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It Was A War For Cast & Crew: 16 Things You Need To Know About Terrence Malick's 'The Thin Red Line'

The Playlist By Rodrigo Perez | The Playlist June 17, 2011 at 8:54AM

In late ’98/early ‘99, on the eve of the release of “The Thin Red Line,” two major events were concurrently taking place, each threatening to consume one another but both feeding the anticipation around them (the film was given a limited release in December, followed by wide release in January). One was "The Thin Red Line" itself -- Terrence Malick's first new film in 20 years, an approximately $52 million dollar war film backed by Fox 2000 (a shingle housed under 20th Century Fox) -- and the other the hallowed return of Malick the director, believed to be lost in the wilderness, driving cabs in Paris, selling T-shirts on Les Champs-Élysées or whatever fictional rumor pleases you most.
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10. Casting the picture took over a year.
“The Thin Red Line” had a long-gestating period. Word got out in 1995 that Malick was working on a new film, but casting didn’t even take place until 1996 and 1997. Part of the reason why people like Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt and others didn’t appear in the film is simple. “Terry's idea was; he didn't want to work with stars, he wanted people you would just believe in the characters,” longtime Malick casting director Dianne Crittenden said on the Criterion DVD extras. “His way was to make it just as real as possible and to do that was to use people you didn't recognize.”

On said DVD, there’s a litany of brief glimpses of people who auditioned including Philip Seymour Hoffman, Josh Hartnett, Neil Patrick Harris, Brendan Sexton III (“This Boy’s Life”), Luke Perry, Crispin Glover and many others. While he eventually didn’t get a part, Stephen Dorff, “Had to audition, he just had to,” Crittenden said. “He worked on it and worked on it and he was like, 'please, can I wait for him?' and he'd wait and wait and wait and he'd come in and we'd [audition] until 11pm."

According to producer Bobby Geisler in the 1999 Vanity Fair profile, Malick became starstruck by all the A-list actors that were at bowing at his feet. According to Geisler he told Malick, “You’re going to compromise the movie” (this sentiment of Malick being initially enamored by Depp and Pitt is corroborated in 1999's Premiere article "Welcome To The Jungle").

Truth or fiction, regardless, Malick seemed to be of that thinking anyhow. A source in the VF article said he said he too was reluctant to include stars. “The audience will know that Pitt’s going to wake up after his death scene and collect his $1 million.”

"You don't want egos and people who want attention,’’ Crittenden said of the casting process which meant no time for kid-gloves with actors who wanted special treatment. “He wanted a
certain transparency, that the actor was willing to put their own ego aside and just inhabit the character. The kind of actor who works best with Terry is someone who is someone who is extremely flexible that doesn't get hung up on lines and words,” she said delicately, knowing all too well many of those lines and words don’t actually make the final picture.

11. Caviezel and Penn’s relationship in the film mirrored their real-life ones. Caviezel the sincere and earnest man, Penn the cynic.
In a New York Daily News profile, the writer described Caviezel as someone who “doesn't seem to have an insincere bone in his body,” which doesn’t sound far apart from his gentle, earnest and compassionate Pvt. Witt character, the heart and soul of the innocence lost amongst the madness of war in Malick’s film.

“He can be cynical and brutal and hysterical. He's all those things, he can turn on a dime and be mean, and then he's the sweetest guy in the world,” Dash Mihok said in an Inside Film interview about Penn, again not far off the mark from his 1st Sgt. Edward Welsh character.

One day Terry asked me, ‘What do you think of Sean Penn?’ ” Caviezel recalled in the “Rosy-Fingered Dawn” documentary. “I said, he’s a rock, one day you can go and talk him the next day you go up to him and he doesn’t even know who you are – that’s Sean Penn. When we were shooting that scene Terry said, ‘Tell him that. Tell him what you told me.’ ”

Watch parts of "Rosy-Fingered Dawn" where the two actors discuss working with one another.

12. Malick has insane memory retention.
"He shoots a lot of film and he'll remember specific moments and six people will run out screaming trying to find the shot that Terry remembers and no one has logged in," Malick’s production designer Jack Fisk said on the Criterion Commentary track.

Producer Grant Hill elaborated on this story in hilarious detail. "There was a sequence that Terry had not been able to crack, he had been working on it for six or eight weeks, different editors, and one day he walks into the lead editor Billy Weber and said, ‘Billy, I know that somewhere after cut had been called -- so it must have been early in the film – there are about 10 or 12 frames' and he described what they were,” Hill said. “And of course Billy – who had 1.2 million of feet in front of him – said, 'You're crazy.' But it took 10 days or so, he found the frames, put them in the sequence and I was in the room, and the sequence did just come alive. It was some weird sense of what it took to complete it."

This article is related to: Films, Terrence Malick, '90s Films, The Thin Red Line


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