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Casting A Classic28 Oct 2009
By TNPihl (JCO Editor-In-Chief)
Even as Robert Zemeckis was writing the script, he had only one actor in mind to play the role of Scrooge-Jim Carrey.
"Jim's not just a wonderful actor, he's a chameleon," says Starkey. "He can work his body in ways other actors can't. He's just so versatile. I can't imagine the film without him."
Neither could the director. Zemeckis had no doubts that Carrey's talent as an imaginative and risk-taking actor would make him the quintessential Scrooge. "When I did my first performance-capture movie and I realized the potential of what could be done, I couldn't help but think that the greatest performance-capture actor that exists is Jim Carrey," says the director. "His face is so incredibly expressive, and he's so great at creating characters, giving him the ability to completely change his physicality. All of his talents as a performer and as a comedian are included in his performance."
Producer Rapke agrees, "There is a place that he goes to that in a million years you wouldn't think it was possible. He has an unlimited amount of extraordinary physicality. The way he transforms himself into Scrooge is amazing. He gives his all, pursuing every single permutation of the character. He comes up with so many alternatives and they are all great. It's an embarrassment of riches."
"Scrooge," says Carrey, "is not a person who really loves his life. He wants to live it alone. He's not a spiritual guy on a mountain. He's a guy who wants to make his cage as comfortable as possible because if he steps outside it, he risks being seen by people. He risks people finding out that he's broken and bitter."
But Carrey believes there's more to Scrooge than the miser. "Nobody is just one thing, you know? There's much more to all of us. Generally at the bottom of it all, there's goodness."
"Since the ghosts are all an extension of Scrooge, it's only fitting that they all have a bit of Scrooge in them. So it was a perfect fit to have Jim play all the parts."
~ Robert Zemeckis, Director/Producer/Screenwriter
Not only does Carrey play the old and miserly Scrooge, but because of the advantages afforded by the film's technology, Carrey is able to portray Scrooge at every age-from a young 7-year-old, alone and friendless, sitting quietly at school, to an old man, bent over and feeble. The technology captures Carrey's unique acting performances as the actor expertly crafts the evolution of one character's lifetime. "He's a guy in pain," says Carrey. "He's a guy who didn't have anybody to love him."
Carrey also portrays the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come. "Since the ghosts are all an extension of Scrooge, it's only fitting that they all have a bit of Scrooge in them," says Zemeckis. "So it was a perfect fit to have Jim play all the parts."
Zemeckis called on several other cast members to fulfill more than one role. Gary Oldman plays the meek, but optimistic Bob Cratchit, as well as Cratchit's young ailing son Tiny Tim, and Marley's ghost. "We hired a great actor who himself is a master of disguise," says Zemeckis.
"Gary Oldman is one of the most brilliant actors working today and to have him come and do these characters that require different aspects of personality and experience, it's amazing to watch," adds Rapke.
Classically trained British theater actor Colin Firth is one of the few actors playing only one role, but he plays a central figure in the film. Firth portrays the forever optimistic Fred, whose cheery disposition and opposing outlook on life is a stark contrast to that of his grumpy uncle Scrooge.
"Fred is quite simply the opposite of Scrooge," explains Firth. "He's the foil. If Scrooge is the ultimate pessimist, Fred is the ultimate optimist. I think Fred sees life very simply. 'Why can't we be friends? It's not complicated. I'm inviting you to dinner. Why don't you just come for dinner?' I think he embodies the Christmas spirit. He wishes no ill to anybody."
"Colin Firth is a dashing actor," says Starkey. "He is just a perfect, proper young Englishman."
Robin Wright Penn, who appeared in Zemeckis' previous performance-capture film "Beowulf," as well as the director's acclaimed hit "Forrest Gump," portrays Belle, the beautiful young woman whom Scrooge chooses not to pursue, turning his back on a life of love and light. Penn also plays Scrooge's young sister Fan, for whom Scrooge had a great affection; he could never quite get over her untimely death.
"Robin is part of our repertory company," says Rapke. "There is not a female role that we don't think of her first. She is so talented, and she is part of our creative family.
"As Belle, she is part of the moment that forms the older Scrooge," continues Rapke. "She is the object of his love. She represents what could have been and is the source of Scrooge's greatest sadness. His life would have been totally different. And for Fan, we needed somebody to portray that kind of beautiful innocence, that verve for life with a slightly naive quality-that's Robin."
The filmmakers called on one of England's most distinctive actors, Bob Hoskins, to join the cast. Hoskins left school at 15 to pursue an acting career. His breakout performance came in 1987 with his Academy Award®-nominated role in "Mona Lisa." He continued to dazzle audiences in films such as "Nixon," "Maid in Manhattan," and "Mrs. Henderson Presents."
"There is an amazing history between Bob Zemeckis and Bob Hoskins because of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?,'" says Rapke. "Bob said, 'The only guy I can see being Fezziwig is Bob Hoskins. He can dance and he has a great face. And Bob should play Old Joe, too. He would be fabulous in that role as well.'"
Although it had been 20 years since the actor had worked with Zemeckis, Hoskins was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the director again. "My main reason to do this film was to work again with Robert Zemeckis," says Hoskins. "Bob is the Einstein of cinema. His imagination is always worth seeing. It's extraordinary. I've got a very soft spot for Zemeckis-he's mad as a March hare, but I love him," laughs Hoskins.
Starring alongside Hoskins as Mrs. Dilber is the Abbey Theatre-trained Irish actress Fionnula Flanagan. On stage and on screen, Flanagan has appeared in films including "Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood," "Transamerica," and "Waking Ned Divine." Filmmakers tapped Flanagan to portray Scrooge's charwoman, a poor woman who takes advantage of her master's untimely demise by stealing his personal belongings and haggling with Old Joe over the items.
"Their way of celebrating is to gloat over what she's managed to steal from Scrooge's house," says Flanagan.
The multitalented Cary Elwes joins the cast and plays a menagerie of characters with great diversity and range: the mad fiddler who plays at Fezziwig's big bash; Dick Wilkins, Scrooge's roommate from years ago; and a businessman who is shunned by Scrooge when he solicits donations for the poor.
"Cary plays multiple characters and he's got the versatility to support them all," says Starkey.
Elwes has a unique connection to the story. The actor is actually related to the man believed to be the inspiration for Scrooge. "John Megid Elwes is an ancestor of mine who was a renowned miser," says Elwes. "He was a politician who changed his name from Megid to Elwes in order to gain favor with his uncle, Sir Harvey Elwes, who he knew was going to die without an heir and he had tons of money. And it worked. He managed to get all Mr. Harvey Elwes's estates and proceeded to become one of the most famous misers in English history. He was renowned for never changing his clothes."
Completing the cast are Leslie Manville as Mrs. Cratchit, Leslie Zemeckis as Fred's wife, and Paul Blackthorne as Belle's husband. Ranging in age from 7 to 17, six young actors were tapped to play dozens of characters including the Cratchit kids, Belle's children, street urchins and carolers. They include Sage Ryan, Sammi Hanratty, Molly Quinn, Daryl Sabara and brothers Ryan and Raymond Ochoa.
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