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Into the Line of Fire

Swede Lasse Hallström steps into America's abortion controversy with The Cider House Rules

When he has a chance to set out on a journey of self-discovery, Homer jumps at the opportunity to put St. Cloud's far behind him. Trouble is, he can never really go far enough to keep from returning to where he belongs.

For Hallstrom -- whose other U.S. credits include Once Around, Something to Talk About and What's Eating Gilbert Grape? -- The Cider House Rules had an almost irresistible appeal.

"I just loved the tone of the novel," Hallstrom says. "It has all these bizarre elements mixed with the comedic and the dramatic. And it all seemed very familiar to me. Comfortably familiar."

Stephen Vaughan
Not wanting to tell John Irving how to adapt his novel, director Lasse Hallström initially rejected The Cider House Rules.
Michael Caine as Dr. Larch (left) and Tobey Maguire as Homer were the perfect choices for their roles. So says Hallström.

Phillip Borsos (The Grey Fox) was John Irving's first choice to direct the film adaptation. After months of preproduction planning, however, Borsos was diagnosed with cancer and had to bow out of the project. (He subsequently died.) That's when Hallstrom entered the picture. Or, to be more precise, that's when he was invited to enter he picture, but declined.

"My Life as a Dog was the key to their interest in me," Hallstrom says. "Phillip Borsos actually suggested me when he was sick and he realized he couldn't do it. But at the time, I received a very early version of the script, which I dismissed because I thought, 'Ah, look at this -- the author has adapted his own novel into a screenplay. How can I make any suggestions or criticisms to this god, John Irving, the literary giant?' I simply couldn't imagine telling him how to write. So I didn't even consider the project.

"You see, that first script that I read had its ups and downs when it comes to my interest. It had structural problems. And to boil down that kind of epic into a movie that runs two hours or so -- it's a very daunting undertaking. I was intrigued with the sections that were set in the orphanage. My problems started when Homer leaves the orphanage."

Hallstrom was particularly leery of handling the romance between the ingenuous young protagonist and Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron), a slightly older and stronger-willed woman who clings to Homer while her lover is involved with World War II. ("I'm not much good at being alone," she says.) Much like Irving, who discarded most of the love story while whittling down his narrative, Hallstrom feared the Homer-Candy relationship would distract from more important matters. Once again like Irving, Hallstrom was far more interested in Homer's fateful involvement with Mr. Rose (Delroy Lindo), a gravely dignified migrant worker with a dark secret, and Rose Rose (Dallas-born pop singer Erykah Badu), the daughter he loves too much.

"It's while he works with the Roses," Hallstrom says, "that Homer encounters the rules tacked on the wall of the bunkhouse. The cider house rules are metaphors for the rules that are imposed on us all by people who know very little about our lives. And the movie is about the importance of breaking those rules, and standing up to them."

Irving and producer Richard Gladstein went through two other directors before returning to Hallstrom. By that time, Hallstrom says, the author had found a way to present the various elements of his multifaceted novel in proportions appropriate for a feature film. More important, Irving had found a way to keep the focus affixed on the heart of the matter.

"For me," Hallstrom says, "it's very much a father-and-son story. That's the core of it all: the relationship between Homer and Dr. Larch. Tobey Maguire was a perfect choice for Homer, because he has this sweet, childlike innocence that is countered with an enormous insight into how people function. He has this way of looking right through people that can be quite intimidating.

"And in order to have a strong relationship between this son and Dr. Larch, we needed a strong father figure. That's why we cast Michael Caine, because he has such an authority, and such empathy for kids and for women. And he doesn't force it. When you see him as Dr. Larch, he just seems to ooze a kind of natural consideration for the women who come to him for help. I don't know how he does it, but I think I was very lucky to get him."

Michael Caine begs to differ: As he sees it, he was the one who got lucky when he was offered the chance to work with Lasse Hallstrom.

"I would have to rank Lasse among the greatest directors I've ever worked with," Caine says. "But I have to be careful when I say something like that, because it sounds like I've worked with thousands of great directors. I haven't -- I've only worked with a handful. But they all have one thing in common with Lasse: They're very quiet. They don't say very much. But when they do, you'd better listen, because they've just said something to you that's absolutely wonderful and revealing about what you're doing. Or what you're trying to do. Or what you're not doing. Or what you're not doing right. You see, their vision of the entire movie is complete in their minds. And they know just what they want."

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