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An Interview With Catherine Hardwicke (11/08/06)

Outlook:  First, let me be a non-typical critic, and tell you that I really liked your movie.  I thought it was fantastic.
CH:  Thanks very much.  You know, I grew up Presbyterian.
Outlook:  Really?  I didn't see that in the production notes!
CH:  Yes, I grew up in First Presbyterian Church in McAllen, Texas.  Now my parents have moved to Bend, Oregon, but they go to the First Presbyterian Church there, and my Dad still sings in the choir.
(personal conversation about still singing in choirs, and visiting Bend, Oregon)
Outlook:  You've chosen to combine the accounts of Matthew and Luke, and at the end, the manger scene looked like a lot of Nativity sets, with all the characters huddled around the cradle.
CH:  Yes, that was our nod to popular imagination, and what we knew people would expect.
Outlook:  You even assumed three magi, and gave them their traditional names.  And you chose the planetary confluence theory.
CH:  Yes, the alignment of those three planets into what appeared to be one brilliant star would have been something the ancient astronomers would have noticed, and it was an easy application to make the light from that star extend into the manger.
Outlook:  I was interested in your casting choices.  How did you decide on Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary?
CH:  Actually, I had her in mind as soon as I knew I was going to be the Director.  I saw her in "Whale Rider," and she had that look of quiet inner strength that I was looking for in the part of Mary.
Outlook:  And the character of Joseph?
CH:  Oscar Isaac wanted this role very badly, and prepared greatly for the audition, as did Alexander Siddig, who played the angel Gabriel.  They were both obvious choices. 
Outlook:  I was interested that you chose an angel who spoke in a very straightforward way.
CH:  Yes, and at the same time demonstrated some of that power of presence that angels must have, because every time they appear in the bible, they say, "Do not be afraid."
Outlook:  You've done some research for this film.
CH:  Oh, yes, not only the biblical stories, but the 1st century context.  Herod was a particularly interesting figure to me, with his great interest in huge building projects, because of my earlier training in architecture.
Outlook:  What were your challenges in making this film?
CH:  Well, first we had a very short timetable.  I first saw the script in January, and here it is November, already released.  That gave us very small windows for things like site research.  Morocco was a good choice, but 130 degrees was a challenge!  Also, since we had a minor in the cast, we were restricted on the number of hours we could film in one day, so everything had to be lined up just right.  And remember that old W.C. Fields line about children and animals?  We had plenty of both, and none of them really cared whether we made the film or not, and they all had to be lined up just right, as well, particularly in the manger scene.
Outlook:  The slaughter of the innocents scene must have been difficult.
CH:  The worst.  It was an emotional experience for me, even though we had the soldiers holding the children first, just to make them more comfortable.  But they're still two-year-olds, and they got frightened, and started to cry, which made it difficult for me to watch, but I figured their reaction would have been realistic.  We just shot that scene as quickly as we could.
Outlook:  And the best part of making the film?
CH:  The way the characters just came to life before my eyes.  It was very satisfying to see, particularly the way they dealt with their struggles, while still displaying great spiritual strength.
Outlook:  It's a wonderful film, and I'm going to recommend it to everybody!
CH:  That would be great.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Terrell, Texas