A psychological thriller set in the world of New York City ballet, Black Swan stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a featured dancer who finds herself locked in a web of competitive intrigue with a new rival at the company (Mila Kunis). A Fox Searchlight Pictures release by visionary director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler), Black Swan takes a thrilling and at times terrifying journey through the psyche of a young ballerina whose starring role as the Swan Queen turns out to be a part for which she becomes frighteningly perfect.
Black Swan follows the story of Nina (Portman), a ballerina in a New York City ballet company whose life, like all those in her profession, is completely consumed with dance. She lives with her retired ballerina mother Erica (Barbara Hershey) who zealously supports her daughter's professional ambition. When artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) decides to replace prima ballerina Beth Macintyre (Winona Ryder) for the opening production of their new season, "Swan Lake," Nina is his first choice. But Nina has competition: a new dancer, Lily (Kunis), who impresses Leroy as well. Swan Lake requires a dancer who can play both the White Swan with innocence and grace, and the Black Swan, who represents guile and sensuality. Nina fits the White Swan role perfectly but Lily is the personification of the Black Swan. As the two young dancers expand their rivalry into a twisted friendship, Nina begins to get more in touch with her dark side with a recklessness that threatens to destroy her.
Presented by Fox Searchlight Pictures, in association with Cross Creek Pictures, a Prøtøzøa and Phoenix Pictures Production, Black Swan is directed by Darren Aronofsky from a screenplay by Mark Heyman and Andrés Heinz and John McLaughlin, story by Andrés Heinz. The film is produced by Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin and executive produced by Bradley J. Fischer, Ari Handel, Tyler Thompson, Peter Fruchtman, Rick Schwartz, Jon Avnet, David Thwaites and Jennifer Roth. The creative team includes director of photography Matthew Libatique, ASC (Iron Man 2), production designer Thérèse DePrez (Howl), film editor Andrew Weisblum, A.C.E. (Fantastic Mr. Fox), music by Clint Mansell (The Fountain) and music supervisors Jim Black (The Wackness) and Gabe Hilfer (The Wrestler).
The daring and original director Darren Aronofsky (The Wrestler, The Fountain, Requiem for a Dream) lures audiences into a haunting, fractured world of delusions, doubles and paranoia in Black Swan, his first psychological thriller. He spins a sensual and chilling tale of a prima ballerina locked in an obsessive battle with dark impulses that slowly engulf her.
Academy Award® nominee Natalie Portman (Closer) stars as Nina, an ambitious young New York ballet dancer who is after the ultimate double role: the delicately innocent White Swan and the seductively evil Black Swan of the star-making classic "Swan Lake". She gets the role but is unsure if she can let go enough to embody the dark side of the Swan Queen. As she ascends to new heights with her body, her most deeply buried fantasies, jealousies and nightmares begin to ensnare her mind into the blackest depths causing a dangerous clash with the provocative newcomer who is her greatest rival. Nina quickly becomes all too perfectly entwined with the bewitching and deadly Black Swan.
Far from the typical thriller set in a world of crime or haunted houses, Aronofsky's vividly intimate portrait of a woman unraveling at the very seams of her psyche takes place in the least expected of realms, the artistically electric and physically demanding world of professional ballet. For Aronofsky, it was the perfect place to unfold a visually explosive tale of the obsessive pressure to be perfect. As with The Wrestler, the film also gave him a chance to plunge into an unseen world and peel back what makes the people who are driven to sacrifice so much.
Although he started thinking about this story fifteen years ago, Aronofsky notes that Black Swan is intentionally a companion piece to his most recent film, The Wrestler. While wrestling and ballet might seem like they couldn't possibly be more disparate worlds, Black Swan dips into moments of sheer psychological horror unlike anything Aronofsky has done before. The two films are tied together by themes of bodily extremes, souls in turmoil and by a filmmaking style that pulls the audience inside the characters' fascinating inner worlds. "Some people call wrestling the lowest of art forms, and some call ballet the highest of art forms, yet there is something elementally the same. Mickey Rourke as a wrestler was going through something very similar to Natalie Portman as a ballerina," Aronofsky explains. "They're both artists who use their bodies to express themselves and they're both threatened by physical injury, because their bodies are the only tool they have for expression. What was interesting for me was to find these two connected stories in what might appear to be unconnected worlds".
The two films are also tied by a lead performance that dives well beneath the surface, says Aronofsky, who compares Portman's commitment to that of Rourke. "The role of Nina is quite different from anything Natalie has done before," notes Aronofsky, "and she took it to another level. Playing Nina was as much an athletic feat as a feat of acting". The challenges of making Black Swan were also similar to the notably intense production of The Wrestler, perhaps even harder. As secretive as the world of professional wrestling can be, Aronofsky found the ballet world even more insular and closed-off to outsiders. And then there was the training that Natalie Portman had to undertake in order to make the film's ballet scenes as incandescently lyrical as they are full of mounting tension and foreboding. "Ballet is something most people start training for when they're four or five years old and as they live it, it changes their bodies, it transforms them. To have an actress who hasn't gone through all of that convincingly play a professional ballet dancer is the tallest of orders. Yet somehow, with her incredible will and discipline, Natalie became a dancer. It took ten months of vigorous work, but her body transformed and even the most serious dancers were impressed. I'm convinced that the physical work also connected her to the emotional work," states Aronofsky.
Aronofsky notes that he was gratified to find a cast who could take on this challenge. They, in turn, were attracted by a story that became a suspenseful, yet daring, odyssey into a dancer's sudden rise and terrifying descent. Aronofsky finally got the chance to express his idea for Black Swan ten years ago via a screenplay by Andrés Heinz - a dark drama that took place on Broadway, setting up a perilous rivalry between an actress and her mysterious understudy. Aronofsky was intrigued, but having grown up as a witness to his sister's shockingly tough training as a ballet dancer, he wanted to switch the backdrop to that of a premiere New York ballet company. This change led to the creation of Nina and Lily, two competitive rising dance stars willing to sacrifice anything and everything for that one perfect performance. Even as he was engaged in other projects for many years, Aronofsky continued developing the project with Mark Heyman (co-producer of The Wrestler).
It was Aronofsky's idea to merge Heinz's original concept with the story behind the world's most popular ballet, "Swan Lake," which tells the story of a dramatic duel between innocence and wickedness. All the while, he was also working with Heyman to create the macabre new twist which galvanized the tale. In the final draft, the key elements of "Swan Lake" - swans, demons, spells and doubles - became entwined with Nina's psyche as it shatters into a psychosexual kaleidoscope of shards, turning her from a naïve young girl into a dangerous, metamorphosed creature. "Darren and I had talked for years about doing a ballet thriller," recalls Heyman. "What I did was to take the initial drafts of the screenplay and adapt the plot of 'Swan Lake' right into the center of it. That changed everything and became the jumping off point for a modern New York story about duality, about doubles and about the fear of someone or something taking over your life".
"The story became about Nina's fears of losing who she is," continues Aronofsky. "That is something I think everyone can relate to, but Nina becomes completely overtaken by those fears until her reality becomes inseparable from the character she is playing". As the final script became a world unto itself, Heyman says it was increasingly difficult to place it into a genre. Was the story a plunge into biological horror as a woman morphs into a demon swan or a riveting portrait of a driven artist losing control of her mind under extreme pressure? Heyman hopes the answer is both things at once. "My favorite films are always difficult to categorize," says Heyman. "Our hope for Black Swan is that it would be one of those films. That it would scare people but also get under the skin in a lasting way".
The project soon attracted a producing team that included Mike Medavoy, Arnold W. Messer, Brian Oliver and Scott Franklin. "This is both new ground and familiar territory for Darren. On the one hand, it is a departure for him into the psychological thriller element, which is something he's never really attempted before and yet it evokes an intense realism with his attention to detail, camera style and the way he works with actors to get very real performances," says Franklin. Adds Oliver, "If you've seen Darren's films, you know he's doesn't do anything in a standard way. Just as The Wrestler made people really feel what it would be like to be an aging wrestler, he delves deeply into the world of a dancer, while building psychological suspense to fantastic levels". Executive producer Jennifer Roth says of the film, "Black Swan is not simply a thriller nor a movie about dance. It encompasses all these different aspects and crosses over to a dark but fascinating place".
Even before the screenplay for Black Swan was completed, Darren Aronofsky knew who would play Nina, the hopeful solo dancer overtaken by unsettling fantasies and eerie events as she prepares for the greatest role of her life. It had to be Natalie Portman, whose diversity of memorable roles ranges from Queen Amidala in the STAR WARS series to her Oscar®-nominated and Golden Globe®-winning role as a stripper in Mike Nichols adaptation of Closer. Not only had Portman studied ballet as a child, more importantly, she had the commitment and drive to plunge into the immense physical and psychological demands of a part that would have her leaping, spinning and losing touch with reality, all at the same time.
Aronofsky approached her several years ago to talk about the film, then still in a fledgling state. "Very soon after I first started thinking of the idea for Black Swan, I met with Natalie for coffee in Times Square," he recalls. "She had done a lot of ballet before she became an actress and had continued doing it over the years just to stay in shape. She told me straight away that one of the things she'd always wanted to do was play a dancer". Though it would take almost ten years after their meeting before the Black Swan screenplay was finished, when Portman read it, she was riveted by Nina's twisting psychological journey.
Nina starts out as what the ballet world calls a "bunhead," a not-so-endearing term for a ballerina so devoted to dance that nothing else matters, who is sheltered by her equally driven, former-dancer mother and who never really developed an adult life of her own. But when she gets the role of the Swan Queen, it awakens something new in her, a need to explore her deepest, darkest feelings which begin to unhinge the fragile edges of her mind. Nina, like the Swan Queen she wants to embody, suddenly becomes embroiled in a story of enchantment, desire and danger. This pushed Portman to edges that she had never before explored on screen - and required her to peer into the abyss. "Nina is dedicated, hardworking but also obsessive," the actress explains. "She doesn't yet have her own voice as a dancer, as a young woman, but she progressively changes as she searches to find her sensuality and sense of freedom. At the same time, she also starts to come undone, and that was the challenge".
She continues: "What Nina wants is perfection, which is something that can only exist for a moment, a brief, fleeting moment -- but like all artists, she may have to destroy herself to find that. When she tries to become the Black Swan, something dark starts to bubble inside her. It becomes an identity crisis where she's not only unsure of who she is but the lines become blurred between her and other people. She starts literally seeing herself everywhere". Trapped in this dizzying world of doubles and deceptive appearances, of mysterious encounters and erupting wounds, Nina begins to lose control -- and Portman had to do so, also. "As Nina begins to rebel against all the structures around her," she notes, "it comes with all this paranoia that takes her to a dark place, where she isn't sure what other people want from her and whether or not she's losing her mind". Amidst the darkness, Portman was thrilled to have a chance to immerse herself in the ballet world she, like Nina, dreamed about as a young girl. "I loved the authenticity of all these very real dance world details in the screenplay," she says, "and I especially loved how Nina's story parallels 'Swan Lake.' I saw her as someone really trying to break free of a spell - trying to break free of everyone else defining who she is and trying to see through all of it who she really is as a person and an artist".
And yet, as Nina begins to lose the thread of reality, she cannot let anyone know what she's going through, lest she lose the role of the Swan Queen to her most threatening rival, the sensuous, shameless Lily -- who becomes Nina's alternate, both literally and figuratively. Portman was intrigued by Nina and Lily's twisted, envy-driven relationship which operates on several levels. "I like how when they first meet, they size each other up the way that girls really do," she says. "It's a survival mechanism, to scope out who your biggest competition is and in this case, Nina sees right away that Lily is gorgeous, talented and a total threat to her position. But she also doesn't yet know who Lily really is". To reveal all this on screen, Portman put herself through both rigorous physical and psychological preparations. The physical training was beyond anything she ever imagined, as she began training intensively, with single-minded focus, for five hours a day, every day, some ten months before production even began. She did so under the tutelage of several pro-level teachers and trainers -- including Mary Helen Bowers, formerly of the New York City Ballet - who put her through a gruelingly complete dance education in record time.
"I did a tremendous amount of dancing, and I also did a lot of swimming and weight training as well as cross training, so I wouldn't get injured because dance is so hard on the body," Portman explains. "It's incredibly challenging, trying to pick ballet up at 28. Even if you've taken dance lessons before, you just don't realize how much goes into it at the elite level. Every small gesture has to be so specific and so full of lightness and grace. I knew it would be a challenge, but I never expected just how physically tough it turned out to be". In addition to having studied dance in her youth, Portman studied psychology at Harvard, which yielded further insights into Nina's disintegrating psyche, allowing the actress deeper into Nina's surreal inner experience. "I saw Nina as being caught in a cycle of obsession and compulsion," she assesses. "The positive side of that for artists and dancers is that by focusing so hard you can become a virtuoso, but then there's a much darker side, an unhealthy side, in which you can become completely lost. That's where I had to take Nina".
Portman explored that darker side with fearlessness in each of Nina's relationships: with the ballet company's relentless artistic director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) who pushes her to explore the unvisited, dark corners inside herself; with her over-involved, former dancer mother (Barbara Hershey), who keeps a constant close eye on Nina; and by the veteran dancer (Winona Ryder) whose career Nina once idolized and whose sudden downfall sends her reeling.
Surrounding Natalie Portman in Black Swan is an accomplished supporting cast whose performances add to the film's hypnotic mix of beauty, mystery and fear. To play Natalie Portman's rival Lily, Aronofsky chose Mila Kunis, the Ukrainian born actress who has been rapidly rising with roles in Book of Eli and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, who brought the brashness and dark charm to her role as the overly ambitious newcomer.
"Mila plays Lily as someone who has exactly what Nina wants. She is much freer, more alive and more sexual than Nina," says Aronofsky. "Lily has the freedom to express herself and that becomes the source of both great allure and intense friction for Nina". Kunis was instantly drawn to her wildly uninhibited character and to the intriguing idea of playing a dancer though the brutal reality knocked her for a serious loop. "I had this idea in the beginning of grandeur, of feeling graceful and wearing a tutu, but you have no idea how physically demanding it is until you do it," Kunis says. "It really takes a toll on your body!"
Nevertheless, she threw herself into training and into exploring the upending effects Lily has on Nina. "The key to Lily is that she had to be exactly the opposite of Nina, her mirror opposite, in every way," says Kunis. "Even their dance styles are opposite. Nina is a very technical, beautiful dancer while Lily is more raw, free and spontaneous. Nina's whole life is ballet but Lily eats hamburgers, parties, has sex, does drugs and explores everything. She's the complete antithesis of Nina and embodies the Black Swan". Taking on Lily as both the ultimate impulsive woman and an apparition was a tightrope act, one Kunis says she could not have done without Darren Aronofsky providing a safety net. "I wouldn't have done this movie if not for Darren," she confesses. "This character could be very iffy in the wrong hands. There isn't a right way to play Lily. I didn't read the script saying, 'Oh, I've got this character figured out; I know exactly how to play her,' because in every scene she's different. But I trusted that in Darren's hands it would work. I don't know if I would've felt like that in the hands of any other director".
If Lily represents all that Nina wants to access within herself, then the company's brilliant choreographer and artistic director, Thomas Leroy, is the man who pushes her without mercy to do just that. Playing Thomas is Cesar-winning French actor Vincent Cassel, who is lauded in Europe but has also worked in a range of Hollywood films such as Oceans Twelve, Shrek, Elizabeth and Eastern Promises. "Vincent is one of my favorite actors on the planet," says Aronofsky. "I'm a big fan of his work in both his French and American films. Here he plays a Machiavellian character - the artistic director who is all about the art, and doesn't care about the victims he leaves along the way. He was wonderful to work with in the role, in part because he moves so beautifully". Cassel says the role was impossible to resist. "First of all there was Darren, who I always wanted to work with. Then, there was Natalie, who I've admired for years. After that, came the idea of making a thriller set in the ballet world, which is so attractive. The ingredients were cool. I knew it would be dark but very sexy. Then, I discovered Mila and soon Winona Ryder got involved, and I was going to be in the middle of all these women like a circus master. So, honestly, how could I say no?" he laughs.
Yet, Cassel also knew Thomas would not be an easy man to inhabit especially in his willingness to push the dancers to their limit. "He's not exactly a womanizer," he explains. "I don't think he's really interested in women so much as he's excited by going after the extremes of perfection, beauty and art. He wants to see the dancers he chooses blossom into the ultimate expression of himself, and he drives them very, very hard". To play Thomas with an authentic air, Cassel dove into research, studying the lives and magnetic personalities of the world's great choreographers, from Balanchine to Baryshnikov. He was further inspired by observing the film's choreographer, renowned dancer Benjamin Millepied of the New York City Ballet. "Seeing the way Benjamin interacted with the dancers, and the way he carried himself, gave me a lot of interesting input," notes Cassel.
Rounding out the main cast are two Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe®-winning actresses: Winona Ryder as Beth, the company's legendary star dancer who finds herself rapidly falling from grace and Barbara Hershey as Nina's mother, Erica, who both shields and smothers her daughter. For Ryder's character, Beth is key to Nina's story as a prophesy of what awaits her in the future. "Beth has been the star for awhile but now she's at an age where, in one swoop, she gets fired and dumped by her lover, the ballet's Artistic Director," explains Ryder. "It brings up the whole question of what dancers have to endure, the tragedy and unfairness of how short their careers are". She continues, "I think it also deals more generally with the quest for perfection, because what dancers have to go through to perfect their performances is beyond anything an audience ever sees. Beth has worked on her art since she was a child and suddenly, she comes to a place where everything she's worked so hard to develop has just broken her down. And she doesn't handle it well".
Aronofsky says of Ryder, "Winona was fantastic for the role because she is such a superstar herself. I think the audience will really connect to her as the famous prima ballerina who is being pushed out as Nina steps in to replace her". Hershey, too, was entranced by Black Swan and her unusual role. "I'm sure some people will look at Erica as the mother from hell but I see her as a mother in hell, which is a big difference," says Hershey. "I think she's pretty tortured. For everything she does, there's this opposite thing happening at the same time. She loves her daughter yet there's an obsession to it. She wants her to succeed but at the same time she knows her fragile mental state. She's terribly jealous of her daughter, yet she wants the world for her. She wants Nina to fly -- but she doesn't want her to leave".
Both women were captivated by Aronofsky's techniques for working with actors. "I wasn't available for rehearsal because I was working on another film in England at the time," recalls Hershey, "so Darren had me do something I thought was so brilliant. He asked me to write two letters to Nina as my character. So, while I was working on this other project, I was already thinking of the relationship between Nina and her mother. I started writing and the character just started speaking. Then Darren took these letters and gave them to Natalie at strategic moments".
Natalie Portman (Nina) made her debut in Luc Besson's The Professional, in 1994. She won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and received an Academy Award nomination for her performance in Mike Nichol's Closer. She will next be seen in Ivan Reitman's untitled romantic-comedy opposite Ashton Kutcher, about two long-term friends who share a casual sexual relationship without falling in love and ruining everything. The Paramount film is slated for release on January 21, 2011. Also upcoming, Portman has David Gordon Green's Your Highness, co-starring with Danny McBride, James Franco and Zooey Deschanel. The story focuses on an arrogant, lazy prince who must complete a quest to save his father's kingdom, with Portman as his love interest. The Universal Pictures film is slated for release April 8, 2011. Following that, this summer, she will appear in Kenneth Branagh's Thor, portraying Jane Foster, love interest of Thor. The Paramount film is slated for release on May 20, 2011.
Additionally, Portman is set to topline and produce road-trip comedy Best Buds through her handsomecharlie banner, with Vendome Pictures CEO Philippe Rousselet. The film, based on Jamie Denbo's script, centers on a woman who is on the verge of a complete nervous breakdown on the eve of her wedding. To save herself, she goes on a road trip to San Diego with two best friends, relying on a combo of marijuana and the bonds of their decades-long friendship.
On screen, Portman has starred in over twenty-five films, including Heat, Beautiful Girls, Everyone Says I Love You, Mars Attacks!, Anywhere But Here (Golden Globe Nomination), Where the Heart Is, Cold Mountain, Garden State, Free Zone, V For Vendetta, Paris Je t'aime, Goya's Ghosts, My Blueberry Nights, Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium, The Other Boleyn Girl, New York, I Love You and Brothers. Additionally, she starred in George Lucas' Star Wars: Episode I The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode II Attack Of The Clones, and Star Wars: Episode III Revenge Of The Sith. The prequels to the wildly popular Star Wars trilogy of the 70's and 80's rank among the top-grossing films ever produced worldwide. On stage, Portman starred in Mike Nichol's Shakespeare in the Park production of The Seagull, opposite Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Philip Seymour Hoffman; as well as James Lapine's Broadway production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
Behind the lens, Portman has taken turns writing, directing and producing. Her credits include EVE which she wrote and directed. The film debuted at the 2008 Venice Film Festival and stars Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, and Olivia Thirlby. She also wrote and directed a short film for New York, I Love You, about a day in the life of a father and daughter in Central Park. The film, released in October 2009, showcases twelve filmmakers who each directed a vignette illustrating the universal theme of love within the five boroughs of New York City. Additionally, she executive produced and starred in Don Roos' adaptation of Ayelet Waldman's novel Love And Other Impossible Pursuits, opposite Scott Cohen and Charlie Tahan. The film, which premiered at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival, revolves around a young woman who tries to recover her marriage through her relationship with her stepson.
Portman is currently developing film projects through her production company, handsomecharlie films, which has an overhead deal with Participant Media. Together with Producer Annette Savitch, the company is focused on finding intelligent, accessible films across varied genres, as well as female-driven comedies. handsomecharlie films recently set up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with Darko Entertainment at Lionsgate, Booksmart at Fox, Best Buds at Vendome Pictures with Portman attached to star, and they are partnered with Plan B at Paramount to produce Important Artifacts, based on the book by Leanne Shapton, with Brad Pitt and Portman attached to star. Their first produced film, HESHER, was recently bought for distribution by Newmarket at the Sundance Film Festival and is slated for release in 2011. The film is directed by Spencer Susser and stars Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Portman became the first Ambassador of Hope for FINCA, an international village banking microfinance program providing small loans and savings programs to the world's poorest families so they may create their own jobs, raise household incomes, and improve their standard of living thereby reducing poverty worldwide. As the Ambassador of Hope, Portman has proved to be a globally aware and dedicated individual who supports the work of FINCA through her advocacy and visits to FINCA International programs in countries such as Guatemala, Ecuador and Uganda. She has also met with high-level United States Members of Congress to lobby for support of international microfinance funding. A Harvard graduate with a degree in psychology, Portman has also studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem where she learned Arabic and Hebrew, and studied the Anthropology of Violence and Israeli history. Portman currently resides in Los Angeles.
Vincent Cassel (Thomas Leroy) is a prolific and prominent actor who's known for his bold choice of roles and fearless inhabitance of his characters. Earlier this year, Cassel was seen starring in Jean-Francois Richet's Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 and Mesrine: Killer Instinct. The two-part films tell the true story of Jacques Mesrine, who became France's most notorious felon throughout the 1970's. Arch-fiend to some and folk hero to others, Mesrine's illegal career spanned nearly two decades of brazen bank robberies, prison breaks, and ingenious identity changes. Critically acclaimed worldwide, the film was a commercial success in France, garnering the country's highest honor in film, ten César Award nominations and winning the awards for Best Actor and Best Director. For his performance, Cassel went on to receive Best Actor honors at the Lumiere Awards, the Etoile D'Or and the Tokyo International Film Festvial.
Cassel has completed production on Dominik Moll's The Monk, toplining an 18th century-set story based on Matthew Lewis' Gothic novel depicting the rise and tragic downfall of Capucin Ambrosio, a respected Spanish monk. He has also recently finished filming David Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method, alongside Viggo Mortensen, Michael Fassbender and Keira Knightley. The film revolves around a love triangle that develops between psychiatry pioneers Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung who both fall in love with Jung's patient. Currently in production, Cassel has Romain Gavras' first feature, Our Day Will Come (aka Notre Jour Viendra) starring opposite Olivier Bartélémy. The film, which Cassel also produced, focuses on two rage-fueled outcasts who set off on a roadtrip of hate, violence and self-destruction. In addition to this, Cassel is simultaneously in development on an untitled romantic comedy set in Brazil with Kim Chapiron set to direct and Cassel writing, producing and starring in the film.
Cassel began his career in France in 1988 starting out with small roles on television and in film. In 1995, he made his mark in Mathieu Kassovitz's critically acclaimed film La haine, where he played a troubled youth from the deprived outskirts of Paris. For his performance, Cassel received his first César Award nominations - for Best Actor and Most Promising Newcomer. Following this breakthrough performance, Cassel has appeared in over twenty-five films in both France and the United States. Notable film credits in France include Gilles Mimouni's L'appartement, Gaspar Noe's Irréversible, Jan Kounen's Dobermann, and Jacques Audiard's Sur Mes Lèvres, for which he received his third César Award nomination.
Cassel has appeared in various English-language films such as James Ivory's Jefferson In Paris, Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth, Luc Besson's The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc, Mathieu Kassovitz's The Crimson Rivers, Christophe Gans' The Brotherhood Of The Wolf, Paul mcguigan's The Reckoning, Andrew Adamson's Shrek, Jan Kounen's Renegade, Mikael Håfström's Derailed and David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Cassel also co-starred in Stephen Soderbergh's Ocean's Twelve for which he later reprised the role in Ocean's Thirteen. Behind the lens, Cassel also heads a production company, 120 Films. Formed in 1997, the banner has developed and produced Shabbat Night Fever, Irréversible, Renegade, Secret Agents, Sheitan, Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1 and Mesrine: Killer Instinct.
Russian-born Mila Kunis (Lily) has emerged as one of Hollywood's most sought-after and engaging young actresses. She most recently starred opposite Denzel Washington in the box office hit The Book Of Eli, directed by the Hughes Brothers. In 2008 she starred in Judd Apatow's hit comedy, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, in which she played Rachel opposite Jason Segel, Kirsten Bell, and Jonah Hill. She also starred in 20th Century Fox's Max Payne opposite Mark Wahlberg. Kunis began her acting career in television commercials, then became known for her roles on two of Fox's most successful series: That '70s Show, playing Jackie Burkhardt, which earned her two Young Star Awards for best actress in a television series and the voice of Meg on Family Guy.
In September 2009, Kunis starred with Jason Bateman in the Miramax film Extract. She was most recently seen in the comedy Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carrell as one of the characters the couple encounter on a date gone awry. Currently, Kunis is filming Friends with Benefits opposite Justin Timberlake. The film is about the relationship between two friends (Timberlake and Kunis) that gets complicated when they decide to get romantic.
Multi-award-winning actress Barbara Hershey (Erica) has showcased her talent in some of Hollywood's most memorable films, television movies, miniseries and series. Hershey won an Emmy® and Golden Globe Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Special for A Killing in a Small Town and also garnered unprecedented back-to-back Best Actress Awards at the Cannes Film Festival for her performances in Shy People and A World Apart, as well as an Academy Award nomination for The Portrait of a Lady. The Hollywood native made her feature film debut in With Six You Get Eggroll. With title roles in The Baby Maker and Boxcar Bertha Hershey quickly became one of Hollywood's most popular young actresses.
In the 1980's Hershey starred in The Stunt Man with Peter O'Toole, The Right Stuff with Ed Harris, Sam Shepard and Scott Glenn, The Natural with Robert Redford and Robert Duvall, Hannah And Her Sisters with Woody Allen, Mia Farrow, Dianne Wiest and Michael Caine, Hoosiers with Gene Hackman and Dennis Hopper, Tin Men with Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito, Shy People with Jill Clayburgh, The Last Temptation Of Christ with Willem Dafoe and Harvey Keitel, Beaches with Bette Midler and John Heard and A World Apart with Tim Roth. Hershey returned to television in 1990 with her award-winning performance as Candy Morrison in A Killing in a Small Town, co-starring Brian Dennehy and Hal Holbrook. She followed with a string of television successes, including her portrayal of Clara Allen in the miniseries Return To Lonesome Dove with Jon Voight and Louis Gossett, Jr. and the role of Dr. Francesca Alberghetti in David E. Kelly's series Chicago Hope on CBS.
During this period, Hershey remained active in feature films. She was nominated for an Oscar and Golden Globe for her performance in The Portrait Of A Lady with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovich and also starred in Merchant-Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, as well as the award-winning Lantana from Australian director Ray Lawrence. In 2007 Hershey starred in both The Bird Can't Fly directed by Threes Anna and Love Comes Lately directed by Jan Schutte. Both premiered to critical acclaim at the San Sebastian and Toronto Film Festivals, respectively. Following these, Hershey returned to television to star with Shirley MacLaine in Kevin Sullivan's Anne Of Green Gables: A New Beginning for PBS, for which she received a Gemini Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Supporting Role in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series.
Next, Hershey co-starred opposite Jeroen Krabbé as 'Helene' in Schweitzer, Gavin Millar's biopic of Nobel Peace-Prize winning physician, philosopher and theologian Albert Schweitzer. In December 2009, Hershey co-starred as the iconic Mrs. Hubbard in the new film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express, part of the new Poirot film series for ITV with David Suchet. Earlier this year, she co-starred opposite Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson in James Wan's Insidious, the story of a family who is beset by vengeful spirits from another realm. The film will have its premiere during this year's Midnight Madness at the Toronto Film Festival.
With two Oscar® nominations and a Golden Globe award to her credit, Winona Ryder (Beth) hails as one of Hollywood's most sought after talents and classic beauties. Ryder will next be seen in the Universal comedy The Dilemma for director Ron Howard. Vince Vaughn, Kevin James and Jennifer Connelly also star. The film will be released January 14th, 2011. Previously, she was seen in Rebecca Miller's The Private Lives of Pippa Lee opposite Robin Wright Penn, Alan Arkin, Keanu Reeves and Julianne Moore, and in JJ Abrams' Star Trek starring Chris Pine, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban and Eric Bana. As "Jo" in Gillian Armstrong's highly acclaimed version of the Louisa May Alcott classic, Little Women, Ryder received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. The previous year she was Oscar® nominated, and won the Golden Globe and National Board of Review Awards for Best Supporting Actress, for her performance in Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence. Ryder also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Richard Benjamin's Mermaids.
In 1999, Ryder starred in and served as Executive Producer on the critically acclaimed Girl, Interrupted, based on the bestselling memoir and directed by James Mangold. While the film marked Ryder's first feature as Executive Producer, she previously produced the documentary The Day My God Died, which depicted the human story behind the modern tragedy of child sex trafficking in India.
Noted for constantly challenging herself with each project, Ryder has worked with some of the most acclaimed directors in film today including Jean Pierre Jeunet's Alien: Resurrection, Woody Allen's Celebrity, Nicholas Hytner's The Crucible, Billie August's The House Of The Spirits, Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, Jim Jarmusch's Night on Earth, Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, Michael Lehman's Heathers, Ben Stiller's Reality Bites, Al Pacino's Looking For Richard, Joan Chen's Autumn In New York, Janusz Kaminski's Lost Souls, Jocelyn Moorehouse's How To Make An American Quilt, David Wain's The Ten and Richard Linklater's A Scanner Darkly. On television, Ryder lent her voice to both "The Simpsons" and "Dr. Katz". She also narrated a Grammy-nominated album, Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl. Additionally, Ryder appeared in the season finale episode of "Strangers With Candy" and on an episode of "Friends".
In 1997, Ryder was honored with Showest's Female Star of the Year, the Motion Picture Club's Female Star of the Year, as well as receiving an honorary degree from San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater. She served as a juror for the 51st Annual Cannes International Film Festival under Martin Scorsese and received the Peter J. Owens Award for "brilliance, independence and integrity" at the 2000 San Francisco Film Festival. Ryder was also honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Ryder served on the Board of Trustees to the American Indian College Fund, which helps Native Americans preserve and protect their culture through education. She has been very involved with the Klaas Kids Foundation since the organization's inception in 1994.