With CASANOVA, Academy Award®-nominated director Lasse Hallström ("The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat") creates a sharp, sophisticated modern comedy from the long-running legend of Giacomo Casanova, the Renaissance-era spy, soldier, writer, philosopher and adventurer who became famed as a notorious lover of women.
Though Casanova's life and loves have been explored in dozens of screen incarnations, he has never been seen in so essentially human a predicament: befuddled by his stolen heart and trying to become a better man in his own clever fashion. The film is at once the director's most delightfully romantic and comedic work to date--as well as a playful exploration into the timeless conflicts between repression and sensuality, disguises and identity, desire and love.
Key to the vision for the film was creating a Casanova with a contemporary edge: youthful, accessible and emotionally true-to-life. Running away with this imaginative concept, the film's screenwriters bring forth a very different view of Casanova's myth. Here, Casanova is not only a dashing rebel and wit, but also a vulnerable man who is chasing after love as Bishop Pucci (Academy Award® winner Jeremy Irons) of the Inquisition chases after him. Caught up in a comic whirl of disguises, duels, deceit and love-struck desire, Casanova begins to see the vital difference between the allure of conquest and the power of true love.
Based on a story by Kimberly Simi and Michael Cristofer the screenplay was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and Kimberly Simi.
The World's Greatest Lover Trying to Navigate Real Love: The Story of CASANOVA
The notion of the world's greatest lover falling head over heels for a woman who considers him unworthy--and setting out on the ultimate romantic quest of his life--was first imagined by screenwriter Kimberly Simi. Simi's early draft of CASANOVA drew the attention of producer Leslie Holleran, whose long-time collaboration with Lasse Hallström has included such films as "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat" and "The Shipping News." Knowing Hallström's work so intimately, Holleran knew that CASANOVA would be an exciting change of pace, allowing the director the chance to push into brand-new directions.
"Lasse has always been known for his unfailing sense of human nature and for being an extraordinary observer of the small moments in life," Holleran notes. "Now he takes on a larger story full of romance, mischief and humor--but with that same empathy for people and that same fascination with the reasons why people do the things that they do."
Down the road, the screenplay was purchased for the Mark Gordon Company to produce, and Gordon, too, was quickly smitten with the story's potential.
"We felt this story would bring a contemporary and comic spin to the famous tale," recalls Gordon. "What I thought was so wonderful about this CASANOVA is that you have this great lover who manages to completely lose his heart--yet to the only woman who won't succumb to his charms. There's so much going against these two coming together that Casanova has to wage a tremendous and very funny battle in the name of love. From Kim's original script we did a number of different drafts with Michael Cristofer and Jeffrey Hatcher."
As the script for CASANOVA was developed, Hallström became even more enamored with its clever dialogue, deliciously pointed humor and light-hearted ambiance of romance. The film was like nothing else Hallström had ever done, yet it also offered the kind of rich characters and magical setting that have always drawn the award-winning director.
"This is a big departure for me because it is probably the most outright comedy I've ever made," Hallström comments. "The final script was rich, comic and very clever--and I welcomed the challenge to create a tone I've never tried, mixing a kind of classical comedy together with very strong dramatic and romantic elements. Ultimately, we had a really great script, a really great cast and in Heath Ledger, a superb Casanova."
The producers in turn were thrilled to have Hallström at the helm of CASANOVA. "There's always something so magical about his movies," says Gordon. "They have this almost indescribable quality of joyous wonder to them--and they can be incredibly moving as well as being very funny and charming. Ever since I saw 'My Life As A Dog,' I've been entranced by his work."
For Hallström, the story was also a chance to tackle a favorite literary and Hollywood legend from an original and very contemporary point-of-view. Observes producer Betsy Beers: "We present a much more upbeat portrait of Casanova than any that has been seen before--one that is irresistibly clever yet also very believable. In some ways, it's a very modern story of an extraordinary man who finally meets a woman who isn't impressed with who he is. By transporting that idea to Venice in the 1700s, it becomes something full of surprises."
Beers continues: "It's also a timeless story that's very much about disguises and who people really are underneath the masks they wear. In CASANOVA, you have all of these people desperately trying to be someone else before coming to the conclusion that the only way they can get their heart's desire is by being themselves. That's an important theme that is woven throughout the film's characters, from Casanova to Francesca and beyond."
Swordsman, Artist, Genius and Fool in Love: Finding a 21st Century Casanova
He would become known for all time as the world's greatest lover but Casanova was much more than that. Renowned for his sharp intellect and devastating wit, he was also a doctor of law, a soldier, a magician, a writer, a philosopher and a gifted athlete, among other things, all of which only enhanced his reputation for being irresistible to women and immune to settling down with just one special person.
Finding an actor who could embody all of Casanova's most extraordinary qualities--and then allow them to fall apart in Casanova's most poignant moments of heartbreak, while suggesting his potential to become a better man through the auspices of an authentic love--was a challenge for the filmmakers. Early on, they had searched for an actor in his 30s or 40s who could project the feeling of someone who has lived hard and loved a lot of beautiful women but is beginning to feel the twinges of wanting to settle down. But when they saw the far younger Heath Ledger, everything instantly changed.
"Heath walked in the room and he was Casanova," remembers Betsy Beers. "It was one of those amazing things. He was funny, charming and very, very seductive. But he was also elegant and quite vulnerable."
Continues Leslie Holleran: "We might have been imagining a man who was a little bit older, but, in fact, I think it turned out to be much more romantic and more fun to find someone as drop-dead sexy, full of devilish wit and fun as Heath can be. Heath suggests, in a delicate way, the sensual rather than the sexual nature of Casanova."
Ledger not only seemed to possess the mix of dramatic and comedic skills central to the role, but he also offered a physical prowess that proved invaluable for the film's sword-clanging, chase-filled action. "Heath is smart, easygoing, captivating and his physical abilities are amazing," comments Lasse Hallström.
Having previously demonstrated an ability to move from boisterous comedy as in "A Knight's Tale" to intense drama as in "Monster's Ball," Ledger was instantly attracted to the screenplay. He also simply couldn't resist playing one of the most famous seduction artists in history, especially in such a novel way.
"I loved the script and I've always really admired Lasse as a director so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him. I thought Casanova as he was written in this screenplay would be an incredible amount of fun to play," Ledger says. "And of course, I was only too happy to travel to Venice!"
Once he committed to the role, Ledger began to read up on the real Casanova, but he quickly decided not to delve too deeply into his real life. "I tackled some of Casanova's journals and autobiography but I didn't want to follow them to a tee," he explains. "I wanted to keep my portrait of him more loose."
In fact, Ledger had a more modern lothario in mind as he began to explore the character on screen. "Thousands of women were falling in love with him all the time. So when he finally finds a woman who isn't attracted to any of that, that's what really devastates him--and interests him. He sees that here's a chance that he can convince Francesca that there's a worthwhile man underneath the myth, and he'll do whatever he must to prove that to her."
The Spark that Lit Casanova's Fire: Finding an Actress to Play the Most Independent Woman in Venice
After a lifetime of easy romantic conquests, Casanova finally collides with the one woman who is every bit his romantic, intellectual and physical equal: Francesca Bruni, the Renaissance writer whose wicked wit, savvy smarts and classical beauty make her the most formidable woman in all of Venice--and the one woman who has little use for Casanova's initial attempts at conquest…until she begins to recognize something sublime in his whimsy.
Lasse Hallström was highly enamored of the character from the minute he read the script and knew he would need to find a very special young actress to take on the role. "Francesca is the one person with the power to change Casanova's life. She's really essentially a modern woman--strong-willed, smart and way ahead of her time," he observes. "Casanova was, in reality, a man who had a tremendous ability to empathize with women, to really talk to them and I think someone like Francesca would have been very intriguing to him."
Just as it was a challenge to find a contemporary leading man to take on Casanova's almost mystical charms, so, too, the filmmakers searched for a strong-willed actress who could stand up to those charms--and confidently walk away from them. They found what they were looking for in newcomer Sienna Miller, whose feistiness and fresh beauty seemed to immediately click with Heath Ledger's swashbuckling style.
"We auditioned a lot of women for the part," recalls Hallström, "but Sienna had that combination of intelligence, charisma and charm that actually carries the character and makes Casanova's love for her so believable."
Adds Mark Gordon: "We wanted to find a relatively new face and Sienna stood out as someone who had Francesca's strength and fire but also had the beauty and sensuality that was required. She had all the elements that make Francesca an amazing woman and we quickly discovered that she and Heath had a wonderful chemistry together."
Sienna Miller faced, in Francesca, the greatest challenge of her young career. "I had done a number of contemporary films and was very keen to do something period when along came this role," she says, "with a woman who is fiery and intelligent and feminist and political all in the 18th Century. So I got my corset and I also got a wonderfully strong female part all in one!"
Miller summarizes: "It is such a joy to play someone who is so passionate and independent. As an actress it was just a dream role. Francesca is a non-conformist in every sense of the word--someone who even in her time was definitely not afraid to speak her mind."
Rogue's Gallery: Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Oliver Platt and More Join the Supporting Cast
Joining Heath Ledger and Sienna Miller in CASANOVA is a supporting cast of award-winning actors and comic personalities who bring the wild machinations of 18th Century Venice to life. Academy Award® winner Jeremy Irons ("Dead Ringers," "Reversal Of Fortune") takes on the key role of Casanova's chief nemesis--the Pope's enforcer and probing detective, Bishop Pucci, who plots to catch Casanova in an act of infidelity. For Lasse Hallström, the juxtaposition of Irons' trademark, cool "Englishness" with the outrageous situations that Pucci finds himself in suggested lots of comic potential.
"I've always admired Jeremy Irons and his very precise command of the English language," says Hallström. "He may not have done a lot of comedy on film before but I could just imagine him in the Pucci part, being able to have a lot of fun with the dialogue and Pucci's very dry, sarcastic way of speaking. Jeremy has an amazing talent to bend the language any way he wants."
As he heads for a collision with Casanova, Pucci's belief in his own infallibility and his epic arrogance only heightens the humor of his character. Irons was intrigued by the chance to play such a comical role, something he hadn't done since his early stage days. "People don't normally think of me as doing comedy so it was nice to be able to do something unusual," says Irons.
The stumbling efforts of Pucci to snare Casanova also recalled, for Irons, another iconic comic character. "I think there is an element of Inspector Clouseau about Pucci in that he always seems to be barking up the wrong tree," he laughs. "It is envy of Casanova that motivates him. I think that Pucci would like to be young and have every woman falling into his arms. His morals are very suspect. He is a careerist and has been sent by the Vatican to clean up Venice. But of course he wants to do so efficiently with the least trouble for himself."
Meanwhile, for the part of the bumbling "lard king" of Genoa, Papprizzio, Oliver Platt brought the requisite elements of fool and farce. Though he is one of the film's most outrageous characters, the filmmakers felt strongly that Papprizzio should not be a simple parody: he had to be someone who is first and foremost a real human being. They brought in Oliver Platt for his skill at creating a mixture of bathos, pathos and comedy.
"Oliver really makes Papprizzio work and makes him utterly believable," says Lasse Hallström. "He's very true to the emotion of the scenes and I think he gives Papprizzio a very authentic presence. He brings the character to life by making him emotional as well as funny."
Platt quickly made the role all his own. "The idea was that Papprizzio comes across in the beginning as very brusque and confident--but we soon find out that he actually has a tremendous amount of self-doubt about himself," says Platt. "He is also conned in a very elaborate and amusing hoax by Casanova. He is profoundly duped, but the way he is duped actually gives him a lot of satisfaction and improves his self-image, which is a nice twist on things."
"Oliver is a scene-stealer," comments Mark Gordon. "He is so funny you can't help but be drawn to him every time that he is on the screen. I remember the first day he was working. First of all he looked hilarious: he had these fake teeth and simply glancing at him you just had to laugh. He was magnetic, entertaining and embraced the role of Papprizzio with a relish that really comes across."
Papprizzio's unlikely love interest becomes none other than Francesca's mother, Andrea, played by acclaimed actress Lena Olin. "Andrea is part of one of the more unusual love stories that you might see on screen," says Lasse Hallström, who never had any doubts about casting his wife in the role. "Lena exudes beauty and intelligence, and that's not just her husband speaking! I think she is an extraordinary actress and I loved this part for her. Working together with Lena on both 'Chocolat' and CASANOVA has been great, and I really want more opportunities for us to work together."
For Lena Olin, Andrea presented the challenge of playing a formidable and stately lady who finds herself in a highly comic situation. "I think Andrea is sort of imprisoned by the period and her position in life because she is an upper-class woman who has no means and no money," Olin says. "She is an extremely passionate character who is tied down by convention and circumstances. I think she falls in love with Papprizzio because he's so different. He's so out of the ordinary, just the physical size of him, he's real flesh and he's real passion. He's a very sensual man and she sees that and wants to marry him."
To play Victoria, the woman who is first promised to Casanova and then cleverly schemes up a plot against him, Natalie Dormer was the perfect fit. The English actress had only recently graduated from drama school, but Lasse Hallström was emphatic that the newcomer was meant for the part. "She was so right for the role," says Hallström. "She is smart and funny and a real screen talent. She also has a period look that is just right for the film. I predict a bright future for her."
Dormer, who graduated from the Webber Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London in April 2004, is delighted with her screen debut, which also allowed her to put her impressive fencing skills (she studied the Olympic sport) to use. "To play someone who is girlie and dedicated to that old-school method of drawing men in with her sheer femininity was a lot of fun," Dormer says. "I get to prance around in ruffle skirts dripping with lace!"
Leslie Holleran agrees that Natalie is a star on the rise. "Natalie Dormer knocked us out with her very first read, and from the moment Lasse looked at her audition she was Victoria. We explained to her: 'Before, you were a conniving, sleep-around-with-everybody gal, and now, you are the complete virgin who gets smitten with Casanova and has a deep sexuality burning inside.' Either way she was perfect for the part. She could do either side of the character in the most convincing way. And she is so fantastic to look at; the camera just loves her."
Another rising star, Charlie Cox, was cast as Giovanni, Francesca's younger brother and the young man who is, in a way, Casanova's protégé. "I auditioned Charlie personally in London," says Lasse Hallström, "and he immediately got the part. The character is quite interesting; he starts out as an awkward young boy and develops into something very striking: he learns how to handle love."
Cox, whose last film, "The Merchant of Venice," was also shot in the famed Italian city, imbues Giovanni with a brashness similar to that of his on-screen sister, Francesca. "We have that typical older sister/younger brother relationship where they slightly annoy each other but also really care for one another," he says. "And Giovanni also has a wilder side. Through Giovanni, we get to see what the young Casanova might have been like."
Rounding out the cast is Omid Djalili, a talented comedian and character actor, who plays Lupo, Casanova's right-hand man, with whom he shares a witty rapport. Djalili's comedy background was a great asset in portraying the "short, fat, balding" counterpart to Heath Ledger's tall, blond, good-looking Adonis. "Casanova loves Lupo but is also frustrated by him and, on the other hand, Lupo is frustrated by Casanova but also devoted to him," explains Djalili.
Most of all, Djalili, like the rest of his cast-mates, was drawn to the film because of its engaging story and exciting mix of new and veteran talent. "I think the spirit of happiness and creativity that we all found during the production infuses the film," he summarizes.
The Look of Love: CASANOVA Recreates the Magical World of 18th Century Venice
Britches, Gowns, Wigs and Masks: The Costumes of CASANOVA
Casanova's Legacy: A Brief History of the Legend
LASSE HALLSTRÖM's (DIRECTOR)
KIMBERLY SIMI (SCREENPLAY BY/STORY BY)
JEFFREY HATCHER (SCREENPLAY BY)
MICHAEL CRISTOFER (STORY BY)