THE GENESIS OF THE DA VINCI CODE - FROM BOOK TO SCREEN
The phenomenal success of Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code was just beginning to invade the public consciousness when producer John Calley was encouraged to read the book by Sony Chairman Howard Stringer. "I was crazed by it, fascinated. It was a first-rate thriller," Calley recalls. He immediately optioned the film rights.
At the same time, Imagine Entertainment co-chairman Brian Grazer and his partner, director and producer Ron Howard, were also keen on adapting the book to the screen. Grazer was especially intrigued by some of its underlying issues, "Not only did I like The Da Vinci Code as an entertaining and exciting read, but there were certain profound things about the story that caught my attention. There were questions of history versus the creation of history -- questions I found exciting and compelling."
When Grazer and Howard learned that Calley had already optioned the rights, they approached him with their ideas about a movie version of The Da Vinci Code and a partnership was formed.
Howard's wife was reading the book with her book group when he mentioned that he might direct a film version, and was delighted that their reactions were all glowing. He says: "I discovered the book more or less the way the whole world did -- through amazing word-of-mouth. People are interested in it for different reasons and are personally impacted by it in a variety of ways."
But the main reason he was eager to direct The Da Vinci Code has to do with his love of the adventure thriller genre. "This story has all the style and traditional suspense elements that make a movie work as an entertaining narrative," says Howard. "It takes the viewer along with the confidence that it's headed in a particular direction but then surprises you in so many ways. That's why the story Dan Brown created so captivated his readers. It feels familiar as a mystery and as a thriller but then, wow, there's this fascinating turn of events."
Calley was glad to hear of Howard's interest in The Da Vinci Code, having long searched for the right opportunity to work with the Oscar®-winning director. "I've always admired Ron," says Calley. "He's skillful and moderate in the best sense, in that he never has an agenda. He was a great choice for this project since he brings a kind of fundamental intelligence that is totally appropriate to the material."
Having previously collaborated with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman on A Beautiful Mind and Cinderella Man, Howard felt he was the natural choice to adapt Dan Brown's book. "It was a pretty daunting task," says Howard. "By the time we'd all decided to make it into a movie, the book had gone from being a big hit to being this historic success story. I'd already been working very closely with Akiva and he and I had some fairly deep conversations about the novel, because it's more than just believing it would make a good movie story. In choosing to take it to the screen you also have to ask yourself a lot of the questions that the book poses to the reader. I've never really been involved in a film project like this, one that not only generates feeling and emotion and is entertaining, but also really stimulates great conversation."
Goldsman himself says he was a bit daunted by the task of adapting Brown's best-selling literary phenomenon to the screen, since so many people had read it and had visualized it in their own minds. "I was tremendously impressed by the book and had absolutely no idea how to adapt it since it's such a complex, labyrinthine and intricate piece of fiction," Goldsman confesses. "My inclination was to shy away from it. But then I sat down with Ron, and he had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do with it that he turned me around and gave me the confidence to try."
Two-time Academy Award® winner Tom Hanks, who embodies Dan Brown's protagonist Robert Langdon in the film, also acknowledges the challenges in trying to adapt such a successful book for the big screen: "You have to give every reader what they're expecting, because, quite frankly, the book is really good," says Hanks. "You could change it, make it different, but you'd better be sure you're also making it better. Akiva's job in adapting something that is as specific as The Da Vinci Code is a monumental task, because of all of his great instincts as a screenwriter about what makes for a good cinematic narrative."
The filmmakers frequently conferred with Brown during the writing of the adaptation. "Dan made himself accessible in the most understanding, collaborative kind of way, in terms of his acceptance of the fact that of course the screenplay was not going to be a verbatim version of the novel," remembers Howard. "He knew we were going to have to streamline it somewhat. But he was a really important resource in helping us interpret things he had learned or read including several things he discovered after he wrote the book, which have found their way into the script. So, our movie is in some ways a kind of an updated, annotated version of The Da Vinci Code."
THE CAST AND CHARACTERS
After Goldsman's screenplay was completed, the next major hurdle for the film makers was to assemble a cast that would embody the essence of the fascinating personalities that populate Brown's novel and could translate to the screen as engaging and entertaining characters in their own right.
As executive producer Todd Hallowell sees it: "This is a unique film in that it has a truly international cast. Watching Ron slowly piece together all the right elements so that they perfectly meshed was a pretty amazing process. He really put together an extraordinary ensemble."
Tom Hanks/Robert Langdon
"Robert Langdon is the thinking man's hero, someone who is on a relentless quest to unravel this mystery," observes screenwriter Goldsman. "Throughout history, we have been drawn to people who seek out the truth, who search for the grail. They were often knights, men who were pure of heart, strong of spirit and unrelenting."
Hanks had been involved with The Da Vinci Code almost from its inception. Though he and Howard had not collaborated in the past several years, they remained close. "It was more than friendship that led me to want to cast Tom as Robert Langdon," says Howard. "When I started talking to him about the role, I had a similar kind of positive feeling I had when we first discussed Apollo 13 a decade ago. There was a natural intersection between Tom as an actor and a person and the sensibility of the character of Robert Langdon. He's this guy to a tee. Langdon is driven by curiosity and has a wonderfully dry sense of humor. More than anything else, Langdon is fascinated by details and eager to understand the truth. Tom is also very smart and fascinated by the world around him. In casting Tom, I was certain I had brought in a really intelligent and helpful collaborator."
Hanks was eager to work with Howard again, particularly since he was taking on the challenge of playing a character so different from anything in his own life experience. "Langdon has this arcane knowledge that is very deep and quite extensive and he is fascinated by it," says Hanks. "He has somehow turned this knowledge into a lucrative career. As a symbologist he can tell you what three marks on a cave wall represent, what they meant then and how they've come to be interpreted down through the ages. This is a guy who is continuously observing absolutely everything. He sees all these connections, all the time."
The actor says his collaboration with Howard was essential in his process of discovering the character of Robert Langdon: "Ron is so easy-going. At the same time he's incredibly responsible, creatively vigilant and dedicated to excellence."
Audrey Tautou/Sophie Neveu
The name Sophie comes from Greek Sofia for wisdom and Neveu means "descendent" in French -- a descendent of Mary Magdalene perhaps?
For Howard the role of Sophie Neveu was a crucial one in telling the story of The Da Vinci Code. "One of the themes that resonated with me when I read the novel, and one of the things I really wanted to make sure was front and center in the movie, was the idea of the sacred feminine," says Howard. "I have three daughters, and have been married for 30 years to a powerful woman, so this was very important to me. Sophie's emotional journey in The Da Vinci Code is really exciting. Having such a strong female character at the center, watching her come to understand who she really is as this mystery of her life unfolds, adds a great deal of wonderful suspense to the thriller."
Screenwriter Goldsman was equally intrigued by the concept of the sacred feminine. "For me, the most interesting aspect of The Da Vinci Code was the story of this girl who, in her search for identity, turns out to be far more than she ever imagined. From a writing point of view, that's very fertile territory. It's not as panoramic and epic as other aspects of the novel, but for me, it was the most compelling part, the most human part."
Casting the right actress to perfectly capture this elevated view of Sophie Neveu was always going to be difficult, the filmmakers acknowledged. Several prominent French actresses were auditioned and the finalists flew to Los Angeles to read with Hanks. Audrey Tautou, who had only made one other English-language film, Dirty Pretty Things, was the least prepared in terms of the amount of time she had been given to work on her scenes, yet she immediately impressed the filmmakers with the nuances she brought to her work. "Audrey has a unique quality that, given the mystical elements of The Da Vinci Code, was absolutely perfect," observes Howard. "She is both enigmatic and accessible."
Adds Tom Hanks: "Audrey is intimidating and mysterious. She's very ethereal in some ways, and yet, when she asks a question, you believe that this is a genuine inquiry."
Ian McKellen/Sir Leigh Teabing
"Teabing is the sphinx of the story," says Goldsman, "he is full of mysteries and serves as an engine, both in the book and the movie. Much of what happens is due to this puppet master."
"There are a number of great British actors who could have played Sir Leigh Teabing," says Howard, "but I met Sir Ian and I immediately knew we'd have a great time working together and that he'd do something remarkable with that character. It turns out I was right. I've admired him in so many different films, because he has this amazing range from high-profile popular-entertainment characters, to very obscure, dark, intriguing characters in small films."
Hanks also appreciated the chance to work with such an experienced and respected actor: "I don't think anybody has more fun acting than Sir Ian McKellen," he says. "Our first scene on film was very representative of every day we were together in meetings and rehearsals. There was this constant, delightful probing. He was always scanning out not just the dialogue but also the sensibilities behind it. Then when he got on the set he never stopped playing with that. Whether he was sitting at a table discussing the history of the Priory Of Sion, or coming down the stairs to say 'Who do we have here?' it just came out different every time. I thought, well, this guy is just in the biggest playhouse in the world. He seemed to delight in finding a new way to do it every single time."
In taking on the role of Silas, perhaps the most bizarre character in Dan Brown's novel, actor Paul Bettany says his primary mission was to humanize the deadly monk. "Silas is an incredibly alienated individual who is desperate for a father figure. The first person who is kind to him is Aringarosa. It's unfortunate that he uses Silas' damaged psyche as a weapon. Silas' father had called him a ghost and Silas ended up in prison for killing him. Then he meets Aringarosa who calls and suddenly his physical being makes sense and has a meaning for him."
Silas was the last major role to be cast because, though Howard auditioned numerous actors, he always felt there was something missing in their approach to the character. He had previously worked with Bettany in the Oscar®-winning A Beautiful Mind, and was an admirer of his performance in Gangster No. 1, which Howard felt showed enormous range and power. So he turned to Bettany in the hopes of finding the perfect Silas -- and never looked back.
"Paul loved the character, loved the script, and really went out on a limb, gambling a lot to play him," says Howard. "He's terrifying in the movie, just terrifying. It also made for some bizarre days on the set because, in between setups, he was the Paul Bettany who has become my friend, and then when the cameras were rolling, something would shift and I realized that he was drawing on a deep reserve to create his character. It was his talent, but also something else that allowed the character to be terrifying but dimensionalized. He brought so much to that role. He was everything you could have wished for from the character in the book and more -- Silas as a human being in the hands of Paul Bettany."
Jean Reno/Bézu Fache
The name Bézu is the location of a Knights Templar fortress in Southern France, and Fache means cross in French.
Jean Reno had previously worked with producer John Calley and was very interested in the role of Bézu Fache because he was fascinated by the idea of playing a character who is disappointed when his trust in Aringarosa is betrayed. "He's involved in this because he truly believes in something," Reno explains. "But first and foremost he's a cop and he's trying to do his job. I was interested in exploring the idea of how my character would react when he's betrayed by an Archbishop."
Howard says there's nobody better in his mind to play the French police captain than Reno. "Jean is one of those spirits that just brings a lot of joy to the process, as well as intelligence, great taste and talent."
In portraying Bézu Fache, Reno was stepping into a role that was tailor-made for him as well, he explains. "It was quite an honor when I found out that Dan Brown said he wrote the character with me in mind. It made playing him in the film even more meaningful to me."
Alfred Molina/Bishop Aringarosa
The bishop's name is one of the most intriguing in Brown's novel. Aringa meaning herring and Rosa means red. Does this mean the Bishop is a red herring?
Alfred Molina was cast while he was in production on As You Like It, which co-stars Howard's daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard. He dashed to London from the location where he was shooting in another part of England for a read-through and a day of rehearsal. Molina says the opportunity to spend time with Howard and screenwriter Goldsman prior to production was invaluable. "Ron, Akiva and I sat in a room going over all the scenes I was in with a fine-tooth comb, fine tuning all the different points that we wanted to bring out and talking about how best to tell the story in terms of what my character was doing, " he explains.
Howard appreciated the attention Molina lavished on his role in order to plumb the inner depths of his character. "Alfred understood the character and the culture he comes from in ways that were far more sophisticated and authentic than is actually written. That extra level of truth found its way into his character and onto the screen."
THE LOOK OF THE DA VINCI CODE
The Da Vinci Code filmed at a number of locations throughout Europe and at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, where several sets were built.
Although the production did shoot at the Louvre in Paris, it was essential to rebuild the Grand Galerie in a studio so that a majority of the action could unfold in a more controlled environment, and away from the masterpieces at the actual museum. To this end, production designer Allan Cameron constructed sections of the museum on the "James Bond" stage at Pinewood Studios just outside of London. "I knew from the very beginning that we were going to build a small part of the Louvre on a stage," Cameron says. "But when we went to the Louvre we were worried about damaging the floors as well as any of the priceless paintings. After a couple of visits to Paris, we decided to build even more of the museum on the stages at Pinewood, which from my point of view was much more fun than shooting on location. "My scenic artist, James Gemmill, had to paint 150 paintings that required careful measurement at the real Louvre. We even had marble samples created to match the marbles around the skirtings and around the windows. Finally, floor boarding was constructed by my carpenter using wood veneers to approximate the floor in the Grand Galerie. They were then photographed and printed onto plastic sheets and laid on the floor."
Cameron explains that all the paintings that were reproduced were digitally photographed then blown up and painted over, sometimes projected on the wall and painted by Gemmill. "James painted them all like the original paintings. He knows all about glazes and crackle techniques. So the actual surface of the paintings looks pretty realistic."
Adds James Gemmill (Head Scenic Artist) on the texture of the painting reproductions that he created: "I tried to pay attention to all the textures of the paintings," says Gemmill. "We can't paint using the exact techniques, but the textures are important. That's the difference between looking at a movie and seeing a painting on a wall and realizing that it's a print rather than a painting. When the light is reflected off it, you can see the texture, so it's important to get it right."
A number of other sets were also built at Shepperton Studios in the southwest of London, including the interior of Saint-Sulpice and a number of rooms inside Château Villette, where Leigh Teabing resides. "We wanted to use the real château in the story and we were lucky enough to get permission to shoot there," says Cameron. "But the library, kitchen and study were built on the stage. They were interesting sets to build and dress since they include a significant amount of props."
"Obviously, we based the architecture of the set pieces on the architecture in the real château," Cameron continues, "the beautiful carvings, mouldings and cornices. We took all the dressing out of the real château and put in our own so that it looked more like Teabing's residence. As we move into the study and library, which is his den, it reflects his character and we designed many of the props with Teabing in mind."
THE WORKS OF LEONARDO DA VINCI: ART & THE DA VINCI CODE
HISTORY & THE DA VINCI CODE
THE DA VINCI CODE LOCATIONS
THE CREATIVE TEAM: DIRECTOR RON HOWARD; SCREENWRITER AKIVA GOLDSMAN;
NOVELIST DAN BROWN ; PRODUCER BRIAN GRAZER and COMPOSER HANS ZIMMER