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THE GOLDFINCH

About The Production
"In Amsterdam, I dreamt I saw my mother again...
Everything would have turned out better if she had lived.
As it was,she died when I was a kid. And when I lost her, I lost sight
of any landmark that might have led me someplace happier."
- Theo Decker

Theo Decker's achingly poignant journey first unfolded on the pages of Donna Tartt's best-selling novel The Goldfinch. Published in the fall of 2013, it immediately became a must read, topping best seller lists around the globe and earning numerous honors, including the coveted Pulitzer Prize.

Director John Crowley counts himself among the novel's biggest fans. "I am one of the many millions who adore that book," he states. "I read it when it first came out and thought it contained a remarkable mix of elements. It was an interesting way of looking at grief and shame-the way this child gets stuck at the point in his life when he lost his mother and how his dilemma only gets deeper and more complicated as he grows into an adult.

"I found itto be a very vivid, extremely memorable and affecting reading experience," he continues. "That's critical when you turn to making a book into a film, because it's the thing you want to hold on to and what you keep going back to-that first feeling you had as a reader." Ansel Elgort, who stars as Theo, shares that feeling. "It is a beautiful and intense drama that draws you in," he says. "It's the story of a life that was stolen and the ripple effects of a single devastating event."

Theo Decker and his mom should not have been at the museum that day. She was called to his school because he'd gotten into some trouble, but they were early and it was raining, so they ducked in. As his mother drifted away to view more of the exhibit's Dutch masterpieces, Theo's gaze was caught by a pretty, young redheaded girl. Seconds later...a commotion. Then the horrific blast. Theo comes to in a gray moonscape of choking dust, debris and death. And there, in the rubble, is the painting-his mom's favorite, the one she had pointed out to him only moments before: Carel Fabritius's The Goldfinch. With his dying breath, an elderly gentleman pleads with the young boy to "take it" and, still reeling and in shock, Theo tucks the priceless artwork into his bag and leaves the museum-a life-changing action that will have far-reaching repercussions.

Brad Simpson, who produced the film with his Color Force partner, Nina Jacobson, notes, "At the beginning, you have this young boy who loses his mother in a sudden and stunning manner and then spends the rest of his life seeking some human connection. But every time Theo thinks he's found it, he's ripped away, so he clutches onto this one object, the painting, as a substitute for the world that's been taken away. That unrelenting sensation of loss and the search for wholeness is one of the story's central themes. For Theo, The Goldfinch is not just a painting."

In the immediate aftermath of the bombing, Theo is placed with the family of one of his school friends, the Barbours, where he begins to form a bond with Mrs. Barbour, played by Nicole Kidman. "I think the way in which Theo and Mrs. Barbour connect is through their mutual appreciation of art," she offers. "But also, as you see through this film, there is a way in which memory is attached to particular objects and to art, and then it becomes not so much about the object but the feeling it elicits, and how that can transport you."

"It's incredible how much we can imbue into a piece the memory of a loved one," concurs Jeffrey Wright, cast as Hobie, an antiques dealer and restorer who becomes a major influence in Theo's life. "That makes Theo's arc through this story full of pathos and all the more complex because he has no other choice."

In a similar vein, Elgort observes that his character "becomes attached to antiques because he finds a kind of peace in knowing that they have been around a lot longer than us and will be around long after we've gone. He views human life as something fleeting because his life has been so traumatic. But an object can endure, and I think that idea comforts him. And the object he prizes the most-and the one that also haunts him the most-is The Goldfinch."

Simpson recalls that when he and Jacobson read the novel, "what we were most taken with was Theo Decker's odyssey-from the Upper East Side of New York to the exurbs of Las Vegas, from Greenwich Village to Amsterdam-and the wonderfully rich cast of characters that move in and out of his life. It had everything we look for in a book: a page-turner with a deeply emotional narrative." 5 Nevertheless, Jacobson says, "We also knew it would be a challenge to condense more than 700 pages of storytelling into an approximately two-hour movie. It required an extraordinary writer, and Peter Straughan is one of the most respected screenwriters in Hollywood who has successfully adapted rich literary works, from 'Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy' to 'Wolf Hall.' From the beginning, he had the notion that the only way to tell this story was to essentially fracture it and then put it back together in a non-linear way. When I read Peter's screenplay, I was amazed by how intricate it was-how each little piece relied on the others in conjuring the totality of the tale. Peter truly achieved something special."

Crowley agrees, noting, "In letting go of the linear structure and moving back and forth between the two time periods in Theo's life, Peter gave us a cinematic way in. As we cut between the past and the present, hopefully you get the sense that this young man's past sits on his shoulders. It's never gone."

Simpson and Jacobson had begun developing "The Goldfinch" shortly after Crowley's acclaimed romantic drama "Brooklyn" was released. "'Brooklyn' was such a beautiful movie, a wonderful book adaptation that was loved by so many people," says Simpson. "We had a couple of great meetings with John, and he spoke from a place of character and emotion and an understanding of how each small detail in the book had great meaning in terms of the characters. We knew he was the right person to continue the journey of bringing 'The Goldfinch' to the screen."

Behind the camera, Crowley had the benefit of teaming with some of the most experienced artisans and craftspeople in cinema, including legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, production designer K.K. Barrett, editor Kelley Dixon, costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone and composer Trevor Gureckis.

The director states, "What I find most exciting about the process of making a film is finding genuine collaborators who will take what you put on the table and challenge it or turn it on its head and come back with something 10 times bigger and better. It was a gift to work with artists of their caliber to realize the breadth of the canvas of this story."

To bring the saga to life onscreen, Elgort, Kidman and Wright were joined in the main cast by Oakes Fegley, Aneurin Barnard, Finn Wolfhard, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Ashleigh Cummings, Willa Fitzgerald, Aimee Laurence, Denis O'Hare and Boyd Gaines. Crowley has nothing but praise for the ensemble, which, he says, "is dotted with stars and amazing young talents, and it also features a number of remarkable actors in smaller yet incredibly vivid roles. The richness of them as a whole creates a very profound experience. To be able to populate the film with a cast of this quality, all of whom did glorious work, was rather special."

THE PLAYERS
"It's like he sent me exactly where I needed to be.
And to who I needed to be with."
- Theo Decker
As "The Goldfinch" weaves between two time periods, spaced 14 years apart, several roles had to be played by two generations of actors. That most notably included the central character of Theo Decker, portrayed as an adult by Ansel Elgort and, as a child, by Oakes Fegley. Elgort allows that one of the most daunting aspects of his performance was conveying the trauma that haunts Theo, who remains, metaphorically, as chained to the day of the bombing as the tiny bird is to its perch in the stolen painting. Hidden away, it is his secret talisman, which both comforts and torments him. And, like The Goldfinch, the pain Theo feels is also concealed from view.

"Judging by appearances alone, Theo seems to have gotten himself together," Elgort explains. "But inside, he is still struggling with his loss and the guilt he has been carrying on his shoulders since childhood. I had to find his inner darkness and getting to that place was my biggest challenge.

"Having John Crowley be a very hands-on director was exactly what I needed for this movie," the actor continues. "We spent a lot of time talking about who Theo is. He had such a masterful take on the story and characters, and I trusted him completely."

Crowley says he had equal faith in Elgort. "Ansel devoted himself-heart, mind and body-to his performance. I think he makes you really feel for this character and everything he's been through."

"Even with the mistakes he makes as a man, which are not insignificant," says Jacobson, "you know the boy so well that you can forgive the man."

With that in mind, the filmmakers knew that engendering empathy for Theo would have to begin with the young actor playing him at age 13, when his world was shattered. Fegley says, "Theo's mom was the only stable family he had. His father left and is not part of his life, so to lose her, too, leaves Theo feeling helpless, with no control over where life is taking him, on top of his grief and guilt. He goes through such a big range of emotions, which is one of the things that drew me to the role."

"We went through hundreds and hundreds of submissions of kids for Theo," recalls Crowley. "It was a gradual process of narrowing them down, and we kept circling back to Oakes. He was really good and very touching, and there was also this impression of an old soul about him that felt right for this character."

Jacobson adds, "Oakes Fegley is a remarkably sophisticated actor, especially for someone that young. His performance is extraordinary...so moving, so vulnerable." After the tragedy, Theo can't go home. When the social workers ask him if there is anyone who could help, the only name he can think to give them is Mrs. Barbour, the mother of his school chum, Andy.

The filmmakers were thrilled when Nicole Kidman accepted the role of the elegant Park Avenue matriarch of the wholly dysfunctional Barbour family. The actress reveals it was due in no small part to the director. "I saw 'Brooklyn' and very much wanted to work with John Crowley, so that was perhaps the biggest draw for me. And then I read the script and the book and said I'd love to be involved."

"What else is there to say about Nicole?" Crowley marvels. "Apart from being a delightful human being and an incredibly warm presence on the set, she brought so much to the role. From take to take, she was always willing to do more to develop the core idea of each scene. I cannot imagine another actor who could have inhabited this character so perfectly. It really was a master class."

Elgort agrees. "Acting with Nicole, I was pinching myself. I was just in awe watching her. She is so creative and so emotionally available with a real rawness and groundedness to her work. We were only in a few scenes together, but it was spectacular."

Considering her character, Kidman says, "One thing I found quite intriguing about Mrs. Barbour is that she doesn't initially respond to Theo. She welcomes him into her home because it's the right thing to do, but at the same time she's very held back. There is a stoicism to her and a kind of quietness. Her ability to open up to this child is limited, and I think that's an interesting way to start their relationship."

Crowley relates, "It would have been easy to just portray her as being cold and haughty, but that's not what Nicole did. We wanted to suggest degrees of emotion behind her brittle façade, and you actually do get the sense of a whole interior life beneath the surface, particularly in the earlier time frame."

Years later, when an older Theo is reunited with Mrs. Barbour, the difference is palpable. "It's almost as if she can't contain her emotions," Crowley continues. "Mrs. Barbour sees in Theo's return the possibility of redeeming something that may well be irredeemable. She thinks of him as the surrogate child she never got to incorporate into her family unit, which looked perfect from the outside but was about to come apart."

There was a reason Mrs. Barbour was unable to bring the young Theo into her family. Just at the point that Theo was finally regaining some measure of belonging, cruel fate stepped in again. His ne'er-do-well father, Larry, suddenly showed up and whisked his son away to the desert-and deserted-outskirts of Las Vegas.

Cast in the part, Luke Wilson comments, "Larry had hit the road early on, but comes back into Theo's life after the disastrous event at the Met. You don't exactly know what his intentions are. Is he back to help his son out? Has he finally turned his life around and is he now trying to be a good person? Or is he after something?"

To delve deeper into the role, Wilson relied on the source material. "The novel was invaluable because it informs how he carries himself, what he's been through, the substance abuse issues, and where his life's taken him," he says. "All that was very helpful, and along with the rehearsals with John, Oakes and Sarah, I felt like I had a good handle on the character."

"Luke was able to tap into this handsome man who hasn't exactly gone to seed but has a slight feeling of defeat about him," Crowley notes. "There's just enough of the nice guy persona around Larry that you could think there's a chance the relationship with Theo might be redeemed...before you realize he's not the best person.

Sarah Paulson, a true devotee of The Goldfinch, literally lobbied to play Larry's live-in girlfriend, Xandra, when the film was still in development. She affirms, "To say I am a big fan of the book would be an understatement. And as I was reading it, I actually said out loud, 'If they ever make a movie of this, I want to be Xandra.' When the film was announced, I saw one of the people producing it was Nina Jacobson, who I'd just worked with on 'The People versus O.J.' I just told her, 'I have to play Xandra.'"

The actress ultimately won the role after showing Crowley that she had an innate understanding of the character-inside and out-putting herself on tape in full Xandra regalia. The director asserts that he had absolutely no doubts about Paulson's acting talents, stating, "I've seen and adored her work, but I knew this was different from anything she's done before. Not everyone can utterly transform themselves, but that's what a great actor does, and boy could she. And Sarah loves the book; she inhaled every detail of her character and it shows in her performance."

While Xandra can barely conceal her resentment of this unexpected "third wheel" in her relationship with Larry, "I felt defensive on her behalf," Paulson admits. "After all, she's had her life flipped on its head. There she was having this wonderful, wild time, riding around Vegas with her hot boyfriend-she thinks he's super-hot-and all of a sudden, there's this little twerp putting a dent in her footloose, fancy-free vibe. Not that she has anything against Theo per se, but he's taking her man's attention away from her. She didn't sign up to be a stepmother; that was never part of the deal. So in that respect, who can blame Xandra for being a little jealous?"

Cast adrift in the outer reaches of Las Vegas, surrounded by sand and rows of vacant houses, emptied by foreclosure, Theo finds an anchor in a new best friend named Boris, a Russian-born, street-smart, recalcitrant teenager, who has been forced to grow up before his time. Apart from being the only two kids within miles, Boris and Theo have misfortune in common: both had mothers who died tragically, and both have neglectful, even abusive, fathers.

Finn Wolfhard, who plays the role of the young Boris, says he has had to come up with his own rules of survival. "He's got it all figured out for himself. He's been through tragedy, too, but somehow has come to terms with things and is living life to the fullest. He reads Dostoyevsky, smokes cigarettes and drinks, and doesn't give a crap about what he's saying. That was fun to do-to just flat out say stuff that you think. But Boris is also wise, way beyond his years, and when Theo comes into his life, Boris has someone to share his wisdom with."

Wisdom aside, Boris is less than a good influence on Theo, with whom he also shares a penchant for alcohol, drugs and shoplifting.

As they had for the role of young Theo, the filmmakers considered a number of actors for Boris, "but none of them had Boris's charisma and that mischievous quality that suggests this kid could get you into a lot of trouble and, at the same time, is wily enough to get you back out of trouble. Finn has all that," the director states.

Chemistry was another important factor in casting the two boys, but the filmmakers knew they'd found the right mix when Fegley and Wolfhard were paired during auditions. "It was very funny because they wouldn't shut up; I could barely get a word in edgeways," Crowley laughs. "They just locked in on each other-playing and having fun and engaging in a way that you can't fake. You can try; you can maybe attempt to direct it, but you can't make that happen naturally between two kids. It was a real joy to witness, and it continued all the way through the shoot. The pair of them were like a tonic."

Theo and Boris are all but left to their own devices, until a shocking turn of events forces Theo to flee Las Vegas. With nowhere else to go, he buys a bus ticket to the only place he had ever really called home: New York City. Years later, Elgort's adult Theo is unexpectedly reunited with Boris-now played by Aneurin Barnard-and it's as if no time has passed.

"That's how it is for good friends," Barnard attests. "It doesn't matter how long you haven't seen them; you just click straight away. And the friendship Theo and Boris have...it's almost like soul mates without the romantic aspect of it. They are bound for life."

Crowley offers, "Boris is a young man who has already packed a lot into his life, but some things have not worked out particularly well for him. He is racked with regrets and a degree of guilt about events that happened a long time ago and is driven by a determination to try and set things right. We needed an actor who has depth and could convey a touch of melancholy, and Aneurin doesn't lack for soulfulness and expressivity and emotional availability, along with a degree of playful wit."

"In his youth," Barnard adds, "Boris was very rebellious with drugs and alcohol. Then we pick up with him later, still with the drugs, still with the booze, and he's messing around with a lot of dangerous businesses...but always carrying a smile on his face."

For Barnard, who is Welsh, and Wolfhard, an American, a major part of their preparation was learning to speak as someone Russian-born. Both actors trained with dialect coach Kristina Nazarevskaia to master the accent.

Although Elgort and Oakes were collectively cast as Theo, and Barnard and Wolfhard both took on the role of Boris, Crowley says he had few concerns about similarities in their outward appearance, instead focusing on the inner spirit of each character. What mattered most to him, he says, "was that they were able to play the truth of each character in their respective situations, and then I was the arbiter of making sure they aligned both visually and tonally. I wanted it to be as if life had carved its initials into both Theo and Boris in a way that was very particular to them...and to feel the essence of what binds them together, which is a depth of sadness, actually."

Without question, one of Theo's most impactful and enduring connections is with Hobie, played by Jeffrey Wright. An antiques dealer who lives and works in Greenwich Village, Hobie serves as a father figure and mentor to the child and, later, as an employer...and conscience...to the adult. Wright observes, "Hobie, in many respects, represents a kind of oasis for Theo, beginning soon after he loses his mother but then later in his life, as well. Hobie is a life source for him in a world that, for Theo, is love-challenged."

Brad Simpson reveals, "Jeffrey was always at the top of our list for Hobie, who is, for many people, the heart of the story. Jeffrey is one of the most esteemed actors working today, and we knew he would bring to Hobie what was most important-for the audience to instantly feel a sense of comfort."

That was also true for the young actor playing opposite him. Oakes Fegley says, "In the beginning, I was a little intimidated working with legends like Jeffrey and Nicole. But then you realize they are all awesome people, just very nice and humble, and that is kind of comforting. And I learned so much from them."

Theo had first come to Hobie on a mission. The older man whom the young boy encountered in the wreckage of the museum-who, near death, begged him to take The Goldfinch-also handed him a ring, cryptically telling him, "Hobart and Blackwell. Ring the green bell." Known as Welty, Blackwell (Robert Joy) was the uncle of the young Pippa (Aimée Laurence), the pretty girl who caught Theo's eye moments before the explosion and was seriously injured in the blast.

When Theo does venture to the shop and Hobie invites him in, the young boy, for the first time since the bombing, finds some semblance of peace. So it is understandable that when Theo runs from Vegas, the person he runs to is Hobie, who becomes, literally and figuratively, a port in the storm.

Wright explains, "Theo comes back to the shop in the midst of the cold and the rain and finds a place of warmth...a place that fires his imagination and his curiosity. He finds a home." The actor goes on to reflect, "I imagine, in some ways, there could be a parallel drawn between the way Hobie gives new life to antiques and discarded pieces and his relationship with Theo: Hobie is trying to the best of his abilities to give Theo a new life."

Theo stays with Hobie, becoming his apprentice and, as an adult, his trusted partner. But the wrongs and the betrayals of Theo's life choices will soon test the two men's relationship in ways neither could have imagined.

Through Hobie, Theo is reunited with Pippa, with whom he shares an inexorable connection, forged in tragedy. But while the adult Theo is in love with Pippa, she understands, better than he, that the same experience that draws them together will also keep them apart in any way beyond friendship.

Ashleigh Cummings, who appears as the adult Pippa, affirms, "Theo and Pippa have a deeply complicated relationship. They exist in a world that only they can understand, and yet there is this immeasurable gap between them that they can't seem to close...or at least, Pippa won't allow them to close. I think she is self-aware enough to know that the two of them together-two "death-driven souls," as the book puts it-would probably spiral into something terribly destructive. And yet, there is still a sense of hope..."

"The Goldfinch" ensemble cast also features Willa Fitzgerald as the adult Kitsey Barbour, whose relationship with Theo may at last bring him into the Barbour family; Luke Kleintank as her older brother, Platt; Boyd Gaines as Mr. Barbour; and Ryan Foust as young Andy Barbour. Denis O'Hare plays Lucius Reeve, a customer who threatens to expose Theo's deceptions...past and present.

Hailey Wist is seen as Theo's mother, but only very briefly, which, Nina Jacobson says, was by design. "She is quite a significant character, but Peter Straughan made the decision that she would be absent for almost the entire film so you would clearly feel the void left by her death."

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