a real understanding of the process of preparing from day to day and what goes into a scene. There have been many, many moments like that that have led us deeper into the story than you would expect when you read the script, and closer to each other as people too."

While the novel The Road is a pas de deux, a solitary journey by two main players in which other people are either hazards, horrors, flashbacks or ancillary players, the movie version of the story called for a shift in emphasis in the human universe in which they live. So the filmmakers made a conscious decision to expand some of the key roles in the telling of the story. The characters known as The Woman (Charlize Theron), Old Man (Robert Duvall), The Veteran (Guy Pierce) and The Thief (Michael K. Williams) took on a much more important aspect in the film's development process. And once the word got out about an adaptation by the producer of Sex, Lies and Videotap and The Player (Wechsler), the director of The Proposition (Hillcoat) and the writer of Enduring Love (Joe Penhall), the short list of world-class stars became much shorter.

"It was very easy to cast this movie because the book had achieved such popularity," says Nick Wechsler, "and the other roles, even though they might be small, they each packed a lot of punch-they each had a very specific purpose, and were very important to the movement of the piece. So any actor that was going up for one of these parts knew that that part would be a very fulfilling experience. So the casting came together quite well-the actors were willing to move around their availabilities and tried to get the producers of shows they might have been working on permission to carve out some time so that they could do a small part in our movie."

A notable departure from the way the story is told in the novel is the presentation of the man's wife, who commits suicide when she fears that whoever is out there will come for them. "Sooner or later, they will catch up with us and they will kill us," she says. "They will rape me and they will rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won't face it. You'd rather wait for it to happen." The man's choice is to take his son after this tragedy and go out on the road in hopes of somehow finding a better future for the boy, if not for himself. In the book, the wife's choices are told starkly and pragmatically, against the backdrop of horror that has befallen them and the entire human race.

The relationship between The Man and The Woman is told in flashbacks, which the man returns to in daydreams, often-especially in the earlier scenes from their marriage when things were more upbeat-clinging to these vignettes like some elixir, the only bits of humanity he can grasp that keeps him going and reminds him of why he is on the road. One lyrical passage from the book illustrates this: "From daydreams on the road there was no waking. He plodded on. He could remember everything of her save her scent. Seated in a theatre with her beside him leaning forward listening to the music. Gold scrollwork and sconces and the tall columnar folds of the drapes at either side of the stage. She held his hand in her lap and he could feel the tops of her stockings through the thin stuff of her summer dress. Freeze the frame. Now call down your dark and cold and be damned."

In the movie, this scene is described without narration or dialogue, just cinematically, with sight and sound. While recounting the ups and downs of their life together, the flashbacks also serve to provide some elegiac moments of light, sun, music and happiness in an otherwise bleak world.

For this character, the filmmakers required not only a powerful actress but also a versatile one. "The thing in the book about The Woman is that the character's reality is very abrasive and harsh. And it is, and we keep that," says director John Hillcoat. "But we wanted to really try and enrich that character and present her argument for making that choice as very sound because of the context of what is happening in the world."

The role demanded an actor who brought her own substantial talent. "What is great about Charlize Theron," he continues, "is we wanted to try to find someone that had a real kind of gravitas, an emotional kind of depth to show that transition of life from the world that the privileged few are accustomed to and take for granted, and then having that all stripped away. We wanted to show the emotional damage that is inflicted by this global catastrophe. Her refusal to accept the new world is a huge shift, an emotional shift. So, Charlize Theron is someone that has already shown incredible range. Her transformation in Monster was pretty astounding. She seems to be one of those actresses that really is able to transform and go to real emotional depths."

Viggo Mortensen The Road Part 2


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