Anthony Minghella's follow-up to the multi-Oscar winning The English Patient is yet another adaptation of a hellishly unfilmable period novel. This time it's Patricia Highsmith's 1955 story of murder, deception and conscience, The Talented Mr. Ripley, which had previously – and somewhat unsuccessfully – been adapted for the screen as the French flick Plein Soleil, with Alain Delon.
Featuring Matt Damon as the eponymous anti-hero sent to Italy to retrieve an American playboy (Jude Law, Oscar nominated for Best Supporting Actor), Minghella surrounds his star with prime examples of Hollywood's new generation. Gwyneth Paltrow as Law's girlfriend Marge, Cate Blanchett as flighty socialite Meredith, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as Ivy League toad Freddie - all contribute to this slow-burning examination of actions and their sometimes terrible consequences. Minghella and Damon spoke to Empire Online about preparing to step into the unknown.
Have you ever wanted to be anyone else?
My experiences with that are similar to a lot of kids - maybe around the world but certainly in America - who grew up idolising sports figures, or musicians, or actors. I never wanted to be somebody else; I just wanted to have the talents that those people had. I never really wanted to trade in who I was, because I felt so lucky to have the people I have in my life. I always wanted to be myself, but have the ability of Marlon Brando.
What preparation did you have to go through to play Tom Ripley?
Anthony gave me the role about nine months before we started shooting, so I had a lot of time to think about it. There were physical things, like losing weight. Jude and I wanted to weigh about the same amount, so he put on weight and I lost it.
Do you see the connection between being an actor and playing Ripley, who 'acts' for much of the film?
There is one prime difference between what Ripley and what an actor would want to do - and that was actually one of the challenges of the role: to play somebody who is self-conscious. Ripley is always aware that he is being watched and of who was watching him.
As an actor, you want the opposite. You don't want to be inhibited at all when the cameras are rolling, so that was kinda tricky. My fear was that it would look like bad acting. In the way it's the same; he is observing people, he is very tuned into other people and their mannerisms. He believes what he's saying completely when he says it. He never thinks that he's lying. It makes him an actor, and maybe a sociopath, too.
Ripley has just received five Oscar nominations. You're also a past winner for Best Screenplay for Good Will Hunting. What did that award mean to you, and how do you feel about the Ripley nominations?
Well, Ben and I came out of nowhere. We came from watching [the Oscar ceremony] on television the year before to sitting in the front row. Our lives were turned upside down by it. Suddenly everyone knew who we were and that was the end of our anonymity.
Jude and I had a conversation about this the other night. We were saying it was really important to not use that [the Oscars] as a yardstick by which to measure our success or failure. We're both really proud of the movie, and really happy with it. It is what it is, and it already exists regardless of what happens. We'd be setting ourselves up for great disappointment if we used this external barometer to gauge our internal satisfaction.