Casting The Film
The filmmakers cast a wide net to find the five actors to portray the
competitive young medical students. "This is an ensemble piece and because of
this, it was crucial to find actors who hopefully complemented one another,"
says Mark. "Each of our cast brings something unique and distinctive to the
Ellen Page, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her breakout role in
Juno, was chosen by the filmmakers to play the role of Courtney, a complicated
young woman who convinces her colleagues to follow her in her quest for
knowledge of the afterlife.
"Ellen's character lights the fire that sets the story in motion - and
fortunately, she is a galvanizing actress," says Mark.
"Courtney's a troubled woman," explains Safran. "She is haunted by the guilt she
feels from having been driving when her younger sister was killed in a car
accident ten years earlier; she carries the weight of that with her. That's what
drives her fascination with the afterlife - she wants so much to know that her
sister is at peace that she's willing to go to that ultimate level of
experimenting on herself. Ellen Page brings an intellectual gravitas and acting
prowess to the role; she embodies beautifully the weight that Courtney has, the
suffering she feels over the death of her sister."
"Ellen brings an emotional credibility and depth to the character," says Oplev.
"It's compelling to see her take her character into dark corners - you can call
her the ringleader; she influences the others to go along with her."
Page says the project spoke to her on a number of levels. "I was intrigued by
the way the film deals with our innate, primal fascination, fear, denial of
whatever it is about the inevitable," says the actress. "The character of
Courtney felt like a character I hadn't really played before. She's a bit of a
mystery and I was interested in the mystery of her - she's had an extremely
difficult, traumatic past, she's struggling with a horrible guilt and it's
definitely shaped who she is today. To play someone who has been through a lot
and to get to explore that was really exciting to me."
That wide range continues as Page's character begins her dangerous experiments.
"Before she flatlines, she's very closed off from the intensity of her feelings
about her past - she protects herself from those feelings," says Page. "Right
after she flatlines, she has a moment of bliss - that euphoria you feel just
after you've gone through a difficult time. She cracks open - she starts to feel
strength and freedom, but she also starts to tap into everything she's feeling
inside, and her faĆ§ade starts to unravel."
To play the role of the intensely private and complex character of Ray, the
filmmakers turned to Diego Luna.
"Ray is the only one of the group with real life experience," explains Mark.
"He's older than the others, and he's somewhat rougher around the edges. He
didn't grow up privileged, didn't attend an Ivy League School. He was a fireman
who saw a lot of pain and suffering. At first, he has trouble understanding why
his colleagues would want to experiment in a way he finds cavalier and reckless
- but he ultimately can't help participating - especially when his fellow
students need him and his experience to revive them."
"Diego imbues Ray with a multi-levelled sensitivity that you get right from the
beginning," comments Safran. "Yet when he has to step up to the hero role, he
has that force of personality to make it feel real. He has this wonderful
smoldering way of stepping into a scene and taking control of it."
"Because Ray is a few years older than the others, he brings more life
experience and credibility to the idea of flatlining. Diego has that aura of
experience," adds Oplev.
Luna, well-known for roles in such films as Y tu Mama Tambien, Milk and Rogue
One: A Star Wars Story, says he immediately connected with the character. "Ray
is a very pragmatic character," explains Luna. "He's a guy that is in school for
a reason and he doesn't want to risk that at all. But, at the same time, he's a
doctor and his curiosity gets the better of him, the idea of being part of a
project that is so risky intrigues him. Ray has no interest in flatlining, but
bringing these people back from death is exciting to him; it makes him feel
powerful - he gets hooked. This film is all about playing with fire, playing
with something you can't control."
Nina Dobrev plays Marlo, a character she says spoke to her immediately upon
reading the script. "I listed the pros and cons of the character on two pieces
of paper," says Dobrev. "By the time I finished, I realized there were really no
cons - I had just written down so many things I loved about her and her arc
throughout the film."
"Marlo is a great character," states Safran. "She's the girl that you want to
hate because she really has it all - she's beautiful, she's smart, and she's
clearly well off - but she brings a humor to everything that she does, so it's
impossible to hate her. A lot of that is because Nina Dobrev is also that girl;
Nina is just somebody you want to hang out with; she's just a charming person
and she brings that charm to the character of Marlo."
British actor James Norton plays the fun-loving and charismatic Jamie. "Jamie is
a loveable rogue," says Norton of his character. "He's not the most serious of
students, he likes to party, he likes the girls, he's full of bravado and
confidence and makes no bones about the fact that what he's really after is
recognition - he wants to be a celebrity doctor."
"There's a recklessness to his character," says Oplev. "He's a trust fund kid,
more interested in girls and parties than in medical school. There's a reason
why Courtney chooses him: yeah, I think he'd be the one that would press the
button and start the whole thing up."
Kiersey Clemons, best known for her breakout role in the critically acclaimed
Sundance hit Dope, was chosen by the filmmakers to play the role of Sophia.
"Sophia is an interesting character because she clearly deserves to be at
medical school by virtue of her intelligence and her hard work and diligence,
but she lives under the oppressive rule of her single mother who has given up
everything to put Sophia through medical school and expects her to succeed and
excel," comments Safran. "And that pressure is something that clearly weighs
heavily on her shoulders, but in terms of is she letting her mother down, or is
she letting herself down. Is this what she really wants to be doing? It's a very
complicated and complex character and Kiersey Clemons plays her perfectly."
"I think for Sophia it was always about being the best and the smartest and the
top of her class because it was what was expected of her," says Clemons of her
character. "So when she decides to flatline she has this experience of
liberation, she's claimed her own identity by doing something her mom would
never want her to do."
From the very beginning the chemistry and camaraderie between the five actors
was strong both on and off screen. "We all got along from the moment we met,"
says Dobrev. "Everyone has such a different personality but together it's like a
puzzle - we all kind of fit and everyone brings something new to the table."
Adds Norton, "In any movie, any performance, the trust involved between a group
of actors is immense. You have to open yourself up and within a few days show
your soul and become incredibly vulnerable with strangers. And that takes an
enormous amount of trust. So it's no surprise that actors generally become very
close very quickly. And that was what happened on this movie, which was great
because this movie is all about trust. These characters are literally putting
their lives in each other's hands and saying, 'Get me back, take me back from
death.' So the fact that we all got on so well, that we all trusted each other
off camera meant that the relationships and the stories of our friendships on
camera was much easier."
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