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Production notes, photos and promotional video © 2007 Warner Bros. Pictures.
production notes
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

ABOUT THE PRODUCTION

Producer Joel Silver, the man behind such blockbusters as “The Matrix,” “Die Hard” and “Lethal Weapon” series, sees “The Reaping” as more complex and layered than your average supernatural thriller. “It’s a little more sophisticated than what we’ve done before at Dark Castle, on top of being a scary movie,” he says. “‘The Reaping’ changes the formula of who the good guys and the bad guys are. I like to switch it up.”


HILARY SWANK stars as Katherine

The film, which explores a series of bizarre occurrences in the Deep South, is steeped in atmosphere and anchored by one of contemporary film’s most acclaimed actresses, Hilary Swank. “Hilary plays a professor who is pushed to question everything she has come to believe,” says Silver. “She brings real honesty and strength to the character. Hilary takes you along on Katherine’s journey, letting you into her thought processes and sense of faith, so you are as shocked as she is when you find out what’s really going on.”

Swank read the screenplay for “The Reaping” just prior to winning the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in the film “Million Dollar Baby.” “It was a page- turner,” she recalls. “Things were happening that I didn’t expect, and I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I thought it was a truly scary story while also being smart and dramatic. It really plays to the notion that nothing is as it seems in life. We’re so quick to put our stamp of judgment on it, but I think it’s important to stay open to incidences that are intriguing. It’s a very human thing to do and there are real human moments in this story, in the midst of these extraordinary events.”

The actress adds that Silver’s enthusiasm for the project was infectious. “He has such a great spirit,” says Swank. “Joel really gets people excited. He gets a great crew together and he takes really good care of everyone. I had a great time making this film.”

Director Stephen Hopkins, who recently garnered acclaim for the telefilm “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers,” envisioned the project as the ideal opportunity to bring the bizarre and supernatural into the mundane, everyday world. “It can be very frightening to find the supernatural in the realistic world,” he comments, “and that dichotomy is really at the heart of this story, in which science and faith do battle, in a sense. Our goal was always to frighten people through atmosphere and ideas, rather than just simply outright gore. Although we do include some good old-fashioned horror in this film,” he smiles. “But what’s scariest is what’s behind it.”

“Stephen and I go back a long time,” Silver says. “We did a movie in the early ‘90s called ‘Predator 2’ and I’ve always wanted to work with him again. ‘The Reaping’ was the perfect fit for his style, and he knew immediately how he wanted to shoot it. He also liked the idea of working with Hilary, so it all came together.”

Swank’s early discussions with the director yielded a close professional bond between the two. “Stephen Hopkins is so smart, so articulate and so present that it was really fun to collaborate with him,” she says, “I have an enormous amount of respect for him. He has so much energy – always active, always thinking about the next shot. don’t think I ever saw him sit down through the entire production.”


HILARY SWANK stars as Katherine

Swank plays Katherine Winter, a woman who lost her faith when her husband and child were killed while they were on a religious mission in the Sudan. “Katherine Winter is a woman who has already been through so much in her life in trying to help people,”

Swank describes. “Like anyone, she’s just trying to figure out what her life is about, and, in that process, she decides to debunk myths and miracles. She travels around the world figuring out what’s really behind them. But at the core of this mission of hers is a feeling that if God and miracles truly existed, how could her family be so cruelly taken from her?”

Producer Herbert W. Gains feels that Katherine’s crisis of faith is something to which anyone can relate. “I think that everybody at some time or other in their life believes in something, and during the course of life certain events could make you question that belief. Things happen that make you think, ‘Why me?’ and ‘Why did this happen?’”

Katherine’s partner in her work is Ben, a former student and fellow professor at the university, played by British actor Idris Elba. “We’re biologists, scientists, that debunk miracles,” Idris relates, “as in religious miracles. If you see Jesus’s face on a tree, you’ll make a phone call and a couple of scientists will come up and tell you you’re crazy…or you have a real live miracle on your hands.”

But where Katherine approaches these mysteries believing she’ll find a scientific explanation, Ben hopes to confirm his own religious faith. “It’s an interesting dilemma between them because Katherine is a complete atheist now and has no interest in finding a real miracle,” explains Elba. “In fact, when she arrives at a place where there’s a so- called miracle, she’s just short of laughing out loud when she sees what’s really going on. In contrast, Ben is doing this for his own religious beliefs--to prove that God exists, scientifically.”

“Our characters in the movie are best friends,” says Swank. “They know each other really well, inside and out. They work together every single day. They could finish each other’s sentences. And it’s funny: when I met Idris I felt an instant connection. We had a great time together.”

“When you work with Hilary you have to bring your ‘A’ game,” says Elba. “You understand why she has had such success because she’s absolutely focused all the time. She’ll sit and share a joke with you, but as soon as it’s time to work she’s like a completely different person. But she’s also a really kind, loving, warm person, as well.”

Hopkins had worked with Elba on a pilot and brought him along to an event to introduce him to Silver. “He’s just tremendously handsome and charismatic, and he and Hilary had a great rapport, which carried over to the screen,” the director asserts. “Idris is this huge, seemingly intimidating guy, but you just want to be his pal. And he can play anything. He’s just an awesome actor.”

Elba was likewise inspired by Hopkins’s style of directing: “I’m a nerd when it comes to detail, so I really admire Stephen’s work. Absolutely everything in each frame matters to him. Every frame is like a picture’s he’s painting.”

Stephen Rea, who previously starred in producer Silver’s “V For Vendetta,” joined the cast as Father Costigan, a priest who was also a missionary in the Sudan when Katherine’s family was killed. Now living in the States, Costigan receives what he interprets to be a warning about his former colleague. “She is not anxious to hear from Father Costigan because she associates him with the tragedy that befell her family,” says Rea. “But he persists because he believes she’s in great danger now. Of course, she no longer believes in spiritual signs, so he finds it quite difficult to get through to her.”

Katherine has no reason to associate Costigan’s phone call with a sudden visit from a young schoolteacher named Doug Blackwell. Appearing to be every bit the southern gentleman, he has traveled to the university to seek Katherine’s help. For the role of Blackwell, Hopkins cast fellow Brit David Morrissey, who has garnered raves in various British productions, including “State of Play” and “Hilary and Jackie.” “David Morrissey is a fresh face for American audiences, but he’s very well thought of in the UK,” says Silver. “He’s a great actor, and he and Hilary also have great chemistry onscreen.”

“I’m a massive fan of Hilary Swank and have been since ‘Boys Don’t Cry,’ so it’s been a great pleasure to work with her,” Morrissey says. “She brings real complexity and vulnerability to this role, and all of our scenes together were extremely involving. Doug becomes Katherine’s touchstone in this town. Like her, he has lost loved ones, and as he leads her into this odyssey, he is gradually earning her trust.”

“On the surface, Doug a very nice man, and seems to be a very rational man as well,” Hopkins notes. “But there is something dark lurking beneath that surface, which David manages to balance in a very compelling way.”

Morrissey relates that his character sees himself as the voice of reason in a panicked community, “The local people have witnessed these mysterious events, starting with a murder and then the river turning to blood, and immediately believe that they are seeing the wrath of God. Doug Blackwell takes it upon himself to calm the town council long enough to prove that whatever happened to the river is a natural phenomenon and not a plague sent to curse them. He’s really pinning all his hopes on Katherine to help him.”

Though she’s busy with a full academic schedule, Katherine reconsiders when she hears that a young girl is being blamed for the unusual occurrences in Haven. “Katherine has lost a daughter, so she knows what it is to lose a child that you have brought into the world—something I can’t imagine,” says Swank. “When Doug says to her that the town thinks it has something to with a little girl and they want to kill her because of it, that gets her attention. Though she may not recognize it consciously, the assignment represents a chance to save one child…and maybe redeem her past.”


ANNASOPHIA ROBB as Loren McConnell

The final piece of the puzzle is that child, Loren McConnell, played by young actress AnnaSophia Robb, who has already played a diverse range of roles in such films as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Bridge to Terabithia.” “She’s just such a talent,” Swank says. “Although her character says very little in the film, acting is not always about dialogue. She says so much with her face and with her expressions, through her eyes. AnnaSophia was such a joy to work with.”

“Loren is very quiet, shy and scared,” says Robb, who turned 12 after production wrapped. “She has a reason to be scared because the townspeople have tried to kill her. She lives way back in the swamps and has no real friends, so she has been hiding in the woods since all of this started. Loren’s not very educated. She just reacts without thinking, instinctively, like an animal.”

Tucked away from the pace and progress of the big city, Haven is a community where relations are tight and faith is strong. “I have spent some time in the South and there are some places that are really hidden away,” says Hopkins, “like a secret world inside the Bible Belt, where people with their own beliefs can exist almost completely independent of the outside world.”

In Haven, Katherine and Ben are confronted with a river turned to blood, an unknown disease befalling area cattle, and a mounting number of unexplainable occurrences. “The first plague is a river turned to blood,” comments co-producer Richard Mirisch, “and, at first, Katherine thinks it’s a chemical response. Of course, as the movie progresses and the situation becomes a bit more complex, she is forced to question her own beliefs about what may be happening in these very extreme situations.”

As they take samples and send them back for analysis, one thing becomes clear— none of Katherine’s theories are panning out. To save Loren and stop the acceleration of the attacks, she will need to seek other resources outside of the scientific realm. “This movie, to me, is about a woman who loses her faith over certain circumstances in her life,” says Swank. “So, this journey for her is a kind of awakening. Things happen for a reason, and her past and present are tied together in ways she doesn’t necessarily expect.”

“She comes to this town in Louisiana and is confronted with a series of occurrences that she can’t debunk,” adds Silver. “Suddenly, she’s in real danger and the tools she has come to rely on no longer work. The only weapon she has left is instinct.”

NEXT:
FACT, FICTION AND FAITH

The character of Katherine Winter is based on real-life skeptics and scientists that take on unnatural occurrences and miracles. “All over the world, people are drawn to the idea of miracles,” Silver comments...

 
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