Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Cast
: Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, Thomas Horn, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe CaldwellDirector
: Stephen Daldry Genre
: MRunning Time
: 129 minutesSynopsis
: Adapted from the acclaimed bestseller by Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is a story that unfolds from inside the young mind of Oskar Schell, an inventive eleven year-old New Yorker whose discovery of a key in his deceased father's belongings sets him off on an urgent search across the city for the lock it will open.
A year after his father died in the World Trade Center on what Oskar calls The Worst Day, he is determined to keep his vital connection to the man who playfully cajoled him into confronting his wildest fears. Now, as Oskar crosses the five New York boroughs in quest of the missing lock - encountering an eclectic assortment of people who are each survivors in their own way - he begins to uncover unseen links to the father he misses, to the mother who seems so far away from him and to the whole noisy, dangerous, discombobulating world around him. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
: February 23rd, 2012Website
: www.extremelyloudandincrediblyclose.co.ukAbout the Production
In 2005 the novelist Jonathan Safran Foer, already renowned for his blend of incisive comedy and tragedy in his debut novel 'Everything Is Illuminated,' published his follow-up 'Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.' His second novel was, on the one hand, the playful story of an unusually precocious and sensitive boy who invents fantastical devices, dreams about astrophysics, collects a vast assortment of random facts - and is compelled into a quixotic odyssey through the fabric of New York. At the same time, the novel was the first major literary exploration into the grief of 9/11 families, and a study of how a child's imagination helps him navigate overwhelming fear and unfathomable loss in the wake of events that no logic could possibly reconcile.
When director Stephen Daldry, a three-time Oscar® nominee for The Reader, The Hours and Billy Elliot - read the book, he was struck most of all by Oskar Schell's subjective point of view. An unusual child with arrestingly high intelligence yet eccentric and obsessive behaviors that might put him on the autistic spectrum, Oskar Schell describes the world around him with his own particular mix of naiveté and insight, nervousness and boldness, incomprehension and a need to understand. Most of all, Stephen Daldry was intrigued by how this POV, just like a child's imagination, combined random thoughts, flashes of memory, lists of ideas and impromptu fantasies with pure emotion - all at a moment when life has irrevocably changed for Oskar's family and the world around him.
"I found it truly compelling that Jonathan Safran Foer told this story not only from the perspective of a boy enduring unimaginable heartbreak, but a boy who has his own singular view of everything," says Stephen Daldry. "It's a perspective that is engaging, inventive and emotionally rich."
Stephen Daldry was also compelled to learn more about the very specific trauma experienced by the 3,000 children who lost parents on 9/11, and their struggle for resilience. He sought the counsel of a number of experts, as well as the organisation Tuesday's Children, a non-profit founded by families and friends of 9/11 victims to address the unique and ongoing challenges of those whose loved ones died in the terrorist attacks. He learned that for many kids like Oskar, the suddenness, enormity and public nature of the event left a sense of helplessness over their already profound grief.
"I started talking to a lot of different specialists, including therapists who work with children who have lost parents," says Stephen Daldry. "I wanted to better understand the process kids like Oskar went through in the days, months and years after 9/11 - how they began to heal, or sometimes not. That process of learning went hand in hand with the development of the script. At the same time, we also consulted with experts on the autistic spectrum and Asperger's Syndrome, which Oskar is tested for, inconclusively."
Oskar's very personal experience of September 11th, and what came after, was brought to the fore in a screenplay adaptation by Eric Roth, who wanted to be true to the distinctive immediacy of Jonathan Safran Foer's novel. "It's a very emotional book and I hope it is a very emotional movie," says Eric Roth. "There's also a real kinetic energy to the book - and the challenge was to translate that into visual imagery."
The book wove many themes - of individual and national trauma, of childhood's strangeness, of the nature of tragedy and the endurance of love through family hardship - into its tapestry. Each of those themes was key to the storytelling, but Eric Roth found his way in through one particular element: the relationship between Oskar and his father, Thomas, who is seen in the film entirely through Oskar's subjective memories, which are in turn fueled by a confusing mixture of love, loss and lingering questions.
Oskar deeply misses his father's so-called 'reconnaissance expeditions,' clever puzzles that Thomas created for Oskar to solve, not only as inspired father-son games but also to help him engage with the world despite his social awkwardness. So when he finds the mysterious key in the bottom of a vase hidden in the dark recesses of his father's closet, Oskar propels himself into a new mission to ferret out the key's meaning.
His only clue to the key's potential origins is the name 'Black,' written on the envelope in which he found it, so Oskar dutifully makes an ambitious plan to visit all 472 people named Black in the New York City phone books, even though, according to the math, it will take him three years to do so. He meticulously charts his course, turning a map of the city into a perfectly plotted grid, sets his ground rules and starts out on foot because there could still be a risk of attack on a bus or subway.
Like many kids with gifted intelligence, high sensory sensitivity and impaired social skills, Oskar thrives on schedules, rules and facts yet his search takes him far from the predictable and the comfortable. But no matter what obstacles stand in his way, Oskar is determined to complete his task.
'Oskar is a kid who is different, but in a wonderful way,' notes Eric Roth. "He might have a form of Asperger's but he also has a great imagination and a real sense of curiosity along with his many fears. For a long time, he was kept afloat very much by his father who enjoyed so many similar things. So now, when Oskar finds his father's key a year after his death, he believes it has to unlock something - a piece of advice, an object, some wisdom that his father left for him. And it leads him on an adventure that is his way of coming to terms with grief and all sorts of other things."
As Eric Roth began compacting Jonathan Safran Foer's wide-ranging plot and finding the cinematic structure, he found Jonathan Safran Foer to be a supportive resource. "Jonathan Safran Foer is a wonderful novelist but my ability is to be a good dramatist and bring the work alive on the screen. He really trusted me in that process and we developed a very close and collaborative relationship."
Adds Stephen Daldry: "Jonathan Safran Foer really understands the difference between a book and a script, and was very helpful. He never once uttered the phrase, 'Well, in the book...' He was always open to interpretation and reinvention."
When the screenplay was completed, it quickly began to attract talent. "I think Oskar's story touched everyone when they read the script, and therefore we were able to assemble a truly wonderful group of actors," says Stephen Daldry of an ensemble that not only includes Oscar® winners Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, and Oscar® nominee Max von Sydow, but also introduces Thomas Horn as Oskar. The supporting cast is equally accomplished, including Zoe Caldwell, Academy Award® nominee Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright and John Goodman.
Tom Hanks, who plays Oskar's father, was drawn to the way the script gets inside Oskar's mind at a time when the power of logical facts to keep him grounded seems to have evaporated. "In the blink of an eye, the course of Oskar's whole world changes, and he loses his only anchor," Tom Hanks says. "His father used to tell him that there are always clues and treasures to be found in the world. So when he finds his father's key, it's very interesting that Oskar devises his own elaborate hunt for what the key might mean, convinced it will somehow explain the unexplained to him. It becomes a very personal, intimate story of a kid trying to make sense in his own way of a nonsensical world."
He adds: "It was easiest thing in the world for me to want to do this - as soon as I read it, there was not even any question."
Taking the role of Oskar's grief-stricken mother, whose apparent absence in Oskar's life is not quite what it seems, is Sandra Bullock. "What I find so moving about Oskar is that he feels there has to be an answer, but there is not always a clear why' or a because to a situation," she says. "And sometimes the answer you get is not the one you expect, which is something Oskar has to discover for himself."
She continues: "I think Eric Roth did an amazing job of telling this challenging story entirely through a child's point of view." The Cast and Characters
At the center of Oskar Schell's search for a lock that will accept his father's key is the man who always compelled Oskar to puzzle out his problems and face his prodigious qualms: his father, Thomas. As a screen character, Thomas Schell was a challenge because he is seen entirely through Oskar's eyes, to the extent that much about his history and inner life remain mysterious - except for the parts that have made an impression on Oskar and especially Oskar's memories of their very best times together, which remain indelibly immediate to him.
To embody the essence of a father as captured in time by his young son, Stephen Daldry thought early on of Tom Hanks. "We thought that in terms of Oskar's memories of Thomas as the perfect dad...well, who else could that be but Tom Hanks?" recalls Stephen Daldry. "Tom Hanks took that responsibility to heart and created a real bond with Thomas Horn that was evident to everybody on the set. They were absolutely charming together, which was great for me as a filmmaker, because they created this dynamic relationship and all I had to do was shoot it. It was an act of real dedication by an extraordinary actor and collaborator."
Tom Hanks says he gave a lot of consideration to the kind of father Thomas was to Oskar prior to his death. He also kept in mind that Thomas was himself a child of immigrants who took up the trade of jewelry as his only clear opportunity to support his family, even though he dreamed of being a scientist. "I think Thomas was someone who felt the real task in his life was to make sure that his very bright son became a well-rounded, content human being who might make the world a better place," Tom Hanks says. "Since Thomas himself grew up without a father, fathering Oskar was the most important thing to him. I think he loved inventing wild stories for Oskar, like the one he makes up about New York's lost Sixth Borough, but he also very clearly designed these stories to get Oskar out in the world and help him feel safe there."
In part, Tom Hanks drew on his own experiences as a father. "The emotional part of it for me was going back and remembering what it's like to have an 11-year-old kid who is bubbling over with life," he says.
While Tom Hanks believes Thomas was well aware that Oskar often showed signs of behavior akin to Asperger's Syndrome, he also says Thomas readily accepted and even related to many of his son's oddities and phobias, which made the two of them even closer. "I think Thomas wasn't bothered at all by his son's behaviors," he says. "Instead, he looked for ways to build bridges over Oskar's turbulence, over his constant questions, his flights of fancy and his fears. Yet because of that, when he's gone, it magnifies the incredible loss for Oskar even more."
Unlike Oskar's father, his mother, Linda, has always found it tough to reach her son, and that only seems to increase by a factor of 10 when her husband is no longer there to bridge the gap. Yet, much as she seems lost in her own private realm of grief, Linda is connecting to Oskar in ways of which he is not even aware.
Stephen Daldry felt there was an organic empathy in Sandra Bullock that would allow the role to work. "Sandra Bullock is a first-rate actress who really took her role to heart," he says. "She looked after Thomas very well and formed a strong relationship with him that translated to the screen. She was able to bring a gravitas that was entirely appropriate but also a real charm." For Sandra Bullock, the intriguing part was playing a mother who has to work at bonding with her son and forging her own route back into his world after his father's death. "I think when Thomas was alive, Linda was always okay with just stepping back and letting Oskar and his father be a great team together," she observes. "But now that Oskar has lost his playmate and the one person who grounded him and who he felt was his intellectual equal, she isn't sure she can be any of those things to her son. And she's in the process of grieving too, so she doesn't have much energy to fight for that connection she so desperately wants with him. She has to struggle to find the solution."
Given the subjective, first-person viewpoint of the film, Sandra Bullock also had to play her character the way Oskar perceives her - which was especially difficult because Oskar does not see the full picture of his mother. "I had to come to grips with the idea that the audience is seeing Linda on the screen entirely through Oskar's point of view - and his view of her is not always very favorable," she explains. "In some scenes, she can seem to be the opposite of nurturing, yet later, it becomes clear what is really going on with her. Still, I had to be okay with her looking at times like she wasn't being a good mother to a child who is really in need. Part of it is that what Oskar sees is her grief, which is ugly and imperfect, but also very real. But what Oskar doesn't know is that she is also very worried about him and that causes her to really try to think like he does."
To explore Linda Schell's experience more deeply, Sandra Bullock listened to recordings of phone calls and voice-mail messages left by those trapped in the World Trade Center for their families. "That was very hard for me," she says. "But what floored me was to hear people giving comfort to those they were leaving behind. You really understand that the pain of hearing that is something that could never go away."
The most daunting role to cast was Oskar himself, who like many bright children is full of contradictions. He is at once a naïve, hurt, hypersensitive child overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and afraid of loud noises, ringing telephones, bridges, elevators, public transportation and tall buildings. Yet at the same time, Oskar is a bold explorer, ready to crisscross New York neighborhoods and knock on the doors of strangers, looking for one lone lock in a city of millions.
The filmmakers set out in search for a kid with an authentically uncommon intelligence, yet one who also had natural acting ability, and ultimately discovered Thomas Horn, a 13 year-old Kids Jeopardy! contestant who speaks four languages. "Thomas Horn is a super smart, funny, engaged child with the dedication and tenacity of someone much, much older," comments Stephen Daldry. "He loved learning the methodology of acting. And he really responded to the math of figuring out, 'Oh, I see, if I do this, that happens.' It didn't take long before everyone in the crew began to feel that we weren't dealing with a child actor. He was just our leading man and he proved to be extraordinary."
Thomas Horn admits he did not know what to expect at first. "When I found out I got the role it was earth-shaking, because I'd never done anything like this before," he relates. "But it was also something new and different and exciting."
He was immediately able to relate to Oskar's way of trying to make the world manageable through facts and figures. "I think Oskar is a very logical person who likes to think things through, only now he's in inner conflict because things around him aren't making sense," Thomas Horn says. "That's why he hopes finding the lock will make sense of his father's key."
Despite having never set foot on a movie set before, Thomas Horn says he never felt intimidated. "I had the greatest director to work with in Stephen Daldry. I mean, he's the first director I've ever worked with, but I can't imagine a better one," he says. "He always told me if I was doing something right, and he always told me very gently how I might improve. He encouraged me and I never felt bad about myself because he helped make me feel confident."
Tom Hanks especially enjoyed the chance to work so closely with Thomas Horn in his first film role, establishing a father-son rapport that is akin to a best friend relationship. "Thomas Horn showed great instincts and was very focused," Tom Hanks comments. "In fact, he always managed to find the odd, different little things that can spark a scene, which are things that a seasoned actor does to bring something new and exciting to it."
Thomas Horn's scenes with Sandra Bullock were more challenging because they were often emotionally charged. "Some of the scenes we had together were hard for me because Oskar gets very upset - but it really moved me when I acted with Sandra Bullock," Thomas Horn shares. "It felt almost like a real situation because she was really reacting to me, influencing how I felt."
Sandra Bullock was taken by the psychological complexity Thomas Horn brought to such tricky interactions. "Thomas Horn really dove into playing Oskar and he was fearless about it," Sandra Bullock says. "He came prepared, he was steadfast, and his professionalism was impressive. And he is so smart. He was wonderful to work with and I admire him a great deal."
In the aftermath of The Worst Day, one of Oskar's few sources of comfort is his paternal grandmother, who lives across the street, only a window's view away. The two of them share a close-knit relationship fueled by late-night walkie-talkie communications. It is she, not his mother, whom Oskar turns to when things start to get overwhelming.
Playing Oskar's grandmother is veteran stage actress Zoe Caldwell, a four-time Tony Award winner. To deepen her performance, Zoe Caldwell turned to the character's extensive back-story in the novel, the details of which are only alluded to in the film.
"Oskar's Grandmother was German, living in Dresden at the time of the bombings there," Zoe Caldwell explains. "She was married, but her husband made her promise never to bring a child into that world. She broke their agreement and gave birth to Thomas, who grew up to be a remarkable man and who, in turn, became the father of this very remarkable little boy."
Having been a great admirer of her work on stage, Stephen Daldry had hoped to work with Zoe Caldwell for a long time. "Zoe Caldwell is a giant of the American theatre whom I've loved for years," he says. "She relished the part and had a lot of fun with it, forming a fantastic relationship with Thomas Horn."
Though Oskar often confides in his grandmother, he cannot risk telling her about his mission to find the lock that matches his father's key. But one night when he seeks her counsel, he instead meets up with the enigmatic, silent man known only as The Renter, who is a boarder in her apartment. Venerated actor Max von Sydow plays the mysterious old man who can communicate only via scrawls on a notepad yet becomes Oskar's only confidante on his quest. Max Von Sydow - whose prodigious film career began in the 1950s with Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and continued through ten more films with Ingmar Bergman and six decades of memorable and award-winning roles - had a strong emotional reaction to the story of Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.
"I was extremely moved by the script, which doesn't happen often, Max von Sydow states. "And I liked the idea of playing this enigmatic figure, this apparent stranger who tries to help Oskar in his search. It really is an interesting friendship that develops between them."
The character remains mute throughout the movie, so the actor strove to express his moments of anguish, curiosity and delight entirely through his face and body. Says Stephen Daldry of the unusual, wordless performance: "Max von Sydow turned in a performance unlike any other he's done - and I think it's the kind of performance he's always wanted to do. I honestly believe he's created one of the most extraordinary characters of his career; he's profoundly nuanced, complicated, funny and sensitive... without uttering a sound."
As Oskar progresses along his mission, he also encounters hundreds of diverse strangers throughout the city who share only one thing in common: the name Black. The first people Oskar meets, who will prove vital to his search in unforeseeable ways, are Abby and William Black, a divorcing couple played by Viola Davis and Jeffrey Wright.
Jeffrey Wright says that the screenplay had an immediate impact on him. "I finished reading the script backstage one night when I was working on a play," he recalls. "The director came to my dressing room, saw me in a state and asked if I was alright. I told him I was just trying to put the pieces of my mind and my heart back together after reading this."
He was also drawn to working with Stephen Daldry, an experience that lived up to his expectations. "Stephen Daldry is from a theatre background, as am I," Jeffrey Wright notes. "He allows you to craft and mine the character, go deep into the scene, and then really refine it in a way that's rare in film."
The director was equally eager to work with Jeffrey Wright. "We always wanted Jeffrey Wright as William Black," Stephen Daldry says. "He is so intelligent and compassionate and brings such range to the role. He nailed it for us in a way that was even beyond expectation."
In Viola Davis, Stephen Daldry saw an actress with the ability to make just a few key scenes resonate. "Viola Davis is one of my favorite actresses in the world," he notes. "She is among the most respected talents today and we were so lucky to have her."
Viola Davis approached Abby as a woman going through marital discord, who finds unexpected solace in her strange initial encounter with Oskar. "I think the fact that Oskar finds beauty in Abby restores her self-esteem at a time when she really needs that," she explains. "In a way, Abby and Oskar are both alone with their grief, yet when they meet they start to feel for each other and want to hold each other up."
Rounding out the main cast is John Goodman in the part of Stan the Doorman, who guards the lobby of Oskar's apartment building and enjoys a running banter with the boy as he comes and goes. "Stan is a little bit like Oskar's foil," John Goodman comments. "They have a wise-guy thing going on between them, but I think Stan is really very fond of him. And he knows Oskar is twelve times smarter than he is."
Stan also unwittingly provides Oskar with the first of many tools he requires to embark on his search: the phonebooks of all five New York boroughs. "Stan is a small but critical role," Stephen Daldry says, "but John Goodman reassured me that he wanted to be a part of the story, and I think he adds a wonderful comedic dimension, and shows us yet another side of Oskar a side that only Stan ever sees." Setting the Scene
As Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close brings Oskar Schell into contact with myriad people all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, the city of New York itself plays a major visual role - in a different way from most films set in the city.
"The New York of this film is a child's New York," notes Stephen Daldry. "We tried to highlight the nooks and crannies of the city that a child would go through rather than the main thoroughfares. We really tried to look at Oskar's version of the city. It's not about the obvious places that people associate with New York, but more of what a child might see, and what a child reacts to."
To emphasise Oskar's viewpoint in every aspect of the film's imagery and sound, Stephen Daldry collaborated with a core artistic team including director of photography Chris Menges, editor Claire Simpson, production designer K.K. Barrett and costume designer Ann Roth. Later he continued the process with composer Alexandre Desplat who entwined the lyrical and whimsical elements of Oskar's story into the score.
Filming began not on the streets, but on the soundstages of JC Studios in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Here, in a studio that traces its roots in the city back to 1907, the film's design crew built the Schell's Manhattan apartment. The production then circled out from there into streets, parks, office buildings, bridges, tunnels, alleyways and residences throughout the city.
"We looked for locations that would show how Oskar sees New York," says K.K. Barrett. "We also had to find and, in many instances, dress houses for the dozens of characters he visits. Oskar's exchanges with these characters are usually very brief, so where they live is often the biggest clue to who these people are. Their homes had to visually reflect the lives of the inhabitants in a subtle but distinct way."
K.K. Barrett continues: "Over all, we wanted to show a New York that is still a melting pot with many different populations in different geographical areas all intertwined; a city of diversity, with contrasting economic levels, ethnicities and activities all around."
Since he is not a native New Yorker, K.K. Barrett used his own first impressions of each of the five boroughs as a guidepost. "In a way, I thought that being a foreigner to New York gave me a leg up in putting myself in Oskar's shoes," he explains. "Even though Oskar lives there, the outer parts of the city beyond his own neighborhood are unfamiliar to him. So, I wanted to approach it the same way he does - to go out and discover places I'd never been."
The production covered a lot of ground, from Far Rockaway up to Harlem and numerous points in-between. The crew filmed Oskar's tentative walk across the Manhattan Bridge in spring wind and light rain. His solitary progress continued through Chinatown and Manhattan's Lower East Side, then moved to the famed Barney Greengrass Deli on the Upper West Side. When Oskar finally confronts his fear of public transportation, gas mask and all, the scene was shot on a closed track at Grand Central Station.
Legendary costume designer Ann Roth, who previously worked with Stephen Daldry on The Reader and The Hours, further brought out the diversity of the city in her designs. The film is her most contemporary yet in collaboration with Stephen Daldry, set just a decade ago. She relates, "I did a lot of my initial research from photographs of the many people coming up Sixth Avenue and Chambers Street on 9/11. The movie takes place from 2001 to 2003, and we tried to capture the subtle differences in fashion to distinguish one year from the other."
The most intriguing part of the job for Ann Roth was costuming Oskar. "He's a kid whose mother buys his clothes," she explains. "He is slightly eccentric and has specific clothes he likes, so, for example, he only wears his black shoes and the corduroy trousers he wears may be getting a little short. But, if his mother buys another pair of shoes or pants, well, Oskar prefers to wear what he's comfortable in. I didn't want the pants to be funny-short, just enough to show they're old ones that he still wears because those are the ones he likes. That's who Oskar is. He's not an Abercrombie & Fitch kind of kid."
When he sets out on his regular searches, Oskar always dons his father's key securely around his neck. He also wears a backpack stuffed with the items he perceives might be imperative to his search and general survival: an Israeli gas mask, a tambourine, duct tape, binoculars, his expedition journal, his grandfather's camera, a safety dog whistle, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, his cell phone, Fig Newtons and his father's circled message to ?notstop looking.
Oskar's mother, on the other hand, keeps things very simple. "We wanted Sandra Bullock's character to look like a working mom who could just fade into the crowd. Shopping isn't a priority for her, not a highlight of her day, or her week, or her month," Ann Roth says. "Skirts, blouses, even her hair, are sort of a non-event, which is hard to do with Sandra Bullock because she's a very striking woman. But Oskar's mom is the kind of woman who, if you asked, 'Who made that? Is that a so-and-so blouse?' she wouldn't have a clue. She's got other things to think about."
For Max von Sydow's character, The Renter, Roth created a Tyrolean Loden cape - a coat of thick, heavy, water resistant wool, like those first produced by Austrian peasants - to wear on his excursions with Oskar.
Ann Roth's work was greatly appreciated by Zoe Caldwell, who says that she found her character the instant she saw herself in costume. "In the script, she was described as a rumpled woman, out of place and out of time," Zoe Caldwell recalls. "And that's who I became when I changed into the clothes Ann Roth had for me. I took one look in the mirror and thought, that's terrific, that's Grandma."
"I've been lucky enough to work with Ann Roth on three movies now," summarises Stephen Daldry. "The important thing to know about Ann Roth is that she doesn't just design costumes; she gauges the development of not only the characters but of the whole film. She is a crucial member of the team and a force to be reckoned with, insomuch as her approach and understanding is not just about what the characters are wearing but the way a director looks at a movie."
As the shoot progressed along Oskar's trail through the five boroughs, Stephen Daldry was fully prepared for the difficulties of filming in America's most densely populated city. Yet, he found the people of New York to be among the great pleasures of the film's experience.
"A lot of the people we met on the streets knew the book," Stephen Daldry says, "and we used many of them in the movie. It's not only the architecture of the city that gives New York so much character; it's the people who live there, and that is reflected throughout the movie. And the city is also incredibly generous, which became a part of the film, just as it is a part of Oskar's story."