About The Cast
In casting The New World, Malick had a number of things working to his advantage. In addition to his own clear sense of exactly what he was looking for in each role, the director found actors eager to work with him thanks to his reputation among other actors he had worked with in the past.
In casting the lead role of John Smith, Malick knew exactly who he wanted.
"Colin Farrell was the clear choice," says Green. "He's the right age [Farrell, at 28, is the same age of Smith at the time he landed in North America], the right spirit. Colin is an adventurer, an extraordinarily energetic, personable and powerful young man, and a very strong actor. He and Terry connected from the start."
The decision to partake in the film proved just as easy for Farrell, an actor who had already found tremendous box office success and critical acclaim for his work in such films as Phone Booth, Daredevil and Tigerland.
"Malick does a gig and the actors come running," Farrell laughs. "It's not like you even have to read his script, because the purity of every single movie he's made is proof enough. Terry's like a sage, he's got the wisdom of years that he hasn't lived on this planet, and he has a gentility which is astounding and a ferocity which is amazing. He's a poet.""
Farrell says the best way to understand the effect that Malick has on people is to watch the way complete strangers react to him.
"I've been at restaurants with Terry, where the waiter leaves after taking his order with a smile on his face," says Farrell. "The waiter doesn't know why he's smiling, but knows he's just met someone who has a beautiful way about him. That beauty goes deep, and all of his films reflect that."
In addition to the opportunity to work with Malick, Farrell was drawn to take part in the telling of a story that has become the stuff of legend, penetrating the popular arts--including literature, theatre and film--for generations.
"The New World is Terrence Malick's artistic rendering of England's colonization of the Americas," says Farrell. "You just trust in the mind, soul and spirit of Terry. His intelligence and gift lies in that he sees that which most of us miss everyday, the beauty and tragedy of life all around us. You know that he will respect all sides of the story, including the Native Americans, who Terry pays homage to as a culture and a people whose beauty was not just misinterpreted, but ignored, by the early settlers in this great land."
Farrell was not the only talented actor to jump at the chance to help Malick render his vision of this classic legend.
Christopher Plummer, a veteran of such Oscar-nominated films as A Beautiful Mind and The Insider, also sparked to Malick's take on the tale of John Smith and Pocahontas and took on the role of Capt. Christopher Newport.
"I think that Terry sees the story as a very real dream," says Plummer. "His passion for the land, and for this country, is a spiritual rather than a scientific one. Terry's both a dreamer and an intellectual, and also incurably romantic."
Although The New World may be a quintessentially American story, its cast is remarkably diverse. With casting offices in three states and two continents--principal casting director Francine Maisler and principal Native American casting agent director Rene Haynes in Los Angeles, Virginia/extras casting Jeanne Boiseneau in Richmond and Celestia Fox in London--a host of international performers were enlisted by Malick and Green to join the production.
Christian Bale, fresh off the landmark role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman Begins, took on the role of John Rolfe.
"Christian Bale is an actor who Terry and I had admired for years," notes Sarah Green. "He has heart, intelligence, skill, and a profound intuition. One of the things that made him perfect He was perfect for John Rolfe was his willingness to disappear into a role, to underplay when appropriate. Pocahontas doesn't notice Rolfe right away, and it's wonderful to discover along with her his good and noble qualities."
Casting brought its share of challenges, but none was as daunting or as crucial as finding the right actress to portray the legendary Pocahontas. In order to find the right actress for the role, the filmmakers launched an international search for a young woman who combined the skills needed to effectively portray this most mythologized of Americans.
"There's a lot of controversy as to who she was, how old she was, what she looked like, and what the nature of her relationship with John Smith was," notes Sarah Green. "The most likely scenario is that she was quite young, 12 or 13, but certainly of age in the Native world at that time. We wanted someone who could bring the spirit of innocence, pure goodness, youth, vitality and fun to this part, but also someone who could age, experience heartbreak, go through difficult times and mature in very profound ways."
The unique challenges of the role left producers with a dilemma.
"We found wonderful actresses with the gravitas to play the older Pocahontas, and wonderful young actresses who had spirit and light in them, but it was very challenging to find someone who could transition to both of those things," says Green. "We looked for months all over the United States, then and Canada, and then we expanded the search internationally. And in the last month, as we were narrowing the search down to people who were really skilled, interesting, talented and beautiful, Q'orianka Kilcher was submitted to (casting director) Rene Haynes for another film. One of the assistants in Rene's office happened to notice Q'orianka's picture and thought, 'Hmm, maybe it should go into the New World pile instead.' There was something very compelling about her photograph, and when we ultimately met Q'orianka, there was something even more compelling about her in person. She had a calm and a depth far beyond her years."
A multi-talented 1415-year-old, Kilcher is the daughter of a Native Peruvian (Quecha/Huachapaeri) father, with a background in singing, musicianship and dancing - but only one film role - --as a child chorister in Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas--to her credit.
"Her Indian roots really come through both in her spirit and in her physicality in her face," says Green. "Q'orianka has a youthful spirit, but also has both a nobility and a youthful spirit, - but she's very serious about her work, her life and her values. It's a scary thing to cast an inexperienced unknown in a role like this, but it's not Q'orianka's training that made her right for Pocahontas, it's her life. And when we screen tested her, with no makeup, Q'orianka just jumped off the screen at us. It was powerful, beautiful, compelling…it was Pocahontas."
Kilcher was equally surprised to land the coveted role.
"It was a long audition process, but I always had really wonderful people, like Terry, Sarah and Rene Haynes, believing in me and looking out for my best interests," she says. "Somehow, it just happened."
Landing the role turned out to be a life-changing experience for Kilcher, and one which she will remember for a long time.
"Pocahontas has such great qualities, like courageousness and love for everything in life, so I hope she will always be a part of me," says Kilcher. "Pocahontas was a symbol of peace in bringing two worlds together, and it was amazing to be able to portray this wonderful human being. My greatest challenge in the making of the film was to stay as true to Pocahontas as possible, and just try and show her story in the best way possible to the world."
"And of course," Kilcher continues, "being a first-time actress with Terrence Malick directing me was amazing. I could not even dream of working with someone like him. No matter who we were, he was always asking us for our opinions and input."
Kilcher's co-workers had nothing but praise for the young actor.
"What a responsibility she took on," says Farrell. "At 14, she plays a character who you could say truly embodies the spirit of America. You're asking someone of that age to understand these things, but I think that Q'orianka is closer to the purity of what I think Pocahontas would have been. In a word, she's amazing. I don't know where it comes from, but she has a smile that could light up both hemispheres at the same time, and she has depths of light and darkness which could make the world stop moving."
As actors flocked to work with Malick, the filmmaker and his producer shifted their focus to assembling their production team. The highly experienced Trish Hofmann, a previous collaborator of Sarah Green, came aboard as executive producer. Selected as director of photography was Emmanuel (Chivo) Lubezki, whose work in both his native Mexico and the United States, ranging from Like Water for Chocolate and Y Tu Mama Tambien to Sleepy Hollow and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, had indicated not only strong artistic and technical skills, but also deft experimental and independent inclinations which would serve Malick's unfettered imagination.
Lubezki was also instrumental in helping Malick achieve his goal of filming almost entirely in natural light, a technique that allowed the production to avoid the distractions of the usual paraphernalia that litters a movie set. "I love the fact that Terry doesn't use lights," notes actor Noah Taylor. "The mere fact that there aren't cables and lights all over the place creates a very solid reality that affects all the people working on the film. The set has an intensely real feeling to it."
Malick's choice of production designer came as no surprise to anyone: Jack Fisk, a close creative ally of Malick who has worked side-by-side with the filmmaker on all three of his previous films.
For costume design - a particular challenge in film that required clothing 17th century English nobles and peasants as well as authentically arraying inhabitants of Powhatan's vast empire in North America - Malick turned to Jacqueline West. A veteran designer whose period work in Philip Kaufman's Quills, and her own tremendous interest and enthusiasm for Native culture captured Malick's eye, West quickly came aboard.
Although Malick knew he planned to take liberties with some of the known facts of the people and events depicted in The New World, it was crucial to him that the cultural backdrops the story was set against be authentically and meticulously detailed. In order to assure this accuracy, the filmmakers assembled a distinguished Board of Advisers to help guide their work. The Board included such noted experts as Dr. William Kelso (Director of Archaeology for the Jamestown Recovery Project); Professor Frederic Gleach (an independent scholar in Ithaca, New York, and the author of such books as Powhatan's World and Colonial Virginia; Danielle Moretti-Langholtz (The Virginia Council on Indians and the Department of Anthropology at the College of William & Mary); and, on set nearly every day of production, Blair Rudes (Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of North Carolina and the film's Algonquian translator and dialect coach, of Abenaki Nation descent) and Buck Woodard (the film's animateur, helping to ensure accuracy in all details), a visual art instructor in Henrico County, Virginia, who has worked in the past for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources and contributed to projects with the National Park Service, the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian and the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Woodard is an enrolled descendent of the Lower Muskogee Creek Nation and serves the state Governor with the Virginia Council on Indians.
One of the main areas in which the production put its accumulated historical expertise to use was in the construction and portrayal of the three ships - the Susan Constant, the Godspeed and the Discovery - that are depicted in the film. Luckily, the production was able to use three nearby ships that are housed at the original Jamestown Se Settlement history museumsite and usually on display for the public.
"If we had to build these ships, they would have cost two million dollars each," notes Trish Hofmann. "To have three ships within five miles of our major location was incredibly ideal. We had to work everything out carefully with the Jamestown- Yorktown Foundation, which operates the Jamestown Settlement where the ships are on display. It was difficult because the Settlement is such a popular tourist attraction, and the ships are a major draw. But they were very kind to us, and allowed us to keep the Godspeed, a beautiful ship, for three-quarters of our Virginia shoot harbored just off James Fort…which was perfect, because our research indicated that the English always left one ship behind. We wanted to treat these ships like stars."
And like the stars they are, they required a Hollywood makeover…not to make them more glamorous, but less so.
"We repainted all of the ships, aging them down and making them look more to what I thought ships of the period would look like if they had been out in the weather for months at a time," says Fisk. "I figured that these ships were kind of like the trucks we see on the highway today, big semis, used for transport. They weren't overly comfortable, there was nothing fancy about them and they were moving a lot more people than they were designed to do when they came to Jamestown."
However, the production, Eric Speth (who captains the three Jamestowne Settlement ships), and the film's marine coordinator, Mark Preisser, were faced with another nautical challenge. For one crucial scene, all three ships needed to be shot coming up the James River toward its initial landing, and of course, the agreement had stated that one ship always had to be left at the Jamestowne Settlement.
"Even if we had been able to secure all three ships for that one day, we wouldn't have been able to put them on the Chickahominy River, because the draft of the Susan Constant is too deep for the river," recalls Trish Hoffman. "So we had to go searching for another ship to portray the Susan Constant!"
The quest brought the producers and Jack Fisk to Verplanck, New York, and a magnificent 85-foot replica of the Half Moon, which Henry Hudson sailed while exploring the Hudson River in 1609. David Crank and a crew traveled from Virginia to upstate New York to give the Half Moon its own makeover, transforming the three-masted vessel with a new palette of colors and aging techniques. The Half Moon's captain, Chip Reynolds, then sailed it from Verplanck to the banks of the Chickahominy, ready for its close-up.
Another vessel, the smaller but nonetheless impressive 33-foot-long shallop (dubbed "the pickup truck of the 17th century" by Preisser) used by John Smith both for transporting men from the larger ships to shore, as well as exploring the waterways of Virginia, was secured from the Pliymouth Plantation in Massachusetts.
Designing The New World
Even with all the accumulated knowledge Malick had at his disposal, the production still faced another daunting challenge - making a period epic on a budget which, by contemporary standards, was remarkably modest. However, as is often the case, extreme limitations breed great creativity.
"We had to be very inventive on this film," says executive producer Trish Hofmann. "We weren't able to solve all the problems with money, so we had to solve them in very creative ways. And ironically, you don't really solve Terry Malick issues with money anyway because he works in such a unique way that it's finding out what's the most important thing for him on any given day and serving that. And what you find more often than not, is that it's not served with more people, money or equipment, but with more time and space. It was important for us to get the right people on board who were open to a new style of working. We handpicked every single person on this crew."
One of the earliest challenges faced by the production team was determining where to shoot the film. Initially, they were skeptical they would be able to find an area that could adequately resemble the world which European settlers first encountered in America.
"We thought that in a million years there's no place left in the United States that looks as untouched as the James and Chickahominy Rivers would have been in 1607," says Green. "We thought it would be in some mysterious place where no one lives, so we looked at obscure regions in Canada where there were old growth hopefully untouched forests and rivers.
"But (production designer) Jack Fisk, who lives in Virginia, said that we can't felt that we shouldn't go anywhere else until we see saw where it all started. So Terry, Jack and I traveled to see the original site of James Fort, and to the Jamestown Settlement recreation nearby. Then we took a boat up the Chickahominy River to see how the landscape flowed, and we thought, gosh, there are a whole lot of were amazed by the number of stretches that weren't quite as settled as we thought they might be. At one point, we came around a bend in the river and saw a big old concrete fish house with a 'For Sale' sign on it. We didn't think we could afford to shoot in Virginia, but with our collective aversion to runaway productions, and with a lot of help from the State of Virginia, we decided that we had to make it work. There's a look in Virginia that's nowhere else."
Green credits the Virginia government with helping make it feasible for the production to shoot in the state where the story took place so many years ago.
"The Virginia Film Office really helped pave the way for us to shoot there," says Green. "The unions wanted us in Virginia, the crews wanted us in Virginia and the actors wanted us in Virginia. Then Governor Warner Edwards Warner really threw his weight behind us, and that was it. It's one of the rare examples of a historical film shooting in almost the exact place where the events originally occurred, and that fish house became the site of the Jamestown fort."
Rebuilding A Lost World
Threads of History
Sound and Post Production
The Natives of The New World
A Vision Comes To Life