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SPINNING MAN

Production Information
A SUSPECT, A CRIME, AND A DILEMMA OF MEMORY

George Harrar's book The Spinning Man was published in 2003 to critical acclaim. Called a "riveting and whip-smart suspense novel" by Publishers Weekly, Harrar's thriller was compared to the works of Alfred Hitchcock and Edgar Allen Poe by Booklist, and labeled "An elegant and unnerving mystery" by the New York Times Book Review, a "taut psychological drama" by the Boston Globe, and an "exercise in suspense and terror" by Kirkus Reviews.

"The idea for the book came to me from a real-life event in Massachusetts. There was a news report of a young girl who had disappeared near a lake, and there was a lead the police had about a car that was seen there," says Harrar. "I began to wonder about who the person in the car was, and why they hadn't come forward. I didn't listen to reports about the incident after that, because I didn't want my imagination to be affected by the real story."

"Spinning Man is about the complexity of desire, of emotion, and of memory," continues Harrar. "Quite often, I think people try to remember things in a way that fits with their conception of themselves, and often it's not a true memory. It's been said that you can actually create memories. People who are supposedly reliable witnesses to crimes, for instance - prosecutors say that's the most unreliable kind of evidence, because those witnesses' memories are tainted by viewpoint, by selective memory, or by what they think happened or may want to have happened. In the story, a lot of what goes on in Evan Birch's head is what he thinks might have happened, or what he wishes he might have done ... or not done."

To bring SPINNING MAN to the screen, director Simon Kaijser - whose work in his native Sweden has covered thrillers, dramas, and comedies - recognized the interweaving threads of the story had a basis in the very human desire to perceive of ourselves as a certain kind of person even when evidence and our own actions seem to point in different directions.

The script by Matthew Aldrich (screenwriter of Disney's animated hit Coco) utilizes Harrar's intriguing, circles-within-circles conceit while letting the story's cinematic attributes emerge through flashbacks, a playfully fluid point of view, and an arresting sense of discombobulation. Prof. Evan Birch isn't sure of where or when he was where he said he was, and audiences can piece it together through clues and an ever-rotating perspective.

"When you write a thriller or any kind of mystery, there's a certain amount of math and architecture involved," explains Aldrich. "How much do you tell the audience, and when? When does the character find out everything, and does that happen before or after the audience finds out? Playing with all those variables and fine-tuning that info is as much like solving a Rubik's Cube as it is like painting a portrait. It appeals to both halves of the brain, and it's tremendously fun to write."

"Evan Birch is a man at a certain point in his life, and he's falling into a hole. And we as an audience naturally want him to get out," adds Aldrich. "What I found interesting with the character of Evan is, in the book, when he fell into a hole, he didn't try to get out right away - he asked for a shovel! And that's part of the tension of the movie."

The notion of a main character toggling between guilt and innocence has an esteemed tradition in thrillers and the noir genre. In 1944's Double Indemnity, Fred MacMurray's Walter Neff falls for Barbara Stanwyk's Phyllis Dietrich and murders her husband, as an investigator (Edward G. Robinson) seeks the truth. In 1987's Jagged Edge, a lawyer (Glenn Close) is sure the publisher (Jeff Bridges) she's defending against a murder charge - and begins an affair with - didn't commit the heinous crime he's accused of. And in 1988's Presumed Innocent a prosecutor (Harrison Ford) is insistent that he didn't kill his colleague and lover (Greta Scacchi).

And, of course, in 2000's groundbreaking hit Memento, Guy Pearce played a man whose short-term memory impairment keeps him from knowing everything that happened, tattooing facts onto his arms to remind himself of a horrific crime - one that started where director Christopher Nolan's film memorably ends.

"What struck me right away with the SPINNING MAN script was that it felt like a modern film noir, which was very appealing to me," says Kaijser. "My first passion was film noir. And the fact that the story was an entirely character-driven suspense story, which is not that common anymore. It didn't rely on action or shock. It's character driven. It was well-written and had a theme I really enjoy in a brainy suspense story with well-developed characters. "

Pearce is back on similar ground with SPINNING MAN, but Prof. Evan Birch is a singular and specific type of person. Evan's escape into and reliance on philosophical constructs protects him from what he sees as a pedestrian, reductive police investigation. He knows he didn't commit the crime he's being investigated for, and barely recalls seeing Joyce Bonner before she disappears. Evan Birch is a philosopher and an academic to his core.

"I've always been interested in philosophy, so to have a philosophy professor as the main character seemed natural to me. Also, I saw him as being very cerebral and have trouble integrating his physical self with his mental self," says Harrar. "It involves the clash between the real world and the academic world, and a lot of the tension and emotions in the story comes from Prof. Birch's meetings with his wife and Detective Malloy. So when you have three actors of the caliber of Guy Pearce, Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan all playing off each other and coming together, it's just wonderful."

"The film is an exploration of human behavior and how we deal with each other, particularly when we're under pressure," says Pearce. "I think we as human beings constantly work so hard at maintaining our identity, whatever that is. Sometimes we feel we're a good person, and other times we think we're a bad person, and those lines can blur. The way in which Evan reacts to people questioning him is where darkness sits. That was the driving thing for me, where Evan is at any given point, as far as his paranoia or his belief that he was right or wrong."

BRINGING A MYSTERY TO LIFE

A cinematic thriller is dependent on cat-and-mouse chases, and for SPINNING MAN, director Simon Kaijser knew that he needed to transpose the tension from Harrar's book to the screen using a top-flight group of actors, led by Guy Pearce.

"This film is clever, in that it plays with what really happened and what Evan thinks in his mind, and how he remembers something differently to how someone else remembers it," says Pearce. "I had a lot of questions for Simon in how we would portray that - and also about what Evan was doing, in terms of repressing a memory or having a constructed memory or a false memory. It was about unpacking what was there and making sure I understood it."

To portray Detective Robert Malloy, the story's gruff, hard-edged, but amiable police investigator who faces off against Evan Birch, Kaijser needed an actor with sharp edges but a deceptive charm of his own. Enter Pierce Brosnan. Before he was the star of four blockbuster James Bond adventures (GoldenEye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day) that brought the popular superspy into the modern age, Brosnan starred in several atmospheric thrillers, including The Fourth Protocol and the period adventure drama The Deceivers. After TV's Remington Steele and the Bond films made him a star, Brosnan delivered nuanced performances in films including The Tailor of Panama, The Matador, and The Ghost Writer.

"This was a beautifully constructed script, with a very elliptical sensibility to it," says Brosnan. "I hadn't played a detective in a long time. Robert Malloy has been on the police force for many years. He's sort of past his shelf life, so to speak. He's been dealing with alcoholism and perhaps dealing with a family and a home life that is probably in disarray - you really don't know much about him, but I made him so."

Says Aldrich, "I enjoyed writing the interplay between Evan and Malloy. I felt like they were an even match. Someone who's trained as an academic who knows language inside and out and who felt he could joust with a cop who has much more life experience than he does. They were like two boxers in the ring."

"Evan gets his hackles up as he's speaking with Malloy, and Malloy has to work out a cleverer way to get to Evan," says Pearce. "As a detective, Malloy has to approach things in a delicate way, particularly when dealing with someone like Evan, who's very good with words and is very clever. So, it's a cat-and-mouse kind of game between them. It was great to work with Pierce on those scenes."

"I really like the idea of seeing those two actors together," says Kaijser. "Guy Pearce has the perfect pedigree for playing Evan. He's done so many different kinds of movies and played so many complex characters. And it was appealing to have Pierce Brosnan portray a less-polished character than we often see him play. When I met him, it became clear that was part of the appeal for him, too. The combination of them both was great. They have terrific chemistry."

Whirring inside SPINNING MAN's multiple mysteries is also one about Evan Birch's wife, Ellen. As Evan tries to connect the frayed parts of his selective memory, Ellen seems to both know more than she lets on, and less, though her formidable intellect is at odds with her being kept in the dark. "We can't move again, Evan," Ellen says at one point, confirming that the reasons for the stress in their marriage and her husband's career are all too familiar to her.

"I love a smart thriller, and there don't seem to be too many of them made anymore," says Driver. "It's a really interesting idea to watch things unfold really unexpectedly, and then fold back in on itself. I like the psychological and linguistic elements of the story. It was really cool and it's a great role for a woman, and a great role for me. Ellen is very quiet and measured, and very well written."

"Ellen is quiet and measured and she's a former teacher, and she's trying to hold together very fragile marriage that only reveals itself as fragile under scrutiny as the story goes on," adds Driver. "She gets pushed to a place she's never been before, and we see her unravel. In the story, you're watching her excessively support someone who it appears may be unsupportable. But people do weird things when they're in love."

Adds Pearce, "In the relationship between Evan and Ellen, you get the sense that they're a loving family and a smart couple, but there's something in the past there too. From Ellen's point of view, she's both facing up to all that occurred previously - with all the feelings of mistrust she has - and then this new event occurs. Ellen is immediately suspicious. She doesn't want to be, but Evan has a past."

The interplay between Guy Pearce and Minnie Driver benefits from Driver's accessible persona and wry portrayal of intelligent and sly women. From the 1995 Irish coming-of-age dramedy Circle of Friends - Driver's breakout film - to her Oscar-nominated turn in Good Will Hunting (Best Supporting Actress, 1997), through Grosse Pointe Blank, An Ideal Husband, Return to Me, Beautiful, and her current starring role on TV's hit Speechless, Driver engages us with her down-to-earth approach and nothing-gets-past-me wit. Driver's portrayal of the smart and speculative Ellen Birch hinges on all of that and more. If Evan isn't telling the truth, would Ellen believe him, given how we see the professor and his wife thrust and parry about personal and professional matters?

And, in scenes between Ellen and Detective Malloy, Driver and Brosnan - who had earlier worked together on 1995's GoldenEye, in which Driver appeared as the mistress of a Russian gangster contact of 007 - both savored the knife's edge their characters dance on.

"I love Ellen's scene with Malloy - he's being manipulative and has come into her home and stepped over a line and sort of pushes her over another line," says Driver. "She doesn't have any former dealings with the police, and here this guy is threatening to destroy her family. But he's also a good man, a cop just trying to do his job, and she can't cast him off with anger. She can't just dismiss him. I like the emotional explosion Ellen has. I love when you see a calm character get pushed into a place they're not used to. I'd never played a character like that."

In the role of Evan Birch's attorney, Paul, actor Clark Gregg (The Avengers, TV's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) adds a fast-talking element to SPINNING MAN. As Paul sits with Evan and Ellen and helps them suss out their side of the story, munching on a burger in a local greasy diner, Paul assures Evan that if he's truly innocent, he's got nothing to worry about. Evidence will clear him, and strange extenuating circumstances can be easily explained away. "Cops plant land mines," Paul says after Malloy rattles Evan and Ellen, "and coincidence has put you in the crosshairs."

Clark Gregg's familiarity with the genre extends beyond his performance as Paul. Before moving into the world of Marvel superheroes, Gregg was a favorite of New York theater and a busy character actor (The Usual Suspects, The Spanish Prisoner, One Hour Photo). Gregg also wrote the script for Robert Zemeckis' thriller What Lies Beneath (2000), the Harrison Ford-Michelle Pfeiffer hit that hinged on a man's past transgressions coming back to haunt his marriage and home.

"This cop is going to try and establish a pattern of behavior," says Paul in SPINNING MAN, as Evan turns to his lawyer's slick expertise for help. Yet while legal technicalities may clear Evan from his tense present, Malloy focuses just as much on what certain clues and signifiers may ultimately prove or disprove.

Through all of SPINNING MAN is a gripping plot that goes 'round, turns in on itself, and makes audiences consider the intellectual and ethical underpinnings we all may feel about guilt, innocence, memory, and facing up to our past.

"Simon Kaijser has a fascination with human psychology," says Pearce of his director. "We talked a lot about the way in which a character might behave in a situation that may be because of a subconscious fear, so they may act really calm when in fact, deep down, they're kind of panicked. How you can have an idea of yourself and know your own identity, say that you're a good person because of this fact and that fact - but when you're questioned, you can then easily be toppled."

"I think the audience will relate to the story in it that its seemingly everyday life," adds Pearce. "We set a scene that is relatively familiar. We want the audience to feel the hairs stand up on the backs of their necks, thinking this could happen to them, too."

Says Kaijser, "The film dares to be subtle, and also doesn't tell the audience what to think and what to believe at all times. It has several layers. There is the suspense layer, but there are also other layers that are equally important, including the theme of truth and guilt being relative and conditional, especially within a marriage or a relationship."

"In that sense, I hope the film serves as sort of a Trojan horse," adds Kaijser. "You get the suspense, but you also get thought-provoking ideas that make you think."

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