Trapped : Production Information


When producer Mimi Polk Gitlin and director Luis Mandoki formed their production company, Mandolin Entertainment, Mandoki was looking for a thriller that would offer him a chance to broaden his repertoire of romantic dramas. Still, when he first picked up the script for Trapped which was given to him by his partner, he thought he would only have time to read just a couple of pages and pass. But then, he says, “I started reading. I couldn’t stop. It was a real page-turner. It reminded me, in terms of tone, of my two favorite movies, Deliverance and Straw Dogs--the intensity and rawness of it.”

The next morning, Mandoki called his partner with a resounding “yes.”

Trapped is the work of novelist Greg Iles, whom Gitlin had discovered through composer Glen Ballard. With Ballard and Gitlin supervising, a revised first draft of the script was written. It was Iles’ first screenplay. Says Gitlin, “I like to stick with the original writer if at all possible, and obviously Greg is an incredibly talented writer. And, for his first script, he did an amazing job. Some people don’t make the transition from novelist to screenwriter as easily as others, but it seemed to come very naturally to him.”

What impressed both Gitlin and Mandoki, and later executive producer Neil Canton, was Iles’ ability to take an established genre and give it a new look. “It’s a really good genre piece,” commends Canton. “I thought the 24 hour angle was a really clever plan. If genre movies are done well, then audiences will respond and this had such a great twist to it.”

For Mandoki, it was also the depth of the characters and their psychological transformation that stood out for the director: “You look for comfort, and in comfort you get lost. You forget what life is really about and you take the most gifts for granted. Then something bad happens, and it’s a message from God: Wake up! People live everyday lives, and all of a sudden something happens and parts of themselves that are hidden come out--courageous, powerful sides. ”

This psychological U-turn is mirrored in the story’s plot line. Charlize Theron, who plays the perfect wife in this perfect family, comments on this layered approach. “The family is on the brink of a huge success with Will’s breakthrough medicine,” she says, “and their lives are about to change drastically. You see that there’s this change about to happen, but you have no idea what’s really lying in store for them. And it turns out to be this ultimate test of what’s really important to them.”

Mandolin had a first look deal with Propaganda, who backed the project and provided funds to option the book and script. Then when The Canton Company became involved, the financing was put together with Senator and Columbia, the whole thing came together at what in Hollywood was record speed.

With the money in place, the next obstacle was casting. Charlize Theron was attracted to the role of Karen. “I liked the idea of playing a character that was very foreign to me, a mother and a wife,” and for the chance to work with Mandoki. Mandoki in turn connected with Kevin Bacon over lunch, and the two key characters were cast. Working with them proved to be a “joyous experience” for the director. “They were such professionals,” he says. “They worked so hard, but between every take they were always having fun and entertaining the crew. It was like a vacation. It didn’t feel like work.”

As for the other roles, Stuart Townsend was signed at the eleventh hour, owing to a movie Mandoki had seen Townsend do in England and the luck that Warner Bros. had just finished with him on another project. Producer Gitlin says of him, “He really explores and studies what he’s going to do and he raised some really important questions, which made the film better.” “Love was brought on to play Cheryl; producer Gitlin says of her, “She’s smart, and she goes with her instincts. She’s a real character, on and off the screen.”

The most unexpected find, though, was Dakota Fanning. Having already gone through 500 girls, she was brought in by Lou DiGiaimo and coincidentally had been working with Andrew Magarian, a children’s coach whom Mandoki knew from working with him on When a Man Loves a Woman. After reviewing her tape and watching a screen test, Mandoki knew he had his Abby.

His choice proved immensely popular, winning praise from cast and crew all around. Recalling a particular scene that was filmed in the woods, Kevin Bacon expresses immense praise for his co-star: “Dakota is so believable in terms of her fear and anxiety. She’s phenomenal. I was astounded that a little child can put herself in that place with such confidence and ability.”

Fanning herself, however, is far more modest. Speaking of the same scene, she tells a different story: “I was being driven to set and there was a sign that said ‘Bears in area.’ So I’m like, ‘Mom, this isn’t going to be very hard--I’ll be scared all right!’”

It was her winning combination of modesty, innocence and precociousness that won the hearts and admiration of her older colleagues. Says Canton, “She came in, she knew her lines, she never got tired, she knew everything that was going on, she was a delight and a true professional. Everyone just fell in love with her. She’s unbelievable; and she’s only seven years old.”

Theron, also in awe of her young co-star, claims it was the first time in her career where she had to say it was because of another actor that she herself performed so well: “Dakota, who plays my daughter, is just unbelievably talented. As an actor you always feel like you have to overcompensate for a child; you can’t really expect that much emotion from a seven-year-old kid. But she just delivered every single time.”

Theron has equal praise for Bacon, who instilled in Theron a trust that allowed her to meet the more difficult demands of her own character. Says Theron, “As an actor, I don’t think you can ask for anything more than to work with somebody that’s prepared and willing and brave. He has all of those qualities and so much more.”

With the film’s emphasis on character development, Mandoki was, in the opinion of Charlize Theron, also the perfect choice. “He’s an actor’s director,” she explains. “He pays attention to character. I knew that with him you would have some emotional investment in these people.”

In stark contrast to the domestic bliss of Theron’s Karen and the rest of the Jennings family is the hell on earth and damaged psyches of the Hickeys. Tormented by a past tragedy, Joe Hickey reasons away the pain he inflicts on others with a fantasy of heroic vengeance. For him, his actions are not guided by infantile revenge but a greater, more humane love for an innocent victim. As Mandoki explains, Hickey is “not a cliché, cartoon bad guy character. He’s a very complex guy.”

It was important, therefore, to find an actor who could see beyond the simple villain role and effectively portray Hickey’s depth. Luckily for the filmmakers, Kevin Bacon accepted the role. With several complex “bad guy” characters under his belt, there was a confidence that Bacon could bring to the screen and to the multiple layers of his character.

Bacon and Mandoki talked at great length about Hickey’s motivation. As Bacon tells it, Hickey “is doing things in the film that I find so despicable. And yet in my conversations with Luis, we talked about trying to get inside this guy’s head and humanize him in a strange kind of way.”

“I have kids, and the idea of a kidnapping, of taking a child from another person, is such a heinous crime. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare and one of the worst things you could possibly do. The interesting thing about this character is that, in his mind, he believes he’s doing the right thing. Luis and I talked about that a lot. Right before every take he’d say, ‘Just remember, you’re the hero in your mind. These actions you’re taking are, in your head, heroic.’ That’s part of the tragedy of this guy. He’s not doing it for the money. He’s living with a tremendous amount of pain and anger and this kidnapping is an extension of that.”

Furthermore, Hickey’s pathology is never cheapened or weakened by resorting to the cinematic cliché of the antagonist foiled by his own stupidity or lack of control. As Bacon points out, Hickey is “not a schooled person, but he’s smart. He believes very much in the psychological power that he can have over his victims, and that all he needs to use is the threat of violence, not the violence itself. He always takes the wife in the family; he plays power games with them. And he prides himself on tearing down their resistance and strength until they’re putty in his hands.”

But while this tactic worked so well with Hickey’s other victims, he meets his match in Karen Jennings. And it’s clear from his voice that Bacon relishes the challenge: “There’s a real face-off between my character and Charlize’s character. Joe’s been able to keep most of the other women under his thumb. But Karen’s got a lot of tricks up her sleeve. And she’s got a lot of interesting ideas about how she’s going to actually win this game. She turns everything upside down.”

In stark contrast to the courage of Karen is the broken woman of Courtney Love’s Cheryl. Scarred both emotionally and physically and tormented by her shared loss with Joe, Cheryl is the image of the walking wounded. As with Hickey, it was important to find an actor who could bring Cheryl to life in a believable way. “I needed somebody who you could believe had gone through the kind of life that Cheryl had,” explains the director. “She needed to have that edge.”

“Courtney has a quality that is irrepressible,” he continues. “She gives you amazing stuff.”

The psychological hold that Hickey displays over others is most evident in his relationship with his cousin Marvin. Described by actor Pruitt Taylor Vince as essentially “just a big kid in a grown-up’s body,” Marvin is a gentle bear who is capable of turning into a ferocious twisted killer through displaced loyalty to the manipulative Hickey. At every turn, Marvin’s ambiguity and guilt surface: “The last thing in the world he wants to do is to hurt anyone, especially a child,” Vince observes. “But he’ll do anything Hickey tells him to do. So his life is really thirty minutes at a time. He’s got clocks everywhere, he wears two watches. In the house there’s clocks, in the truck there’s clocks, and if it goes past thirty minutes and he hasn’t heard from Hickey, he’ll have to do the unthinkable. So he’s living thirty minutes at a time.”

In his own demented way, Hickey returns the loyalty. As Kevin Bacon muses, “Hickey’s got an interesting relationship with Marvin. He really loves him, he really cares about him, but he treats him like a child. Marvin listens to him exclusively.”

Principal photography began on Trapped on location in Vancouver, British Columbia. Joining director Luis Mandoki was an impressive creative team, including Frederick Elmes, ASC (Ice Storm, Blue Velvet), directors of photography Piotr Sobocinski (Angel Eyes, Trois Couleurs: Rouge), acclaimed Oscar®-winning production designer Richard Sylbert (Dick Tracy, Reds), Academy Award®-winning editor Jerry Greenberg, A.C.E. (Angel Eyes) and costume designer Michael Kaplan (Blade Runner).

The greater Vancouver area doubled for Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington and environs. While scouting for possible choices for the Jennings home, Mandoki and Sylbert came across a breathtaking home on Brunswick Beach with a seaside view and 360º windows. Beauty aside, though, such a structure presented some obvious technical challenges since Mandoki wanted the camera to move in all directions. And with his Director of Photography Piotr Sobocinski in Poland, Mandoki was forced to make a decision without his trusted colleague. Mandoki went with his instinct, firmly believing no challenge would prove insuperable for Sobocinski’s talent. Recalls Mandoki, laughing, “When Piotr came here, he looked at the house and loved it and then he said, ‘I’m screwed.’

“We had to get all these densities for the windows, hard gels that we could change as the light changed during the day or from cloudy to sunny. The crew did this rig that Piotr and Chief Lighting Technician Scotty Allan designed; it was an amazing lighting rig.”

Production designer Richard Sylbert claims the house’s location on the water was a key factor in its selection because it helped to mimic the themes within the film. “The idea of this movie was to keep pushing this image of water and the mirror. In the movie, there’s a mirror being held up between these two marriages and two kinds of lives: the perfect family with the perfect child living this comfortable, successful, ‘aren’t we gonna be famous’ life against this other couple who had been driven to a life of crime by painful personal tragedy.”

The technical challenges were exacerbated by Mandoki’s desire to shoot “very intense and close.” Those familiar with Mandoki’s style will be surprised by Trapped, in which Mandoki moves in a very different direction, making use of extensive handheld and zoom camera work. Defending this radical approach, Mandoki says, “It had to be very intense. We had to create an atmosphere with the camera that translates the intensity of what’s going on because what’s interesting is what’s happening inside the characters.

“We had to push each other to be raw and unconventional with this movie. The first day of shooting, Piotr said, ‘We’re gonna break all the rules.’ One way was to use the zoom a lot in a very irregular way. Another way was to use a lot of top lighting so that we could move the camera 360º whenever we wanted to.”

Synchronicity was also something of a catchword between director Mandoki and his valued collaborator, director of photography Piotr Sobocinski. So it seemed an insurmountable loss both personally and professionally when, just a week into production, Sobocinski unexpectedly passed away. Executive Producer Neil Canton recalls the devastation that swept through the crew when the news was shared: “People who had worked with him on Angel Eyes got to know and love him. We had such a great first week on Trapped and everything looked great. We were all excited. And then to have this tragedy happen was just devastating to us and to his family. Picking up the pieces and moving forward was an enormous challenge.”

Award-winning editor Frederick Elmes, ASC was chosen to replace Sobocinski, but this had its challenges. Sobocinski and Mandoki had spent hours talking about the look of the film, and over the years a “shorthand” had developed between them. Says Mandoki of his new director of photography, who generously pushed aside his own style to complete the work of his predecessor, “What is amazing about Fred is that, first of all, he’s a superb technician and a superb artist in terms of lighting and the camera, but above and beyond all that he was so respectful.”

The production culminated in the filming of a heart-stopping finale with several unique requirements. Interestingly, for all but the finale, each of the three pairs of actors (Theron/Bacon, Townsend/Love, Vince/Fanning) never saw the others. Since the actors were filming in different locations on different days, by production’s end most of the cast had yet to be introduced. It was, especially for Mandoki, like filming three movies in one. Again, though, this production anomaly reflected the film’s content and turned out to be a blessing in disguise, helping the actors bring their characters to life. “With them not really knowing what was going on with us and us not knowing what was going on with them,” explains Theron, “it really helped you as an actor because you didn’t have to pretend about the mystery of it all.”

In addition to cast members having to interact together for the first time, shooting of the finale proved challenging on another front: production demanded a ten-mile stretch of four-lane highway that could be closed off to traffic for over two weeks. “Finding a location for that finale was a big, big challenge,” says Gitlin. “We had to go to Vancouver Island as it was the only place where we could find a big enough road that we could have total control of. We had the entire cast working together for the first and only time in the movie and we were fighting the clock, the highway, the weather…”

The reason for the closure of Vancouver Island’s Inland Island Highway was a demanding stunt involving, as stunt coordinator Brent Wolsley puts it, “35 or 40 stunt cars that we were allowed to wreck. And a logging truck, an airplane…” As Wolsley goes on to explain, with such a complicated scene to shoot, you couldn’t have public access and “you couldn’t have tunnel vision. You had to have your eyes everywhere all the time and be thinking two steps ahead.”