The Devil's Advocate: About The Production

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The premise of "The Devil's Advocate" excited director Taylor Hackford and struck him as both pertinent and entertaining.

"The courtroom has become the gladiator's arena of the late 20th century," he says. "Following the progress of a sensational trial is a spectator sport; you're watching something that's part melodrama, part vaudeville and part cold-blooded calculation. And now that audiences have seen televised trials, they realize that morality and justice have very little to do with the outcomes. The winners are the lawyers who will stop at nothing. I thought it would be interesting to put that behavior into a larger context of right and wrong.

"I was also interested in the way that competing and winning have become such core values in our culture that we lose sight of the place where some other concern should intervene. I wanted to examine a character who's been rewarded all his life for being a winner, so he's never stepped back to say that winning may not always be the best thing. We often fail to do that until things go wrong ­p; we don't know how to anticipate that we're about to take matters too far."

"'The Devil's Advocate' is a story about some characteristically American values: ambition, drive, materialism," says producer Arnold Kopelson. "Going after success and its trappings is a classic American male behavior, and Kevin Lomax shows us what can happen when that behavior gets out of hand.

"Anyone truly caught up in modern society and in running after public success will have done things for their ambition; they will have sacrificed some of their human quotient. The things you run after, the things that you attain all have prices, and they all impact on other elements of your life," agrees producer Arnon Milchan. "It's wonderful and dramatic to look at our lives in terms of right and wrong, to see how close to making a Faustian bargain we have come."

Hackford joined the production after reading the early version of the film's script, written by Jonathan Lemkin. "I liked the premise that Jonathan set up and the events in the story, but there were certain aspects of it that I wanted to develop even further," he recalls.

Hackford brought in writer Tony Gilroy, with whom he had worked on his most recent film, the critically lauded "Dolores Claiborne." Gilroy and Hackford discussed the project and decided to expand on the tantalizing nature of evil in contemporary life at the millenium.

"The people in this story who get into trouble are people who have made certain choices," explains Hackford. "Tony and I don't believe in blaming the Devil for these terrible events; when people have the opportunity to exercise their free will, they choose to damn themselves nine times out of 10. We wanted to show that you make your own choices in life ­p; the Devil is merely the impulse inside of us to choose what we know is ethically wrong. It's not some guy with a forked tail ­p; we ourselves are responsible."


Once the script was complete, it was time to begin the casting process. The impact of "The Devil's Advocate" clearly rests on the characters of Kevin Lomax and John Milton, two powerful men, one at the beginning of his career and one in robust mid-stride. Their emerging conflict is the core of the story, and it required two charismatic and gifted actors to fill the roles. Taylor Hackford feels confident that he drew the ideal mix in Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino.

Says Hackford, "Keanu has a different, perhaps stronger, presence in this film than the one we're used to seeing from him. Here he appears as a young man who has never had doubts about what he wanted, who's succeeded in life by trying hard and not wondering what else may have contributed to his success. I think Keanu has done a terrific job of bringing that kind of competitive, non-reflective, all-American guy to the screen."

"Kevin's an ambitious man, a moral man, too, but he wants things," says Reeves of his character. "He comes from poverty, and he now wants personal and material gain. He's never lost a case, he's vain, and he's proud he's an attorney. He wants to win; he wants to know that no one can beat him. Kevin's a man who's very much about control, and he always thinks that he has the answers. He even says in the height of his wife's trauma that `I'll win this case and then I'll focus all my energy onto her.'"

Adds producer Anne Kopelson, "At the beginning of the story Kevin's never really encountered something he couldn't handle. He thinks it's all because of his abilities; he doesn't acknowledge the things in life that he can't control."

John Milton is the essence of Kevin Lomax's temptation, the invitation by a modern-day Satan to enter an underworld that is represented by the excess of our most worldly pleasures. "He is the fulcrum," says director Hackford. "You feel Milton's presence in every scene, not only the scenes that he's in, but also the scenes he's not in, because you know that he is manipulating everything that happens. He is very sardonic, very funny and he can be cruel. But he's never really pulling the strings by himself ­p; he's giving people their choice, their free will to decide.

"Al Pacino was the first actor I thought of for the role of John Milton," continues Hackford, "I told him what I wanted at the beginning, he bought the vision, and then started coming up with his own ideas, and the character of John Milton really blossomed."

Mary Ann Lomax is played by Charlize Theron, who made a substantial impact on audiences with her role in the independent release "2 Days in the Valley." Recalls Hackford, "I auditioned Charlize along with a substantial group of talented young women and she was an immediate standout; she had the range of emotion, from cocky to desperately vulnerable, that I was looking for. Despite that, she tested four times for us before she got the part ­p; and the reason is simply that she is so beautiful that I was afraid audiences wouldn't be able to empathize with her. In the end, though, Charlize's talent and perceptiveness convinced me that she was the right woman for the role."

"Mary Ann is a powerful presence in this story," says Anne Kopelson. "She's very proud of her husband, and she's an outgoing, flirtatious and successful woman in her Florida hometown. When we first meet her, she seems almost like a female version of her husband, and they're very well matched.

"The difference between them becomes much clearer after they go to New York. We realize that Mary Ann has an inner voice and that she listens to it, unlike Kevin. She knows that being a big frog in a small pond doesn't guarantee her success in New York City; she's insecure and doesn't try to be more sophisticated than she is. And when she sees people surrendering themselves to appearance, possessions and status, she knows that something is wrong."

Agrees Arnold Kopelson, "Mary Ann loves to see her husband succeed, but she isn't greedy. She quickly gets overwhelmed by the demands of a successful Upper West Side lifestyle, but she can't convince her husband that they are falling away from each other. John Milton is wise when he sees that Mary Ann is the biggest threat to him in his plans for Kevin."

Veteran stage and film actress Judith Ivey plays Kevin's mother. Says Hackford, "When Judy came in to read with Keanu, I could see on Keanu's face that they liked each other. There was a connection between them and it showed in their interaction. You could believe that she was his mother right from the start.

"She is an interesting character in the movie; at first she seems completely peripheral, like a detail of Kevin Lomax's life. As the story progresses, however, we come to understand her strength and we're even a bit surprised by the way she responds to the events that unfold around her."

Kevin's behavior changes when he arrives in New York and encounters a diverse group of people whose attitudes are different from his own. At Milton's law firm, Eddie Barzoon (Jeffrey Jones) is the managing director, a cocky sophisticated and hardnosed attorney who encourages Lomax to enjoy his new opportunities. But when Barzoon himself begins to question his loyalty to John Milton, he finds that it's difficult to break the commitments he's made.

Craig T. Nelson plays New York's most powerful real-estate tycoon, Alexander Cullen, who is accused of a brutal triple homicide. Cullen makes Kevin feel powerful by entrusting his defense to the young lawyer, but Kevin takes on a bigger job than he'd realized when he begins investigating Cullen's life. Nelson, known to millions of television viewers as the affable star of the hit series "Coach," demonstrates his talent for dramatic roles and darker shadings in his portrayal of Cullen.

Christabella, played by Connie Nielson, is the clever and beautiful lawyer who is, in many ways, the female counterpart to Kevin Lomax. Says Nielson, "Christabella will stop at nothing to succeed. She and Kevin are very much alike: they're young, attractive and completely driven by work." But Christabella's job is something Kevin doesn't fully understand until it's too late.

Tony Award winning actor Ruben Santiago-Hudson was cast in the role of Leamon Heath, the firm's representative who is sent to Florida to recruit and lure Kevin to the firm. "I'm Milton's right-hand man and Milton's given me a wonderful life. I have a beautiful wife, a luxurious Fifth Avenue apartment, a big salary and everything I ever wanted. But to get these things I had to sell my soul, like everybody else at the firm," says Santiago-Hudson.

Locations and Sets

Creating the rarified world of New York's ultra-wealthy and privileged is a unique challenge. The city's own style is universally well-known, but production designer BRUNO RUBEO wanted to juxtapose it with certain settings that were unforgettably unique to the character of John Milton.

For example, the spectacular interiors of John Milton's apartment were built on a soundstage in Los Angeles. Rubeo explains, "We wanted Milton's apartment to be very loose and very sexy. We didn't want to give the impression that this was a man with a normal life and a normal apartment. This particular set was designed in order to fully capture the mystery of John Milton.

"Some of the characters in the movie wonder, where does he sleep? Where does he entertain? It's seductive, yet scary and mysterious, so you can't really tell how far this place goes or where it goes. It is fitting that one of the most stunning sets in the film serves as the location for the film's finale."

The dramatic and minimalist law offices of Milton, Chadwick, Waters, were designed and constructed on the top two floors of the Continental Club in lower Manhattan, although John Milton's round office was built on a soundstage. The stunning rooftop water garden of John Milton's office, however, was actually built on the rooftop of the Continental Plaza building, where the actors walked in a blustery February wind, inches from a 50-story drop, on narrow platforms constructed by the production. Computer graphics added the water at a later stage. "This way," recounts Rubeo, "the actors walked from a soundstage outdoors to a real setting, but it all looks seamless."

Real-life real-estate tycoon Donald Trump lent his own Fifth Avenue penthouse to the production to double as the home of real-estate developer Alexander Cullen.

The trial scenes were shot in both the federal and state courthouses downtown, as well as in the Municipal Building on Foley Square. The company also filmed in the neighborhoods of Chinatown and Soho.

Effects and Transformations

While "The Devil's Advocate" is set in the real world of contemporary New York, the events in the story are certainly not conventional, and their representation onscreen required virtuoso technical abilities. Visual-effects specialists RICHARD GREENBERG and STEPHANIE POWELL and Oscar-winning makeup effects specialist RICK BAKER created the unsettling images that reveal the true identities of John Milton, his law partners and their spouses, as well as the dramatic effects at the climax of the film.

Says producer Arnon Milchan, "One of the most frightening things is not to be able to trust your senses ­p; to look at something and not be sure you can believe your eyes, for example. Time and again, there are scenes in 'The Devil's Advocate' where Kevin and Mary Ann think they may be seeing something very frightening, but when they look again, it's not there. The doubt and the confusion is even more frightening than the specter they thought they saw."

Explains Taylor Hackford, "We were careful not to let the monster out of the box, so to speak, by using any images that were obvious. Things appear and disappear in a moment; sometimes they seem real and sometimes they seem like a bad dream, so that when the events in the story actually do emerge into reality, the Lomaxes don't know what's real and what isn't anymore.

"There is an important scene at the climax of the story in John Milton's home, where he himself is transformed, first into a younger version of himself that resembles Keanu Reeves, and then into an angel. To accomplish this, we used life masks of both Pacino's present-day face and his younger face ­p; the latter of which we obtained from DICK SMITH, who created it for 'The Godfather.' We also made a life mask of Keanu, and Rick Baker, who did his training long ago with Dick, used all three to transform Al from a mature face to a youthful face to a blend of his own and Keanu's youthful face, and finally into an angel, which is, of course, what Lucifer was before he was cast out of Heaven.

"The transformation is eerie and unsettling, but also very beautiful. It reminds us where the Devil came from, and why he exists: he was the highest angel, the closest to God, until his ego caused him to be cast away from God. Today, we are so often driven by our egos ­p; and rewarded for it -- that we forget how dire Lucifer's punishment was for his sin of ego and vanity.

"We've created a very real-world Devil in this story ­p; a demon whose world is our own, with all its mundane events. He appears in human form and presents human choices, and his greatest lure is what we have in common with him: our greed, ego, jealousy, competitiveness, lust, dishonesty.

"He is familiar, and that's what makes him so dangerous. But when he is fully revealed, that's what also reminds us he was once divine. It was losing the battle, giving up the struggle against those temptations that damned Lucifer. So instead of showing him as something with horns and a tail, we chose to show him as he once was, before his ego corrupted him."

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