The Peacemaker: About The Production

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The inspiration for "The Peacemaker" evolved from an article by veteran investigative journalists Andrew and Leslie Cockburn. Drawn from declassified intelligence reports and factual news sources, the Cockburns' material documented the dangerous, high-stakes game of nuclear weapons smuggling in the former Soviet Union.

"We developed some incredible sources within the U.S. government," reveals Andrew Cockburn, who spent months with his wife Leslie researching and conducting interviews throughout the United States, Europe and former Soviet Union. "When you see 'The Peacemaker,' keep in mind that the bad guys--the Russian Mafia and rogue military personnel--are all very real. A senior administration official, who happens to be a veteran of various covert operations, told us, 'Be careful; these guys will kill you in the middle of the night with a vial of something in your room.'"

The task of transforming the Cockburns' initial research into a taut, suspenseful script fell to screenwriter Michael Schiffer, who has had a successful track record with material dealing with the machinations of government, as well as the threat of unsecured nuclear weaponry.

For "The Peacemaker," U.S. government agencies allowed Schiffer a behind-the-scenes look at response scenarios devised to thwart terrorists armed with pirated nuclear weapons. Among those officials Schiffer interviewed was Jessica Stern, the National Security Council point person in charge of the White House Nuclear Smuggling Group. Schiffer discloses, "She explained to me that nuclear smuggling, or 'loose nukes,' is a key national security concern of which the public at large is completely unaware."

Jessica Stern's expertise on the subject proved invaluable to both the screenwriter and the filmmakers. "There have been quite a few incidents of nuclear material smuggling," she acknowledges. "Often we find that insiders-people who work at former Soviet nuclear facilities-walk off with small amounts of material, day by day, building up stockpiles. Fortunately, most of this material has proven to be radioactive, but not fissile, meaning that though it is highly poisonous, it cannot be used to make a bomb. However, when you consider that nuclear weapons designers, scientists and engineers went from being treated like royalty during the Soviet regime to living in abject poverty, the temptations to steal nuclear material-or even weapons-to sell to the highest bidder are great."

Stern relates one specific incident in 1994 involving nearly six pounds of highly enriched uranium that was found by Czech police in a car in Prague. Inside the car were three men who had been employed at nuclear materials facilities in the former Soviet Union. In countries that are willing to spend many millions of dollars to enrich nuclear materials, an exchange could have proven extremely lucrativeand dangerous.

Producer Branko Lustig comments, "Michael's screenplay is suspenseful and provocative because it is rooted in the very real dangers the free world is facing today. Just look at the terrorist attacks in places like Israel and Manchester-not to mention Oklahoma City and Atlanta."

With the story anchored by a timely, all-too-realistic premise, the filmmakers strove to heighten the suspense by establishing a compelling, comprehensible motive that consumes the mind of its central antagonist, a terrorist intent on delivering a nuclear "message" to the United Nations.

"Most terrorists aren't doing it for the money," notes producer Walter Parkes. "They act on what they truly believe to be lofty intentions. People perform acts of terrorism either because they think it's a step into heaven or because they've been hurt so badly themselves that they've come to believe their lives are meaningless. Their sense of moral outrage is so great that they actually think there is an imperative to do what they're doing. Consequently, we knew that if we could show that our 'villain' has a moral imperative-even if what he's doing is utterly horrific-we'd be approaching what might otherwise have been a traditional action movie in a fresh way that would set it apart from the genre."

Also setting "The Peacemaker" apart was the choice of a woman to direct the film. Making her feature film directorial debut, Mimi Leder became one of only a handful of woman directors to break into the action arena. She had originally come to the attention of the producers for her award-winning work on the series "ER," which is produced under the banner of Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Television. The producers recognized that her ability to blend fast-paced action and human emotion-which are the hallmarks of the series-made her the perfect choice to direct this film.

Branko Lustig states, "Her work on 'ER' showed that she is great with speed, and she also had a vision about how 'The Peacemaker' should look. I like when a director knows what they want."

Mimi Leder expresses that she was "thrilled and excited to direct this movie," adding, "I hope that I'm not only referred to as an 'action director,' but simply as a director. I didn't approach this as an action movie, but instead as a dramatic human story. It does encompass a vast, large scope, but at the core it is one man's personal tragedy which drives the action."

Applying a non-traditional approach to the intricate action thriller presented Mimi Leder with her biggest challenge: how to bring sympathy to the character of Dusan (MARCEL IURES), the terrorist who smuggles a nuclear bomb into the United States.

"To me," Leder remarks, "the story is about a man who is in so much pain that the only way he can alleviate it is to pay back the so-called 'peacemakers' who ravaged his country. If you lost your family, if your loved ones were killed by sniper fire, if your entire life was changed by waryou don't know how far you would go to retaliate. That's what we're attempting to do in this movie-to put ourselves in his shoes. The journey begins in what appears to be a black and white world, but soon the defining line between hero and villain is blurred. While their goal is clear, and our heroes' determination never falters, they can't help but begin to sympathize with our villain's personal tragedy."

"It was always important to us that 'The Peacemaker' be not only a breathless ride for the audience, but also completely realistic, both factually and emotionally," asserts Walter Parkes. "This is Mimi's gift: to merge pure kinetic filmmaking skill with an intuitive understanding of what makes people tick."

Fluidly weaving a strong human drama within the action-thriller framework, Schiffer's screenplay captured the interest of George Clooney, the popular star of the top-rated series "ER" and the recent films "Batman and Robin" and "One Fine Day." "The film gave me the opportunity to take on a challenging and exciting role," Clooney offers. "Tom Devoe is a military expert who likes to do things his own way. He enjoys living on the edge, and he does nothing by the book. But, working in tandem with the bureaucratic Dr. Kelly forces him to adapt to an entirely different mode of operation in order to get the job done."

"The role of Devoe was tailor-made for George," Leder says with a smile. "He brings strength, confidence and intelligence to the character. If I wanted somebody to save the world, it would be George."

However, saving the world from nuclear attack rests equally on the shoulders of Devoe and his partner, Dr. Julia Kelly, played by the award-winning star of "To Die For," Nicole Kidman. "Nicole has a fire about her," Leder states. "She's willing to try anything, and it's always exciting to work with an actor who's eager to go places they haven't been before."

"The reason I wanted to do this movie is that it offered me the chance to play a strong, intelligent woman who is put in a situation in which she has to deal with extraordinary circumstances," Kidman comments. "Dr. Julia Kelly is very precise in her approach to life, though she's also used to dealing with things that are very complex. Then she's confronted by George's character, who doesn't follow the rules, and she doesn't have very much respect for him. They operate in completely different manners, yet somehow they manage to find a way to work together."

The director noted that a similar dynamic applied off screen. "Nicole and George have great chemistry," Leder observes, "but their acting styles are completely different. It was interesting to see how the different styles complimented their characters."

"It's not a love story," cautions Clooney. "Kelly's and Devoe's approach to things are completely different. They are adversaries at first, but they must learn how to work things out."

Principal photography on "The Peacemaker" began in New York City on May 28, 1996, at the Jacob Javits Center, which doubled for New York's JFK Airport. The company spent the next 19 days shooting at various locations in and around Manhattan, including Fifth Avenue, the United Nations Building, the Battery Maritime Building, Tudor City, the 100-year-old Xavier High School, and the Peninsula Hotel, whose entire 18th floor was converted into a movie set.

Filming in the busy city of New York presented the filmmakers with something of a logistical problem. "We had to close down the streets of Manhattan at mid-day," Leder recounts. "It was very difficult because New Yorkers-understandably-don't like their streets shut down. Between the crowds, the traffic and the noise pollution, it was extremely challenging."

The company then traveled to Bratislava, located in the Slovak Republic, where they joined a combined Croatian and Slovakian crew, numbering over 100 members.

From the outset, Mimi Leder demanded absolute authenticity onscreen, from the languages spoken, to the settings and costumes. "I wanted to present the Eastern Europeans in the most accurate way possible," explains the director, who spent weeks preparing the various Slovakian, Austrian, Russian and Croatian actors for their roles. "They are a troubled people, struggling to overcome a lifetime's worth of oppression, only to find themselves beset by war and cultural adversity."

Three major contributors to the realism seen in "The Peacemaker" were director of photography Dietrich Lohmann, production designer Leslie Dilley and costume designer Shelley Komarov. "The visual tone of the film is a combination of a great many factors, not all of which are photographic," explains cinematographer Lohmann. "The choice of locations, the production designer, the costume designer, the castall of those elements have to be factored in. In 'The Peacemaker,' the look of the film was influenced by the subject matter, the weather, and Mimi's own visual perspective. Our intention was to shoot fast and rough as a means to pull the audience right into the action."

The filmmakers' attention to detail extended to the costumes procured for the cast members portraying Russian military personnel. Prior to "The Peacemaker," the Russian Army had never allowed its uniforms to be used in a foreign-made motion picture. Costume designer Shelly Komarov, a native of Russia, negotiated with the country's Minister of Defense for the loan of more than 100 uniforms, including that of a Four-Star General.

Three-time Academy Award®-nominated production designer Leslie Dilley spent four months with his team in Slovakia and Macedonia scouting locations and creating realistic sets that further enhanced the film's gritty texture. Under Dilley's direction, two extensive sets were constructed from scratch in the middle of a massive, unfinished convention center situated across the Danube River from Bratislava. There, the designer and his crew built a full-size model of a Boeing 727 fuselage, as well as a two-story replica of the Pentagon War Room, complete with functional, state-of-the-art electronics.

Bratislava's ice hockey stadium was transformed into a 200-foot-long White House corridor, while a basement complex duplicated the actual command center for the White House's Nuclear Smuggling Group. The historic St. Martin's Cathedral, where the ruling Hungarian Deity crowned 17 Kings and Queens from 1563 to 1830, doubled as the New York City church that is the site of the climactic showdown between Devoe, Kelly, and their nuclear bomb-wielding adversary. During the five-day shoot at the cathedral, the production crew had to remove all equipment and vacate the church prior to each of three daily masses held inside.

Following filming in Bratislava, the cast and crew moved on to Ohrid, Macedonia, where locations replicated Russia's Ural Mountains. Widespread reports of hijacking and vehicle vandalism throughout Serbia-along with occasional search and seizures instigated by government officials-prompted the producers to organize a covert convoy to make a clandestine run through the Balkans. The convoy, which consisted of every production vehicle, from the make-up bus, to the camera truck, to the actors' trailers, spent three days snaking its way through Hungary and Serbia before finally crossing the Macedonian border.

In addition to the resort town of Ohrid, filming was accomplished in Macedonia's enormous Kumuh Mine. It was there that Leder recreated the mass exodus of refugees from war-ravaged Bosnia, using 300 Macedonian extras.

From Macedonia, the company returned to Slovakia, where the film's gripping train sequences were shot. Principal photography on "The Peacemaker" was completed on September 16, 1996.

"I think the story in 'The Peacemaker' is chillingly realistic," Jessica Stern reflects, "both in terms of the possibility that nuclear warheads could be stolen in transit, and in that disgruntled Russian officers might want to steal those warheads to sell to the highest bidder. But an even more important realistic aspect of the film is that there are people in the U.S. government who are working night and day to ensure that no nuclear weapon is ever detonated on U.S. soil."

Leder concludes, "I want people to come away from this film entertained, but also jolted into the reality that these are issues that our government and all governments have to deal with. It's a big world out thereand it's vulnerable."

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