THE ILLUSIONIST, writer-director Neil Burger’s (Interview with the Assassin) film based on Steven Millhauser’s short story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’, completed principal photography at the end of May 2005.
THE ILLUSIONIST is a romantic mystery about a brilliant stage magician in 1900 Vienna determined to win back the woman he loves from a corrupt and dangerous Prince. When they decide to escape together, a police inspector exposes their plans and the woman is found murdered. As the police work to stop him, Eisenheim must summon all his extraordinary power to prove the Prince guilty and bring down the monarchy.
Neil Burger wrote the screenplay and directs; the Costume Designer is Oscar® winning Ngila Dickson (Lord of the Rings Trilogy); the Director of Photography is Dick Pope (Vera Drake); and the Production Designer is Ondrej Nekvasil. Music by Philip Glass (The Hours, Koyanisquatsi) and the film is edited by Naomi Geraghty (Hotel Rwanda, In America).
THE ILLUSIONIST is financed by The Yari Film Group and produced by Michael London Productions, , and Brian Koppelman, David Levien Productions and Bull’s Eye Entertainment.
International sales on THE ILLUSIONIST are being handled by Syndicate Films International.
A romantic thriller set in 1900 Vienna, The Illusionist is the story of Eisenheim, a brilliant stage magician, pitted against the power-hungry Crown Prince Leopold and the shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl. Between Eisenheim and the Prince is the woman they both desire, the Duchess Sophie von Teschen. When Sophie is discovered murdered, Eisenheim summons his extraordinary powers in a desperate attempt to overcome Uhl, prove the Prince guilty, and bring down the monarchy before it destroys him.
The Illusionist is a romantic thriller set in 1900 Vienna during a period of political unrest. Eisenheim is a brilliant stage magician pitted against the power-hungry Crown Prince Leopold and the shrewd Chief Inspector Uhl. Between Eisenheim and the Prince is the woman they both desire, Duchess Sophie von Teschen. As children, Eisenheim and Sophie begin an intense romance. But when they are forbidden to see each other, the young magician is driven from the town. He disappears after that, embarking on a journey in pursuit of secret powers. Years later he appears in Vienna, now a successful stage magician, and there he meets Sophie again. After so many years, she had given up hope of ever seeing him and is now engaged to marry the Crown Prince. But Eisenheim and Sophie soon rekindle their affair and decide to escape together. Inspector Uhl, who acts as a spy for the Crown Prince, exposes the lovers and later Sophie is discovered murdered. Eisenheim now must summon his extraordinary powers in a desperate attempt to prove the Prince guilty. While Uhl tries to stop him, Eisenheim foments a political uprising to bring down the monarchy before it completely destroys him
Magic has the power to experience and fathom things which are inaccessible to human reason. For magic is a great secret wisdom; just as reason is a great public folly. .
- Paracelsus (1493-1541)
Stories, like conjuring tricks, are invented because history is inadequate to our dreams.
- Steven Millhauser
Filming began in Prague, Czech Republic on 4th April 2005 on The Illusionist, writer-director Neil Burger’s film based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Steven Millhauser’s short story ‘Eisenheim the Illusionist’.
Starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel, Rufus Sewell and Eddie Marsan, The Illusionist is a romantic mystery that tells the mystical story of Eisenheim, a stage illusionist performing in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire around 1900.
Two-time Academy Award nominee Edward Norton heads the stellar cast in the lead role of Eisenheim. Norton rose to prominence starring opposite Richard Gere in Primal Fear, for which he gained his first Academy Award nomination and he has gone on to star in numerous Hollywood blockbusters such as The People vs Larry Flynt, Fight Club and Red Dragon.
Golden Globe nominee Paul Giamatti, stars alongside Norton in the role of Inspector Uhl. Giamatti’s illustrious career includes starring roles in Man on the Moon, Duets and Cinderella Man, and award winning leading roles in American Splendor and Sideways, for which he received a Golden Globe nomination.
Jessica Biel, fast becoming one of Hollywood’s most sought after actresses following starring roles in Blade: Trinity; Stealth and most recently Elizabethtown, stars opposite Norton as Sophie, the beautiful noblewoman with whom Eisenheim falls in love.
The Illusionist also stars Rufus Sewell (A Knights Tale, Dark City, and the upcoming Legend of Zorro); Eddie Marsan (Vera Drake, 21 Grams, Gangs of New York); Jake Wood (Vera Drake, Flesh & Blood); Tom Fisher (Van Helsing, The Mummy Returns, Enigma); and fifteen year-old British actor Aaron Johnson playing young Eisenheim.
Writer/director Neil Burger first read the Steven Millhauser short story, ’Eisenheim the Illusionist’ when it was published in the collection “The Barnum Museum.” “It’s a beautiful gem of a story, lyrical and transcendant. The images and tone of it are quite cinematic but the story itself is more of a fragment and somehow not a film. I loved the story but it wasn’t immediately clear how to solve the narrative puzzle and transform it into a full blown movie.”
While Burger was editing his previous film, Interview with the Assassin, he happened to be talking with the film’s producers Brian Koppelman and David Levien about the difficulty of depicting magic on screen. “I mentioned there was a short story I had always wanted to make into a film, and they both finished my sentence by asking ‘is it Eisenheim the Illusionist’? They knew the story well but admitted to being unsure about how to make it into a film. Bluffing somewhat, I assured them that I knew exactly how.”
Koppelman and Levien set out to acquire the rights to the short story. David Levien says: “We were delighted to find the rights were available, but there was no time to lose. We called Neil and told him there was good news and bad news. The good news was we had the rights, the bad news: we had a short option period and the script had to be written in six months.”
For Burger, the challenge was to preserve what was beautiful and mysterious about the story but also create a dramatic context for it all. He invented new characters for the story – Sophie and the Crown Prince – and greatly expanded the role of Inspector Uhl who has just a few mentions in the short story. “The question was, how do you tell the story of Eisenheim, a man who is an enigma, a mystery? How do you get inside his head without giving away his secrets? I decided to tell his story from Inspector Uhl’s point of view. Everything we see is something Uhl has witnessed or one of his agents has told him. At other times, his story becomes conjecture, what he imagines might have happened, and not necessarily true at all – but still loosely from his point of view. He’s creating the legend even as he tries to figure it all out. It’s a subtle but fairly rigorous organizing principle for the storytelling.”
Burger did extensive research into magic as well as Vienna of that period. “I read everything I could about the Hapsburgs, about the Secessionist movement, and about the magic from that time – both the illusions themselves and the social world of the magicians. Most of the tricks are based on real illusions and the characters I invented are also based on real people. I wanted it all to be as believable and honest as possible, all the more so since the story examines the idea of how we perceive truth and illusion – and blurs the boundary between those two concepts. If you’re going to exaggerate certain elements, to have it be dreamlike or surreal or uncanny, you have to make sure that the rest of it has a rock solid foundation in the period.”
Eisenheim’s performances call into question everything we take for granted - his illusions challenge the law of the land and also the very laws of nature. As Neil Burger explains, “I’m interested in that moment when you come face to face with something unexplainable, incomprehensible, and how that event changes your perceptions about everything. To that end, the magic in The Illusionist is not about “how does he do it?” but rather about the uncanny sense that nothing is what it seems.
Burger continues, “There’s a quote in the story that says, ‘Stories, like conjuring tricks, are invented because history is inadequate to our dreams.’ That goes for Cinema in general and The Illusionist in particular.” My goal was to have the film completely inhabit that realm of dream and mystery.”
With the script in place, Koppelman and Levien approached producer Michael London. “Because of our filmmaking career and our commitments, we realised we needed a producer who had a real artistic sensibility,” explains Koppelman. “We didn’t just want to be partnered with somebody who would merely treat this as business, but somebody who was really in tune with how to make a film with integrity. Because, as producers our main mandate is to make sure the director gets to make the film he wants to make, so it was very important that we partnered with someone who shared that ethic, and we knew that Michael would bring that to the table.”
“I was already a fan of Neil Burger,” begins London, “I had seen his film (Interview with the Assassin) and I very much liked The Illusionist script. I got involved in the middle of the development process. We did a few more drafts of the screenplay until we were all happy with what we had, and then we began to approach financiers. We took the project to Cathy Schulman at Bullseye Entertainment, who financed the film. Cathy says: “I had wanted to do a period piece for a long time, because, from a producer’s standpoint, I wanted to delve into a time and a place that was far removed from where we are. I was looking for something that had a real contemporary resonance; that had enough of the grand elements of a period piece, but that also had enough punch to interest today’s audiences. It is important that period pieces be historically correct, but also key is to know where you can take dramatic licence. This piece was designed in a way to allow that.”
Producer Michael London admits that he usually responds more to contemporary stories. “But there was something really timeless and universal about this one, that it made it feel very contemporary,” says London. Neil Burger says, “I wanted to be true to the time period but not a slave to it. It’s not a story about the moral or manners of the time. Instead it seeks to explore larger themes about power, perception, truth and illusion.
Filming began in and around Prague in March 2005. “Prague is a perfect stand- in for 1900 Vienna,” says Burger. “Most of the streets are still paved in cobblestones and lined with gas lamps. The locations in and around the city are incredible. For example, we were able to use Archduke Ferdinand’s home for the Crown Prince’s hunting lodge. He was an obsessive hunter, shooting something like 15,000 animals in his life, and the character I had written was the same kind of killer. The place is covered in trophy heads, dead animals everywhere. It’s an unbelievably strange and opulent place – it couldn’t have been more perfect. “Prague is a wonderful location,” says Schulman, “First of all, it is a great place to work. The people and the crews are wonderful, and of course the architecture is superb. But also the surrounding countryside, the farmland and the castles have all been perfect for us. We were also lucky to find our two theatres as practical locations, in the rural town of Tabor and in Prague itself.”
Cathy Schulman talks about Neil Burger’s adaptation: “It is interesting that the screenplay is quite different from the original story. The characters of Sophie and the Crown Prince didn’t exist originally, and even Inspector Uhl’s role has been increased. Much of it is Neil Burger’s invention.”
Steven Millhauser, novelist and short story writer, won the 1997 Pulitzer Prize for his most well known novel, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer (1996) which chronicles the life of an entrepreneur whose career peaks when he builds a fabulous hotel in turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Time Magazine described Martin Dressler as "an urban fable about civilization and its discontents," and praised Millhauser for "lowering the barrier between realism and myth."
Millhauser impressed both critics and readers with his fresh approach to childhood and adolescence in his first two novels, Edwin Mullhouse: The Life and Death of an American Writer, 1943-1954, by Jeffrey Cartwright (1972) which won the Prix Médicis Étranger Award in France for the best foreign novel, and Portrait of a Romantic (1977). In a Washington Post review of Portrait of a Romantic, William Kennedy described the book as "written in immaculate prose. . .a prodigious feat of memory, with an enormous density of felt and observed life."
In addition, Millhauser has published a fourth novel, From the Realm of Morpheus (1986), and three collections of short stories, The Barnum Museum (1990), In the Penny Arcade (1986), and Little Kingdoms (1993).
Millhauser received the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction in 1994 and an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1987. He is a Professor of English at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Millhauser once wrote, referring to Eisenheim: “The official reason given for the arrest of the Master, and the seizure at the theatre, was the disturbance of public order… The phrase ‘crossing the boundaries’ occurs pejoratively more than once in his notebooks; by it he appears to mean that certain distinctions must be strictly maintained. Art and life constituted one such distinction; illusion and reality, another. Eisenheim deliberately crossed boundaries and therefore disturbed the essence of things.
The response to Eisenheim’s illusions reflects not only a discomfort with the realm of art and potentially subversive artistic creation; it also reflects our own discomfort with ventures into the realms of the unknown. The individual who transgresses and transforms the boundaries of accepted knowledge and suitable human endeavour must be controlled.”
“I don’t tend to write with actors in mind for some reason,” says writer/director Neil Burger. “But I knew I needed someone who could embody the mystery as well as the romantic side of Eisenheim. Edward Norton, of course, is a powerful presence, extremely intelligent and passionate about his craft as well as life in general. Just like Eisenheim. And I hadn’t seen Edward in too many romantic roles and certainly not in period. I liked the idea of seeing him in a new role and I knew he’d bring a fresh perspective to the part. In general it was a pretty easy choice. I knew he’d be great - he always is.”
Koppelman and Levien, also writing partners, have enjoyed a long relationship with Edward Norton, and wrote the film Rounders in which he starred alongside Matt Damon and John Malkovitch. “We showed Edward an early draft of the script,” explains David Levien, “and we always felt that he would be the perfect choice to play Eisenheim.”
“Edward’s presence is always magical; on screen he always looks like he is holding something back, that he knows something special. For us, helping to involve Edward in the casting, and developing the story with Neil was our biggest involvement,” adds Brian Koppelman.
Cathy Schulman, together with producer Michael London, was involved from the very beginning. She explains: “All the producers agreed Edward Norton was the ideal choice to play the lead, although this is a very different role for him. One of the exciting things about Edward as an actor is his intensity, and we wanted someone who could convey that he had in fact journeyed to the dark side. We needed an actor who could do that, but who could also bring brightness, light and passion to the love story, and we felt Edward was the person who could accomplish all of that.”
Michael London explains, “When it really clicked for Edward that this was not going to be just another period movie, he got really obsessed; Edward is great in that way. The moment he commits you get this insane level of attention and focus, and that is pretty extraordinary.”
“He completely inhabits the role,” says Burger. “He throws himself into learning the magic, and conducts himself as those magicians did, in such a perfect way. We’ve tried to do all the magic in the movie as the tricks were really done at the time, so Edward is actually performing the tricks that you see him do. He’s so dedicated, he learned how to do them all.”
Edward Norton admits to not having been familiar with the story that The Illusionist was based upon. “I became aware of the story through this project, and I was attracted to it because I thought it was a compelling, romantic story” he begins. “There were also a number of different elements that appealed to me. The period for one, is really interesting; I am also a fan of magic and what was going on at that time – it was sort of the golden age of magic, and there were certain threads and themes that I found fascinating.”
“For the role of Inspector Uhl,” says Burger, “I wanted someone a bit different, unexpected. The investigating detective is a pretty common role in movies and I though Paul Giamatti could put a different spin on it. We haven’t seen Paul in this kind of role before and yet he has a quiet power that was perfect. Inspector Uhl is the eyes, ears and heart of the story. He has a good soul even if there’s not much left of it after years of decadence and corruption. We feel for him in his dilemma with the Crown Prince and Eisenheim. In the movie, there’s not a lot of expository scenes about Uhl’s character and yet you understand all of his inner conflict and turmoil just by looking in Paul’s eyes. He gets it all across with just a look. - he’s an amazing actor. We were lucky to have him for the part.”
Giamatti has been on fire the last couple of years, especially with movies like
American Splendor and Sideways. He is a genius actor, and he was our first choice to play
Inspector Uhl,” comments Schulman. “He
has absolutely the right look, he is self-effacing and he brings a little
humility to everything that he does
Edward Norton, who was a year behind Giamatti at Yale, offers, “He has been one of my favourite actors for a long time, and even back in those college days Paul was tackling roles way beyond his years. He is intellectually intense, and he has a really volcanic energy. I remember seeing him perform in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ a long time ago, and he was just staggering. I think this role has more of that edge, and it is really cool to see him exercise it a little.”
Paul Giamatti was cast in The Illisonist just as Sideways was heading into the Awards circuit. Michael London, who produced the sensational hit movie, says: “It was a great thing, because when I first started working on ‘Illusionist’, Paul Giamatti didn’t mean enough to financiers to get him cast. By the time we were ready to cast the role of Inspector Uhl, there was this huge excitement in America about his work on Sideways. The moment Paul read the script he was in. It is an unusual role because it is not a very glamorous one and in typical Paul fashion, those are the things that he looks for. He looks for parts that other people would not be attracted to where he can give a lot of humanity to someone who seems an unlikely character. The combination of Edward and Paul is something that you wait around for, and maybe do once in your life: actors of that calibre who know each other, who challenge each other; they are very intense guys and their working together was a great thing.”
Neil Burger met British actor Rufus Sewell he immediately knew he was the one
to play Crown Prince Leopold. “The
movie is really a battle of wills between the three male characters, with
Eisenheim and the Crown Prince each trying to leverage Uhl for their own
ends. The actor playing the Crown
Prince had to be a formidable foe for Edward Norton’s Eisenheim. The Crown
Prince is a strict rationalist and has no patience for superstition or talk of
“magic”. It was vitally important that
he be played as fiercely intelligent and truly powerful even as he is flawed or
ruthless. Rufus has an amazing
intensity, a fierce cerebral quality, and he certainly doesn’t suffer fools –
just like the character. As Schulman
remarks, “we did not want our Crown Prince to come across as stereotypical or
arch. It was very important that he
could inject traits into the character that would make you empathise with his
perspective. He is a modern man living
in a society where he wants to make changes for the good, and he doesn’t know
how; as far as he is concerned, Eisenheim is either a fraud or a heretic, and
Rufus brought a lot of light to that idea.”
Biel was the last member of the cast to join and admits the role of Sophie is
“so very different from anything I have done before or anything I have ever had
the opportunity of doing or being a part of.”
Director Neil Burger was looking for someone with a classic beauty who
would be believable for the time period.
He also wanted a relative newcomer, someone with whom the audience
wouldn’t have clearly formed associations.
“Jessie has a timeless beauty, but more importantly she has a fearless
sense of adventure. I saw Sophie as
someone who had been raised in a very strict and refined
world but who also had the boldness to break out of it if given the
Schulman explains: “Not only were we looking for one of the most beautiful
women in the world, but also someone who had a combination of youthfulness and
elegance, which is very tricky to find today.
Producer Michael London says: “I remember we did a reading with her and Edward, and it was late on a Saturday night in Los Angeles. Everyone was exhausted and we were concerned that she might not be able to hold her own with Edward, just based on our preconceptions. When she walked in the door, she had on this amazing, cream coloured period gown. Now, it was Saturday night in the middle of Los Angeles, and she just looked like she had stepped off the streets of Vienna a hundred years ago. I remember thinking ‘what a lot of nerve she has to come in transformed like that’, and we never really thought of her as Jessica Biel for the rest of the evening. It was apparent, when she started to work with Edward that she could indeed pull it off. She was passionate and persistent, and eventually we decided she was the best actress for the role.”
Jessica’s co-star Edward Norton remarks, “She came into the process really late, and stepped up to that challenge admirably. She is an incredibly hard worker and really put in the hours with the dialect coaches. Jessica also looks very much of that period; you can see her as a country girl or as a Slavic princess. When I first saw her dressed as Sophie, she looked like she had stepped out of an old painting. She didn’t look like a modern girl at all.”
Concluding, Cathy Schulman says: “Neil Burger is an interesting guy. He has an extensive background in commercials work, he is also a painter as well as a filmmaker, and he has brought a number of skills to the table. He has an incredibly meticulous way of working and a very specific idea as to how the pieces come together. He and Dick Pope (cinematographer) have designed the look of the film, which has become integral with the way the acting was managed. He has skills in so many areas; it was really a pleasure to watch. I think his previous work has allowed him to experiment with a lot of different ideas. The character work he did on his previous film, Interview with the Assassin was very confidence-inspiring for us as a group of producers, and you can see here how intimately he works with the actors. Together with his great visual sense, he is making what we believe is a truly beautiful, stunning film.”
The Look and Feel
Director Neil Burger had a very specific look in mind for the film. “I wanted it to have an almost ‘hand-cranked’ feel to it, not that we were actually going to use a hand-cranked camera - although for a time I did consider it,” he says laughing. “I wanted that look, not to make it seem old but rather to take it out of time, beyond the world of rationality and into the realm of mystery and dream. Everything you see is real, recognizable, but somehow heightened. I wanted it to have a kind of sinister beauty – lovely on the surface but with a disturbing, unnerving undertone
other main reference for the look of the film is an early colour photography
process called ‘autochrome’. It was
invented by the Lumiere Brothers, who in the late 19th century were
instrumental in creating all sorts of early cinematic effects. And they were also magicians! Autochromes have a very different kind of
color and contrast palette. Some people
think they’re hand tinted but they’re not.
They are indeed photographic colour, but what I like is that they have
the emotional impact of black and white.
Award-winning cinematographer Dick Pope (Topsy Turvy, Nicholas Nickleby, Vera Drake) tells of the book that Neil showed him containing colour photography from the early 1900’s. “He had obviously been carrying this book around with him for some time that explained the Autochrome Process, which very simply consisted of glass negative slides with a primitive kind of emulsion. The book contained really wonderful images and he had a very strong desire to make The Illusionist look like that,” comments Pope.
The look Burger was trying to achieve was also reflected in the costumes and make up. “Often, the photography can only be as beautiful as what you’re pointing the camera at. In this case, the look we were after depended on a very strict color palette, primarily golds and greens that would interact with our particular camera filtration. The production and costume design would follow that look.” Academy-Award winning Costume Designer Ngila Dickson explains: “I have to admit that when Neil and Dick started talking about ‘autochrome’ it put the fear of God in me,” she says laughing. “I was nervous because I was aware that whenever you start a film without knowing what the end result is going to be, you can find that the palette you set as a designer can go horribly wrong. However, Dick Pope and I had long discussions about it, and so we have ranged from very light colours to the very rich mid tone colours which will undoubtedly be lifted in the final process.”
Burger comments, “Ngila is incredible
Head Make-Up Artist Julie Pearce also played a large part in creating the right look for the film, and admits to becoming rather obsessed with facial hair! She says: “I read the script at least three times trying to get a feel for the make-up and the look. I did a lot of research into the period and also looked at research that Neil and Ngila had put together – the main thing about 1900 in Vienna is there was so much facial hair, and I ended up coming over from the States with probably three hundred pieces of moustaches and beards. It was insane!
“We kept the ladies’ make up very light, because in fact, in that period there was no make up as such,” continues Julie “For a lot of it we wanted Sophie to look like a porcelain doll, and because the film is going to look a little bleached out, I wanted to intensify her eyes a little and I used a little rouge on her lips. She has an amazing face and great skin, and needs very little. She doesn’t wear mascara, and she has beautiful eyelashes which I tinted a little but they hardly needed any enhancement. My feeling was that when she was around the prince she would be really porcelain-looking, but when she was with Eisenheim she would have more colour, so when it came to the love scenes we tried to make her look more flushed, with an earthiness about her.”
“The way that Neil described the look of this movie,” adds Producer Cathy Schulman, “and how he was going to achieve it, was to enhance the notion that what Eisenheim was doing was very mysterious. Everyone worked with that in mind.”
Schulman admits that the production was extremely fortunate to engage Ngila Dickson as Costume Designer. “She has done so many varied pieces of work. She is the best there is,” she begins. “She anchors you in a time and place, and she has a magical touch herself, and always a touch of whimsy in her designs. I think the wardrobe she put together is wonderful.”
“It is a dark, complicated little story,” continues Ngila. “I am a huge fan of Edward Norton as an actor, and Paul Giamatti was also signed at that point. So I already had the visual images needed for the characters and with that in mind you could read the script and get right into the story. I like the time, 1900 was a very complicated time in history, particularly in this part of the world, where you had a very militaristic society, and at the same time this very modern bohemian thinking going on. So there was a bit of a clash of ideas.”
Ngila immersed herself in the research and “the first thing I did was to read a lot about the family, about the Emperor Franz Joseph, and Leopold, to get a sense of that very rigid society,” she says. “Leopold (Rufus Sewell) is a classic, and I made him militaristic even though he was quite a modern thinker. That was one of the things that fascinated me with this time; people were caught up in this very rigid world even though they were trying to change things. In a way I feel that Leopold and Sophie are the same. Both want to change something: she wants a different kind of life; he wants a different version of their society. I always related Sophie to Lady Diana, in that here was a woman who would much rather be hanging out with the pop stars of the modern world, and Sophie would rather have been out with the interesting thinkers, the artists, the writers of her time. I always felt that about her, she was resisting the world that was part of her family, her tradition, her history, and Eisenheim was the key for her to be able to break out of that world.”
“I spoke to Edward when he was still in New York,” continues Ngila. “That was really a great conversation for me because we were immediately both on the same page. Neither of us wanted the stereotypical ‘magician’ costume, with a top hat or a swishy satin cloak. I thought of him as an inventor and an artist more than a magician, and we both knew the character was going to work best if we could make him quite cerebral, as if he wasn’t actually interested in clothes. Which, God damn it, plays completely against the nature of a costume designer,” she laughs. “But I love that subtlety and I think it plays out really well in this film.”
Julie Pearce, Head Make-Up Artist, has worked with Edward Norton since they first worked together on Fight Club, and together they worked out the look for Eisenheim. “Edward had a very specific idea which we developed more in the make up test so that it would look more period,” says Julie. “He knew he wanted his hair darker, with a dark goatee beard, but we didn’t want it to look contemporary, so we gave it added hair and I filled the beard up to his lips. At the beginning of the film he looks very healthy, and as we move through the story he starts to look more intense, so we accentuated around his eyes to make them look a bit sunken, and intensified the vein in his forehead which made him look more tortured.”
has the ability,” Julie continues, “to change his face, especially when he is
on stage doing the deep concentration.
I am convinced he has a ‘trained’ vein in the middle of his forehead
which he could control at will,” she laughs.
Producer Cathy Schulman remarks “All the women on the film are wearing corsets and all the men are wearing entirely structured suits with waistcoats, so everyone had the backache during filming! Of course, in life, we all slouch, and these clothes were made to stand up straight, which has helped with the whole movement of the characters.”
Fabrics were kept natural and there was a lot of lace. “I have an aversion to polyester,” says Ngila unashamedly, “and I am interested in texture and layers. With Jessica, we started to break down the rigidity of the costumes once her character meets Eisenheim. She starts to do things which are very anarchic to her upbringing; so we started to make her clothes much looser, like an unbuttoned collar, which then of course, was not proper at all,” she says laughing. “Also I always thought of Eisenheim as an inventor and an artist more than a magician; and that he would be disinterested in the trappings that a normal Vaudevillian magician would be wearing. In fact, he is more interested in the science of illusion, and therefore we kept his wardrobe very simple. So there is no flamboyance to it, which I think makes the tricks so much more evident and interesting. There is certainly no swish of the red cloak to this piece!”
The Autochrome Process
Autochrome photography flourished from 1903 to the 1930’s. Each autochrome is a unique transparency image; there is no negative. Autochrome plates were created by coating a sheet of glass with microscopic starch grains dyed red, green and blue. These formed a screen of colour particles. Carbon black was applied over the plate, filling in the spaces around the starch grains. Then a silver gelatine emulsion was applied over the colour screen. When the plate was exposed, the base side was turned towards the subject being photographed, and the colour screen acted as a filter over the emulsion. The developed plated rendered a positive colour image with delicate colour qualities. Often, etched or ‘frosted’ glass plates were used as covers. The frosted glass increases the soft focus quality of the colour starch grains which forms the autochrome image.
if a magician could actually do real magic, could really return us to the dark
and troubled heart of magic? “The
question throughout the movie is, does Eisenheim truly possess supernatural
powers or is it all a trick?” continues Burger. “We never really know for sure.
That was a challenge in creating the magic for the movie, to walk the
fine line of that question.” Burger
wanted the illusions to appear to be the result of a supernatural phenomenon
but at the same time to seem to have a practical method behind them. “You should be able to read them either
way. All the performances are based on
real stage illusions of the time - then I pushed them to a slightly more
“Ricky has these incredible skills, but he also knows the time period, and the strange idiosyncrasies of the way people behaved on stage then. He’s familiar with all the old illusions we were trying to recreate but also understood absolutely that we were trying to push the illusions forward a little to make them bigger and more powerful for film. I worked with him closely for several weeks, during which time we worked everything out and fine-tuned things that were in the script; he was an invaluable resource.”
Lead actor Edward Norton worked closely with Ricky Jay, immersing himself in the technique and performing style of magicians of that time. “He learned all the sleight of hand tricks - he became an expert. Everything you see Edward did himself. As in all his roles, his ability to completely transform himself, to fully inhabit the character is impressive. In this case, you absolutely believe that he has these sleight of hand skills, but more importantly that he could possess supernatural powers or that he could bring down an empire. He’s completely convincing,” says Burger.
Once on the set in Prague, a British magician, James Freedman -a member of the exclusive Magic Circle and a stage ‘pickpocket’ by profession – acted as Magic Consultant to continue coaching Edward and Aaron Johnson, who plays young Eisenheim, in mastering the art of sleight of hand for their roles. “We did a lot of research to make sure the methods and the effects to the magic that we use in the film are authentic to the period,” explains James Freedman. “Actually, when you have been involved with magic for nearly a lifetime as I have, you tend to know a lot of the secrets and methods already. One of the tricks we perform in the film is based on an established trick by a man called Jean Paul Robert-Houdin. He has been called the ‘Father of Modern Magic’, and he did an illusion where he borrowed a handkerchief from a lady in the audience. He made it disappear and then an orange tree blossomed and two butterflies rose from the tree carrying the handkerchief. It was an amazing trick, but we have taken it a stage further in the film so that what you see on screen is just bordering on the impossible. That is what good magic should be.”
Edward Norton was delighted to work with the remarkable magicians and also drew knowledge and research from several sources of literature. “One of my favourite things I read was the memoirs of Robert Houdin. He was a French magician who performed more in the middle of the 19th century, but he was peerless in that period. He was the person who took magic from a kind of travelling minstrel show to the high stage, and the high society of Paris; and in a way a lot of what we do with Eisenheim is based on some of Robert Houdin’s particular illusions. For me, there was a certain amount of historical research, and then the practical work with Ricky, and I felt relatively well prepared. Having James around was incredible and really helpful. It was the best part of the job, working with these men, people who are the ultimate all-stars in their field today.”
Edward Norton recounts the story of meeting Ricky Jay when he was a student. “I had just left college and was doing some theatre ushering. Ricky had designed a stage show of his own that he did in New York, and I started ushering those shows which I must have seen around twenty times! Once or twice Ricky would invite me to the stage to help with a trick, and many years later when I met him, he said he was a fan of mine, and I said ‘well actually I used to come up on your stage and help you with your illusions’, and he couldn’t believe it. So it was funny the way the circle came back round. But he was one of my heroes in that world. I thought he was the greatest ever, and it was really fun to trade insights with him, because there are a lot of things about magic that have to do with acting, and vice versa,” he offers.
“What I loved about the magic,” offers Rufus Sewell, “is that it has been great fun sitting at the back of the auditorium, because of course a lot of the magic is being done in real time. I know that a lot of cinema audiences will assume that the tricks we do are somehow digitally enhanced, but they are actually being performed on stage, and that is why it is so much easier to do an ‘astonished’ reaction! Things appear, then they disappear; swords just stand where they are put, and from what I can see they are all happening in front of you. That is what is so special about this film; it’s not the special effects, it is actual magic taking place in front of your eyes.”
Fifteen-year-old English actor Aaron Johnson, who plays young Eisenheim, also had to learn to perfect the art of visual magic, and he was a willing student. “James [Freedman] has been teaching me all kinds of tricks; one of them is with an egg and a stick, and I have spent hours learning to roll a little ball through my fingers. It looks so easy when you see him do it, but it takes ages to learn how to do it, but I am getting a little faster,” smiles Aaron.
James Freedman takes up the story, “I started magic lessons with Aaron in London, before we came out to Prague. I taught him some sleight of hand, and also the psychology behind the tricks he will be performing, which actually are all classic tricks: the rising card, the ball vase, which is something I had when I was a boy. He loves magic and sits up all night practising – I can relate to that at that age. I started at about 4 years of age like most boys, I was given a magic set for my birthday,” he laughs.
James Freedman, known as ‘The Man of Steal’, has built an international reputation as a stage pickpocket and magician. He has appeared before royalty, Heads-of State and celebrities throughout the world.
“There have been a couple of lovely moments for me so far on the film,” continues James. “The first week of filming we were in a theatre with about 350 extras in period dress for the stage performance scenes, and Edward performed a trick we had taught him and he fooled everyone in the theatre, even the crew! And it wasn’t a fluke, because another time we were filming a different scene where he produces something out of thin air, and we got genuine reactions. Even Jessica and Rufus came up to him afterwards and said ‘how did you do that’? Enough said!” laughs James.
Edward Norton talks about Eisenheim
Edward Norton, whose memorable films include Primal Fear, The People vs Larry Flynt, and Fight Club, plays Eisenheim, and describes the film as a ‘romantic mystery’. He talks about what attracted him to the character and why it is so different from his previous cinematic roles.
is darkly romantic,” begins Edward. “He
is mysterious and withholding, but at the same time he is an incredible
showman. As a person he is highly
impenetrable, but on stage he really comes to life and has this amazing
presence. That is an interesting
dynamic, and also the magic was really great.
I really am a big fan of magic and it was fun to contemplate the idea of
learning all that. Also, he is a very
romantic character, and the story is a love story, and I hadn’t done anything
that was directly a romance before.
Also I liked the idea of this man who has been away looking for things,
looking for answers that really he has to come all way back home to find. I thought that was a nice theme.”
The Illusionist has four main characters. all inter-related
and in possession of their own version of power.
As the story unfolds, Eisenheim becomes anathema to Crown Prince Leopold. Not only does Eisenheim seek to destroy his relationship with Sophie, but he also has powers that Leopold cannot obtain. “I think what is interesting about this period, the turn of the century in that part of the world, is there were so many opposing forces working within it. You had the last gasps of aristocracy, the imperial class with a growing movement: what would become socialism and what would become Republicanism. You also had rationality and modern scientific thought competing with this whole resurgence of spiritualism and stuff like that, so there are many big forces competing with each other. I think that Leopold, who is sort of a stand-in in some ways for the Crown Prince Rudolph, who was the real character in the Austrio-Hungarian Empire, is frustrated that his father never dies. Leopold is not getting his chance to rule, and yet he has all these progressive ideas and wants to make the empire more modern. And then along comes this guy who in some ways is captivating people’s sense of wonder, and the idea that maybe he has supernatural powers, or spiritual powers, or that he is a mystic, causes this unbelievable tension between them. One of the questions the movie raises actually, is does Eisenheim really possess these powers or is he just really very clever?”
Edward Norton has starred in the films Primal Fear, Everyone Says I Love You; The People vs Larry Flynt; American History X; Rounders; Fight Club; Keeping the Faith; The Score; Death to Smoochy; Frida; Red Dragon and The 25th Hour.
He has been nominated for two Academy Awards (Primal Fear and American History X), and won a Golden Globe along with numerous other awards for his performances. The film Frida, for which he wrote an uncredited screenplay, was nominated for six Academy Awards and won two. He recently won the Obie Award for his performance off-Broadway in Burn This by Lanford Wilson.
He produced and directed the film Keeping the Faith and is currently producing five other films including adaptations of Mark Helprin’s A Soldier of the Great War; Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil (currently filming in China), and Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, for which he is currently writing the screenplay. Down in the Valley, which he produced, edited and performs in, will be released later this year.
Norton also recently created Class 5 Films in partnership with his brother Jim Norton, writer Stuart Blumberg and producer Bill Migliore. Class 5’s feature division will produce films through a first look deal with Universal Pictures and the documentary division will produce nature and science films. Ss 5’s first documentary production is a film for the Outdoor Life Network, The Great Rivers Expedition, about an historic whitewater adventure that took place in China last winter. Class 5 is also collaborating with the Sea Studios Foundation on their multi-million dollar series about earth system sciences for National Geographic, Strange Days on the Planet Earth, which Norton hosts and narrates.
Norton is also a committed social and environmental activist.
Paul Giamatti talks about Chief Inspector Uhl
Talented actor, and star of Sideways and Cinderella Man, Paul Giamatti plays Chief Inspector Uhl, who works for Crown Prince Leopold functioning as a secret policeman.
Giamatti describes him: “There is an interesting dynamic between Uhl and Leopold. In a way, Uhl has gotten ahead by doing the dirty work of the Crown Prince, and yet if there is a certain corruption to him, he does have a good heart, and he is astonished and amazed at what Eisenheim does, and is actually quite taken with Eisenheim. In a way Uhl loves what he represents. So really, Uhl is between a rock and a hard place when Eisenheim and the Prince come into conflict. His duty is to the Crown Prince and yet his true allegiance, his heart and soul if you will, are with Eisenheim.”
Paul Giamatti had worked with Michael London, who had produced Sideways, for which Paul was nominated for an Academy Award. “It is true that I had worked with Michael, but the script came to me in the normal way through my agent, and then I met Neil Burger. I thought the script was great,” he says enthusiastically, “it is an interesting period, a very cool period and the setting is fascinating. It is one that you don’t see often in movies, all these guys in uniform and the crazy whiskers! I was very excited about doing this and although I have played Americans on the stage during this period, I have never done anything as European as this before.”
Chief Inspector Uhl is put on Eisenheim’s trail to expose him as a fraud, but the more he discovers about him, the more interested he becomes. “At a certain point in the movie, “begins Paul, “he does become fascinated by Eisenheim, and as an amateur conjurer himself, he is also fascinated by the magic. Throughout the movie there is a lot of stuff about class, and my character and Edward’s character are the same sort of working class guys. Eisenheim has to sort of debase himself to the Royals and the aristocrats quite a bit, and Uhl has sympathy with that, not only because he is in love with a pretty girl, but there is also something about what he does that Uhl thinks is kind of great. Uhl lives in this incredibly secretive, bound up world, and Eisenheim is free.”
Inspector Uhl likes to think he is an amateur conjurer, and in preparation for the role, Paul Giamatti also had magic training. “The emphasis is definitely on amateur,” he says laughing. “I have done a little magic in my time, and Uhl is definitely a novice and who doesn’t have to do much in the film – and what he does, he does badly, so I didn’t have much to learn. I didn’t think I should be too good at it, so appropriately I am not!”
Giamatti is quick to praise director Neil Burger: “Working with Neil is great, and I think he is making the film look beautiful. He has a really great visual command, he is really good with assembling and he has that pithy way of giving you something really simple to work with. He just actually lets you have a great time, which is the best way a director can work, allowing us to enjoy ourselves while getting what he wants in beautiful pictures.”
With a diverse roster of finely etched, critically acclaimed performances, Paul Giamatti has established himself as one of the most versatile actors of his generation.
Giamatti’s critically lauded Sideways garnered him several accolades for his performance including Best Actor from the Independent Spirit Awards and New York Film Critics Circle, and a Golden Globe nomination.
Giamatti also starred in Ron Howard’s Cinderella Man and recently completed work on the independent feature The Hawk is Dying, as well as lending his voice talents to the upcoming animated features Robots and Ant Bully.
Giamatti won outstanding reviews and commendations for his portrayal of Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, and he first captured the eyes of America in Betty Thomas’ hit comedy Private Parts. His extensive list of film credits also include Man on the Moon; The Cradle Will Rock; The Negotiator; Saving Private Ryan; The Truman Show; Donnie Brasco; Storytelling; Planet of the Apes; Big Momma’s House; Confidence and John Woo’s Paycheck.
Jessica Biel talks about Sophie
Jessica Biel is fast becoming one of the most sought-after young actresses in Hollywood. Jessica explains: “The Illusionist was just the kind of film I wanted to do, simply because it is very different from anything I have ever had the opportunity of doing or being a part of. It is definitely a departure for me, and I did definitely seek it out”
Jessica was one of the last people to be cast, although she had read the script some time earlier. “One day, out of the blue I was asked to audition, and soon I found myself reading with Edward and it was a bit a whirlwind actually! Suddenly I found myself in Prague; it was all last minute and very, very exciting,” she says happily.
Jessica describes her role: “Playing someone like Sophie is completely new for me. She is very different, very fresh and I felt like every day I was discovering a little bit more about her. Essentially, Sophie and Eisenheim were childhood friends, but they were never supposed to play together because they were from different classes. She belonged to an aristocratic family and he came from a working class background. So they had a secret friendship, and when they started to really care for each other, they were separated. When Sophie and Eisenheim meet again some ten years later, she is ‘stepping out’ with the Crown Prince and there is talk of an engagement. That is the beginning of the triangle that threatens to tear them all apart. She is fond of the Crown Prince, but soon she is torn between the person in her present who offers her a steady lifestyle, a place to possibly have a voice, to make an opinion, to make change, and this person from her past who is modern and free thinking, and has a wild side.”
Like the other actors, Jessica researched her role thoroughly and was grateful to director Neil Burger for urging her to read Alma Mahler’s diaries. “She was a composer herself, a young woman in her twenties in 1900 in Vienna. I read her diaries to really get a sense of what it was like to exist at that time; what you would do every day; what women thought about and what in particular did this woman think about. She was very modern – almost a femme fatale in a way – and very different from most of the women from that time. That is how I think of Sophie in a way. She is a modern woman stuck in the past,” offers Jessica.
So determined was Jessica to inhabit her challenging new role, she also immersed herself in books such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being; she watched films like Amadeus, and Age of Innocence. “I watched a lot of period pieces to hear the dialogue, hear the dialect and talk about it to the rest of the cast. I know it sounds a little weird,” she says laughing, “but I have been writing a journal, as my character. Just trying to get my head around what she was going through: the restraint, how reserved everything is, and there is always this calm, still layer in the foreground and a bubbling brook of emotion underneath. That is what it felt like for me for those women who lived in this period of history.”
Being the only female member of a stellar cast was not remotely daunting for Jessica. “The boys are great,” she laughs, “they are like three big kids who all went to school together and haven’t seen each other for years. They are so much fun and so talented. It is really wonderful to be surrounded by so many talented people who are good people as well. I love being in this ‘boy’s club’ and being accepted.”
Jessica’s beautiful costumes were hand-picked by costume designer Ngila Dickson to reflect the time. “My costumes are so incredible,” says Jessica. “They are stunning, all of them, and it makes you feel like a princess when you walk in to one of the gorgeous sets in a big ball gown and your puffy sleeves. The only down side is that I have to wear a corset every day – having said that, although it is tight and horrible actually, for some strange reason it makes you feel really sexy and feminine. You can’t breathe or eat lunch, but it’s a small price to pay!”
Like many of the cast members, Jessica fell in love with Prague. “It is one of my new favorite cities; I could live here and never look back. It is so beautiful, full of culture and history; and when I get into costume and the horses and carriages are there, I really feel as if you have jumped into a time machine and gone back a hundred years.”
Jessica Biel, with her striking good looks and wide range of talent, has become a notable emerging actress to watch. Her television series-acting debut on the WB’s number one rated show “7th Heaven,” helped her emerge as a breakout star.
Biel can now be seen in Cameron Crowe’s Elizabethtown, starring opposite Orlando Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, and Susan Sarandon. Biel portrays ‘Ellen,’ the girlfriend of Drew Baylor (Bloom), in the film that takes place during an outrageous memorial for a Southern patriarch, where an unexpected romance blooms. Jessica will soon be seen in the film London, co-starring Jason Statham, Chris Evans and Kelli Garner. London is a drama that follows the warped relationship of two young adults.
Jessica Biel starred in Sony Pictures’ Stealth alongside Josh Lucas and Jamie Foxx. This drama is about three pilots in a top-secret military program struggle to bring an artificial intelligence program under control before it initiates the next world war. Jessica was also seen in New Line Cinema’s Blade: Trinity in which she costars with Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson and Ryan Reynolds. Biel’s other film credits include New Line Cinema’s Blockbuster hit remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, New Line Cinema’s Cellular co-starring Kim Basinger and Chris Evans, Lions Gate Films’ The Rules of Attraction for director Roger Avary, the Warner Brothers romantic comedy Summer Catch co-starring Freddie Prinze Jr., and the Disney holiday film, I’ll Be Home For Christmas with Jonathan Taylor Thomas. In an impressive display of versatility, Jessica garnered rave notices for her portrayal as the rebellious daughter in Victor Nunez’s critically acclaimed film, Ulee’s Gold, with Peter Fonda. Selected as the Centerpiece Premiere for the ’97 Sundance Film Festival and presented at Cannes, the movie opened to glowing reviews.
Rufus Sewell talks about Crown Prince Leopold
British actor Rufus Sewell plays Crown Prince Leopold, pretender to the throne, who becomes captivated by Sophie, and frustrated by the presence of Eisenheim.
He describes the character: “I think Eisenheim represents to Leopold, everything he thinks the world must leave behind in order to move forward. The world is changing, and if the royal family doesn’t move with it, they are in danger of becoming the dinosaurs of their age, and will soon be extinct. What Leopold is trying to do is to move away from superstition, and as far as he is concerned, Eisenheim represents everything that is old fashioned and outdated. As the Illusionist becomes more popular, he sees that Eisenheim is striking a chord in his country, and the more that happens, the further Leopold gets from actually gaining power.”
“Leopold is very ambitious,” continues Rufus. “If he doesn’t take an active role, he is in danger of his father living on and on until his moment has passed. So he decides he has to make himself the leader, and as Sophie represents the Hungarian Empire, if he marries her, it will make the tie very strong. So when Eisenheim comes along and seems to have a connection with her which Leopold doesn’t quite understand, it becomes a very big problem for him.”
Once Rufus had read the script he loved it immediately. “I wanted to be in it,” he says earnestly, “but my first thought was that I didn’t want Leopold to be bad. I didn’t want him to be anything that could be described in one word; I just wanted to play the character. But because Neil wrote the script, he also wrote very detailed character notes which were fantastic. In fact one of the things that brought the character round to me when I first thought of him as just a villain, was thinking about the kind of child he was. And as Leopold is based on a real person, I read up on him and realised he was a man who had great dreams for the good as far as he was concerned.”
Rufus greatly enjoyed working with the ensemble of actors, and says: “Edward is an actor I have always admired very much indeed, and I found him very easy to work with; very concentrated as I believe his character to be. Jessica is fantastic, a real natural, a good actress and a very nice person. Paul Giamatti is also a fabulous actor as everyone knows, but he is also a very nice, very funny guy, and I am really enjoying myself.”
The relationship between Leopold and Uhl is an interesting one as Uhl is a man he has found who will do whatever is necessary. “Leopold doesn’t have the power he needs, and that is what makes him so close to the edge. He dresses and lives like he should have power, but it is not yet his; it still belongs to his father. In order to get things done, he needs to play the game politically, and he is sneaky, so he needs someone to do his dirty work for him, and that is where Chief Inspector Uhl comes in. Uhl is a survivor, and he spies for Leopold with the promise that when he comes to power, he will make Uhl an aristocrat, or Chief of Police, or Mayor! So there is a strange dynamic between them, where Leopold has power over him but needs him desperately, and ultimately Uhl is the only man he can trust,” explains Rufus.
As the story unfolds, Uhl becomes fascinated by Eisenheim, much to the irritation of Prince Leopold. “Leopold wants to shake the policeman and say ‘of course he impresses you, but let me tell you how he pulls the strings,” offers Rufus. “Leopold is a very sharp man, and he thinks that everyone has been taken in and manipulated by this very clever magician; and everyone is dazzled by the smoke and mirrors, but underneath it all Leopold thinks he is just another little cheesy showman. As more and more people seem to be falling under Eisenheim’s spell, it starts to drive Leopold crazy. The more the country believes in him, the less they believe in the Prince. I think Leopold has grown up with the ehaviour of someone who owns the world, but he doesn’t. I think that sums him up,” adds Rufus.
Sewell’s extensive film credits include Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet; Dangerous Beauty; Dark City; Illuminata; In a Savage Land; Bless the Child; A Knight’s Tale; Extreme Ops; Tristan and Isolde and more recently The Legend of Zorro alongside Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta-Jones.
His stage performances include Pride and Prejudice; The Seagull; As You Like It; Making It Better; Arcadia; Translations; Rat in the Skull, Macbeth and Luther.
Eddie Marsan talks aboutJosef Fischer
British actor, well known for his recent roles in Vera Drake and 21 Grams, Eddie Marsan plays Fisher, Eisenheim’s manager.
Eddie describes his character: “He is very business minded, and very money oriented,” he begins. “He has a very close relationship with Eisenheim,who trusts him. He is a lovable rogue, you know that money is important to him, but you still find him quite funny, and he has a lot of integrity.”
During the course of the story, Eisenheim fires Fisher, but he doesn’t understand why. Eddie takes up the story, “Fisher goes to see Eisenheim and he sees that now Eisenheim has a whole new act based on conjuring up ghostly figures, which Fisher has never seen before. He is still unaware as to why he has been fired, although in the story it is clear that Eisenheim is trying to win back Sophie, and he is going to be attempting dangerous things. But of course Fisher doesn’t know that at the time. He just sees it as betrayal.”
Eddie admits to having a fairly unusual way of going about the research for a project. “I always do a certain amount of research to get the historical context, and I use photographs; but I always listen to a lot of music of the time. For this film I listened to Strauss waltzes and Mahler. We have a magic consultant who has given me some books – different touring acts of the Victorian period – which have also been very interesting. Fortunately I don’t have to do any magic, I would be terrible: all fingers and thumbs,” he laughs.
Director Neil Burger had seen Eddie in a couple of earlier movies, and since Eddie’s recent, highly acclaimed film Vera Drake shared the same casting director, that was how he came to read the script. “I loved the script, and met with Neil who I liked very much. I didn’t need any persuasion to take the role.” Eddie had also worked with Cinematographer Dick Pope on the Mike Leigh film. “Working on a Mike Leigh film is almost a nine-month project, and it is very intense with so much preparation. So working with Dick in such a relaxed atmosphere is great,” says Eddie.
“The advice Neil gave me,” continues Eddie, “is that Fisher is a bit of a rogue. He likes the ladies, and he likes the good life. But he advised me not to make him too comical since there is something hard-edged about him, which I have tried to bring to the character.”
Talking about his co-stars, he says: “Edward is a lovely actor. He is very present and you feel like he is listening to you all the time you are working, so it makes you relax and it helps you to be more communicative as an actor. Working with Rufus is funny; he is always playing royalty and I am always terrified of him, but in real life we have had a real laugh together. I have only two scenes with Chief Inspector Uhl, but I am a big fan of Paul Giamatti and meeting him here was great. We had a few days in Prague together. It is great because he is a character actor like me, and I have looked up to him for several years, and tried to emulate him in some ways.”
“It has been a fantastic experience; we have had interaction with the producers who are always very supportive, very complimentary and they looked after us all brilliantly,” he muses.
Eddie Marsan’s extensive film credits include Gangster No.1; Gangs of New York; 21 Grams; Untitled Woody Allen; The New World; Vera Drake, which garnered a Best Supporting Actor Award at the British Independent film Awards 2004; Beowulf & Grendel; The Secret Life of Swords; Miami Vice; V For Vendetta.
Eddie has also appeared in numerous television dramas, including EastEnders; Kavanagh QC; You Are Here; Plastic Man; Second Sight; Celeb; Gang Show; The Baadar Meinhoff; Quite Ugly One Morning; Friends and Crocodiles; Pierrepoint. His theatre credits include Out In the Cold; Taking Liberties; Serving It Up; The Homecoming; Chips with Everything; A Place at the Table; Antartica.
About The Filmmakers
Writer/Director Neil Burger
Neil Burger is the writer and director of THE ILLUSIONIST starring Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti. His screenplay is based on “Eisenheim the Illusionist” by Pulitzer Prize winning author Steven Millhauser. Burger also wrote and directed INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN (2002), winner of Best Feature Film at both the Woodstock Film Festival and the Avignon Film Festival and nominated for 3 Independent Spirit Awards including Best First Film and Best First Screenplay. Before that he directed commercials for the likes of Mastercard, IBM, and ESPN. He was also chosen to create a series of television spots for Amnesty International and their campaign for 'prisoners of conscience.” He began his film career by creating and directing the award winning “Books: Feed Your Head” campaign for MTV promoting language and literature.
Michael London is the producer of The Family Stone, which was written and directed by Thomas Bezucha. The film was released by Fox 2000 in December and stars Diane Keaton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dermot Mulroney, Luke Wilson, Claire Danes, Rachel McAdams and Craig T. Nelson.
Last year, Michael London produced the Alexander Payne film Sideways, which was one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2004 and the winner of a Golden Globe for Best Picture (comedy or musical), an Independent Spirit Awards, and a Critics’ Choice Awards. Sideways was a Best Picture nominee at the 2005 Academy Awards, where it won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. It was named best picture of 2005 by the New York Film Critics, the Los Angeles Film Critics, the London Film Critics and the Chicago Film Critics among many others.
London just started pre-production on his next film, King of California, which he is producing with Alexander Payne. The picture will star Michael Douglas and was written and will be directed by Michael Cahill. Production begins in February 2006.
In 2003 London produced House of Sand and Fog starring Jennifer Connelly and Ben Kingsley for Dreamworks and Thirteen starring Holly Hunter and Evan Rachel Wood. Both received Academy Award nominations and 2004 Independent Spirit awards. Thirteen also won Best Director honors at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival where Fox Searchlight acquired worldwide distribution rights to the independently-financed production. Prior to that, London produced Michael Lehmann’s comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights, which starred Josh Hartnett and Shannyn Sossamon, and The Guru, Universal’s Bollywood-themed comedy starring Heather Graham, Jimi Mistry and Marisa Tomei.
London currently has a three-year first-look deal with Paramount. Previously, he held a first-look deal with Universal Focus after spending five years as a production executive at Fox, which he departed as executive vice president of production. Films under his supervision included Alien 3, Die Hard 2, Sleeping with the Enemy, Hoffa, and the Sandlot.
London began his film career as senior vice president for Simpson-Bruckheimer Productions where he worked on Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and other projects. He started his career as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times after receiving his undergraduate degree from Stanford University.
BRIAN KOPPELMAN AND DAVID LEVIEN
The writing/producing/directing partnership of Brian Koppelman and David Levien has been quite a productive one. Since 1997 the duo has written the films ROUNDERS, RUNAWAY JURY, WALKING TALL and KNOCKAROUND GUYS, which they also directed. Last year the duo created the critically acclaimed television series TILT for ESPN, writing and directing the pilot episode.
The Illusionist marks a continuation of their producing career. Koppelman and Levien also produced Neil Burger’s first feature film, INTERVIEW WITH THE ASSASSIN. Separately each has distinguished himself, Levien as a novelist whose Wormwood and Swagbelly, A Novel for Today’s Gentleman, garnered strong critical response, Koppelman in his previous career as an Artist & Repertoire man for various record labels, and as an essayist.
One of the most prolific film producers of the past half decade, Bob Yari is President and founder of the Yari Film Group (YFG), dedicated to film financing and production. With over 18 films produced over the last 2 years and over 22 projects currently in development, YFG has emerged as one of the most successful independent film companies in Hollywood, with a creative output that varies in both genre and budget, but always attains mass commercial appeal.
BYP’s most recent films include CRASH, the acclaimed ensemble drama directed by Paul Haggis and slated to be released by Lions Gate Films this April; HOUSE OF D, David Duchovny’s recent directorial debut, also released by Lions Gate; last year’s A LOVE SONG FOR BOBBY LONG starring John Travolta and Scarlett Johannson; and this spring’s Miramax action thriller HOSTAGE starring Bruce Willis. Other films currently slated for release include THE MATADOR starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, which was acquired by Miramax upon premiering at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival; Sony Pictures Classics’ THUMBSUCKER starring Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vince Vaughn and Keanu Reeves; and Focus Features’ WINTER PASSING starring Ed Harris, Will Ferrell and Zooey Deschanel.
In addition, BYP has a number of films that have wrapped production in recent months including PRIME starring Meryl Streep and Uma Thurman; FIND ME GUILTY, a dramatic comedy starring Vin Diesel and directed by Sidney Lumet; JUMP SHOT, starring Danny DeVito and Kim Basinger, and directed by Mark Rydell; and FIRST SNOW starring Guy Pearce. The company is currently in production on THE ILLUSIONIST starring Edward Norton.
Yari began his career with Edgar J. Scherick Associates in Hollywood after receiving a degree in cinematography, and has served in a variety of positions including as director of MIND GAMES; as executive producer of AGENT CODY BANKS, starring Frankie Muniz and Hilary Duff; and of LAWS OF ATTRACTION, starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore.
Yari is also a well-versed real estate exec, with projects spanning syndication, construction, development and redevelopment of commercial and residential assets throughout the United States.
Schulman, in partnership with Tom Nunan and Bob Yari, formed Bull’s Eye Entertainment in October 2002. The company’s feature film CRASH, directed by Paul Haggis and starring Sandra Bullock, Don Cheadle, Matt Dillon, Jennifer Esposito, William Fichtner, Brendan Fraser, Terrence Howard, Chris "Ludacris" Bridges, Thandie Newton, Ryan Phillippe and Larenz Tate, was released in May 2005 by Lions Gate Films. CRASH, still in release, premiered to critical acclaim at the 2004 Toronto International Film Festival and continues to collect awards and nominations, including the Grand Prize at the 2005 Deauville International Film Festival and Best Feature at the 2005 Black Movie Awards. CRASH is also 2005’s most successful financial box hit in the independent arena.
The company's feature film THUMBSUCKER, starring Lou Pucci, Tilda Swinton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Keanu Reeves, Kelli Garner, Benjamin Bratt and Vince Vaughn, premiered at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival and took home the best actor award for Lou Pucci's performance. Pucci garnered a second best actor award at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival. Director and world-famous graphic designer Mike Mills also won the Guardian Award (Best Director) at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. THUMBSUCKER, released by Sony Classics in September 2005, continues to receive stellar notices and awards recognition.
THE ILLUSIONIST, written and directed by Neil Burger and starring Edward Norton, Paul Giamatti, Jessica Biel and Rufus Sewell, is Bull’s Eye’s upcoming release, receiving it’s world premiere at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival.
Ms. Schulman has numerous feature film projects in development, including THE LIONS OF AL RASSON, which will be directed by Ed Zwick for Warner Bros., THE PIANO TUNER, based on the bestseller by Daniel Mason for Focus Films and KIMBERLY AKIMBO, to be directed by Jake Scott for DreamWorks.
Ms. Schulman and Bull’s Eye partner Tom Nunan are also dedicated to television production. Among many network and cable shows in the works, Bull’s Eye is currently producing CRASH, the TV show, in partnership with Lions Gate Television, for FX. Bull’s Eye has a first-look television deal with Sony Pictures TV.
Ms. Schulman has held various acquisition, development and production positions throughout her career. As a producer, she recently produced the feature films GODSEND and EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH. Schulman has also produced Edward Burns’ SIDEWALKS OF NEW YORK, associate produced TEARS OF THE SUN and ISN’T SHE GREAT? She was also the executive producer on YOU STUPID MAN and A GENTLEMAN’S GAME.
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