Ransom: Production Information

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Touchstone Pictures presents "Ransom," a Brian Grazer/Scott Rudin Production of a Ron Howard Film. Directed by Ron Howard, produced by Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer and B. Kipling Hagopian, the screenplay is by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, story by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum. Executive producer is Todd Hallowell. Co-producers are Adam Schroeder and Susan Merzbach. Buena Vista Pictures distributes.

When director Ron Howard first read Richard Price's and Alexander Ignon's script for "Ransom," he felt the story would hit home for a lot of people. "Anytime your life gets turned upside down-for whatever reason-certain things you've counted on start to break down," Howard says. "That's what happens to the characters in 'Ransom.' There's great conflict here, and that makes for powerful, watchable drama."

For director Howard, fresh from his success with the highly acclaimed "Apollo 13," for which he won the Director's Guild of America Award, the subject matter of "Ransom" was more edgy and tense than anything he had previously tackled. "What was new to me as a filmmaker, was the opportunity to examine, on an emotional level, the brutality and the intensity of contemporary life in a way that I never have," he says.

The "Ransom" script was based on a 1956 film of the same title which starred Glenn Ford, Donna Reed and Leslie Nielsen. However, Ron Howard was unaware of that film until weeks before shooting began. To this day he has not seen the movie. His primary interest in the project was to create a film in which the story followed not only the victims of a crime, but the criminals as well. The Price/Ignon screenplay did just that by focusing on the family of Tom Mullen, an airline executive whose child is kidnapped, and also on the kidnappers.

"I tried to set up two alternate families: the family of kidnappers and the family of the kidnapped," explains screenwriter Price. "I was absorbed by the concept of giving weakness to the good people and strength to the bad people."

Once the filmmakers agreed to immerse themselves in this project, they set out to find the perfect actor to portray Tom Mullen. Mel Gibson was at the top of their list.

"I felt Mel embodied a number of attributes the character must have," Ron Howard explains of his primary interest in selecting Gibson for the role. "On one hand, I wanted the character to be a charismatic and believable contemporary hero. But on the other hand, he had to have an individualist's quality. To me, Mel has always seemed like a bit of a maverick."

Mel Gibson describes the character of Tom Mullen as "a self-made guy, used to making hard decisions and taking gambles. When his only son is abducted by criminals and an FBI-led ransom drop goes horribly wrong, Mullen appears on television to announce he is turning the kidnappers' demand for $2 million into a bounty on their heads.

"He follows his instincts, which are apparently against everything everyone is telling him," Gibson says. "He believes he's right, but he's not 100% sure. It's torturous for him."

"He takes this strong position, but he goes through hell," agrees Howard. "That's one of the things that's very moving about the story."

Added to Tom Mullen's burden is the feeling that he may have helped cause his family crisis. Screenwriter Price says he based the Tom Mullen character on media savvy people who "try to cultivate a personality and a following. It can pays off in terms of business, but these are people are so much in the public arena that they're a target for criminals."

To play the role of Kate, Tom's wife and fellow player in New York society, the filmmakers cast Rene Russo, reuniting the actress with her "Lethal Weapon 3" co-star Mel Gibson, and incidentally, with her former high school classmate Ron Howard.

"She's beautiful, she's elegant, she's one-of-a-kind," says producer Brian Grazer in praise of Russo. "Ron and I were very excited to have her in this film."

"I accepted the role because it was different; something I hadn't done before," Russo says. "I knew I'd love to work with Mel again, and I'd always wanted to work with Ron."

For the role of New York police detective Jimmy Shaker, the filmmakers cast Gary Sinise, who had previously teamed with Howard and Grazer on "Apollo 13." Howard felt that in the role of the tough cop, Sinise "would be a little bit surprising for the audience and would have the strength to carry it off."

For Sinise, too, the role of Shaker was unlike any other he has portrayed, therefore, he spent time with New York homicide detectives to research the part. "This is a completely different kind of character than any I've been doing," Sinise says. "I discovered that the world in which these detectives live is something the average person has no idea about. They have to develop a thick skin and a way of dealing with things that doesn't make them ill every night."

Delroy Lindo was then cast as Lonnie Hawkins, the FBI agent who handles the case from the Mullens' home. Screenwriter Richard Price, who had worked with Lindo on "Clockers," the film version of the writer's book, suggested the actor for the role. Director Howard had been equally impressed by Lindo's performance in "Clockers." "When you look at some of the other movies that Delroy has done, you realize that he is a fine actor with a vast range," the director says. "I knew he'd make a really strong Hawkins."

Lindo describes his character of Hawkins as a "handler of people. In addition to the kidnappers, who always seem to be one step ahead of the FBI, Hawkins must deal with the Mullens, as well. His game plan involves finding out what Tom and Kate Mullen can and cannot handle, and what their strengths and weaknesses are in this situation," Lindo explains. "This is all about reading people as clearly as possible, and playing to the strengths of each situation."

Like Gary Sinise, Lindo researched his role by spending time with his character's real-life counterparts. "I went down to 26 Federal Plaza and I interviewed a couple of agents," he says. "I was specifically interested in what it means to be a black agent because I think that is a different reality."

One actor who did not need to do research was young Brawley Nolte who portrays Sean, the Mullens' 9-year-old son. Before "Ransom," young Nolte had acted in only one film, playing his father Nick Nolte's character as a child. "I didn't want the usual movie actor veteran to play the kidnapped child," director Howard says. "Even though Brawley comes from an acting family, he's just a kid, and as a result, we got a very natural, honest performance from him."

In the roles of the kidnappers, the filmmakers cast New York actors, most of whom have strong backgrounds in independent film and theatre: Lili Taylor, Evan Handler, and Liev Schreiber. Director Howard felt that even the worst of the criminals should be presented as more than just stereotypes.

"They're very strong characters who, for their individual reasons, have chosen to commit this crime," Howard says. "Their deed is awful and it's destructive and it stirs up a lot of conflict. As a storyteller, it was more interesting for me to take a look at that."

Lili Taylor, much acclaimed for her roles in such films as "I Shot Andy Warhol" and "Dogfight," describes her character of the kidnapper Maris as "a working-class kid from the Bronx who doesn't have any big plans for herself. Maris' reason for becoming involved in the kidnapping is mainly for the money, but I think she's also directionless."

Broadway actor Evan Handler also feels that his character Miles, the gang's computer expert, is someone whose life has become rather bleak, mainly because of his drinking problem. "He is committing this crime because he needs the bucks," Handler says.

Liev Schreiber was cast as Clark, the career criminal in the story, a young man like many the actor knew when growing up in Manhattan. What attracted Schreiber to the script was that even ex-con Clark was a fully-rounded character. "I like the idea that these people are ambiguous," says Schreiber. "There's no black and white in terms of good and evil."

For the role of Clark's brother and fellow kidnapper Cubby, Ron Howard cast Donnie Wahlberg, formerly of the musical group New Kids on the Block. Howard describes Wahlberg as "a real find," and as someone who displayed qualities that were integral to Cubby, the one kidnapper who befriends the captive Sean. "Donnie has a very honest quality and a good heart," Howard says.

Once the major roles were cast, the filmmakers, actors, and writer all began the intense rehearsal process. "It's one thing to create a character on paper but then all the actors have to slip into the skin of these roles," says screenwriter Richard Price. "Where the story is inconsistent or where it doesn't feel right becomes very obvious when you rehearse because you begin walking through the script in the characters' shoes."

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