Film: 2010: "Edge of Darkness"

Movie production notes for Edge of Darkness

Some memories never fade...
Some feelings never change...
Some secrets take us to the edge.

In the thriller "Edge of Darkness," Thomas Craven is a man driven by grief and searching for the truth after his only child, Emma, is gunned down by a bullet the police believe was meant for him. Shattered by his daughter's sudden death, the veteran Boston police officer is looking for answers and will take on--or take down--anything or anyone in who stands in his way.

Mel Gibson, returning to the screen after a highly successful period behind the camera, takes on the part of Craven, his first starring role in seven years. "It was an intriguing story," says Gibson. "That's the main thing--if I think it'll be compelling and entertaining to an audience, I'm on board."

"Mel was our first and only choice for Craven. The part called for someone of his caliber; there aren't a lot of actors who have the kind of gravitas that he has," says the film's director, Martin Campbell.

Producer Graham King states, "We really wanted Mel, and we were so lucky to get him back in front of the camera and in a role he's just perfect for."

"What really grabbed me was how the story sneaks up on you," offers Gibson. The actor met with King and Campbell and felt they were "two clever guys who had a clear and smart vision of the movie, and I knew it would be great working with them."

In a rather unusual turn of events, Campbell has now directed "Edge of Darkness" not once but twice, taking on the feature film after first directing the award-winning BBC television miniseries more than 20 years ago. Based on the success of the series, BBC Films had begun developing a feature version of the story; it was Campbell who brought the project to the attention of King who, along with Tim Headington, produced the film under the GK Films banner. "Someone suggested the possibility of making it into a film about five years ago," recalls the director. "I thought it was a great idea. I've always felt it was a very powerful story: a father loses his daughter and goes on a journey of discovery not only to find out who killed her and why, but also who she really was. He's someone who loved his daughter, and thought he understood her, but what he discovers is that she was involved in a whole way of life that he knew nothing about."

"I responded emotionally to the father/daughter storyline," Oscar®-winning screenwriter William Monahan offers. "I have a young daughter so I basically put myself in the shoes of the protagonist, and asked what I would do if this happened to me."

In 1985, the six-part British miniseries captivated a country in the throes of intense domestic and international tensions. It was a time in Britain of an ongoing Cold War and the still-looming nuclear threat of the then Soviet Union. International terrorism also took shape in figures such as Libya's Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, and public concerns over nuclear war were higher than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis. And there was trepidation over the aura of secrecy surrounding the nuclear industry.

In this atmosphere, "Edge of Darkness" struck a nerve with the public's concerns and fears, resulting in the show becoming a popular and critical sensation. Accolades soon followed in the form of six British Academy of Film & Television Awards (BAFTA), including Best Drama/Series. The series placed 15th on the British Film Institute's Top 100 Television list, and is regarded as one of the best and most influential pieces of British television drama ever made.

Gibson remembers, "It was a mystery, a crime thriller, and a political thriller, and it was set in a time in the UK when there was a lot of political unrest. The series reflected its time very well."

"The series in the '80s had very much to do with the government's nuclear policy," says Campbell. "Plutonium and the manufacturing of plutonium were big issues, as well as the body that monitored them. It was a hot potato. And 'Edge of Darkness' was a series very relevant to those important issues. But at its center, it also was a story about a father who loses his daughter and needs to find out why this happened to her, and to him."

For the feature film, the political aspects of the story would have to be updated, but the heart of the picture would stay the same. Award-winning Australian writer Andrew Bovell initiated the process of transforming the six-hour series, written by Troy Kennedy Martin, into a two-hour motion picture.

"I was a great fan of the miniseries when it first screened," recalls Bovell. "Troy Kennedy Martin was really ahead of his time; his warning about the dangerous nexus between corporate industry and covert government operations is as relevant now as it was in 1985. Martin Campbell's invitation to work on the adaptation was one of the most exciting offers I had ever had."

"Setting the film in Boston was Andrew's idea," says Campbell. "Boston is a city that is very English and Irish in terms of its roots. Originally we had our hero, Craven, from the north of England near Leeds, so it seemed like a perfect evolution for an American movie to make him Boston Irish."

Perhaps no other screenwriter today has written about the Boston area more successfully than William Monahan, who was brought on board by King. In 2006, they won Academy Awards® for "The Departed." King especially wanted the native Bostonian to infuse the "Edge of Darkness" screenplay with his own unique flavor.

"Bill is the essence of Bostonian wit. It's gritty but emanates from the highest place of legendary storytelling," says Gibson.

"Bill is a great dialogue writer, and he has a great sense of character," states Campbell. "He reworked the script from a plot point of view, resulting in the biggest difference between the series and the movie."

"I'm a little leery of being the Boston guy," Monahan says, having lived as much in Los Angeles, New York and London as he ever did in his hometown. Nonetheless, he felt connected to the material. "Craven's one of those Roslindale guys. He's a man of very regular and organized habits, who doesn't permit himself much luxury. He has his life, he has his house, and he has his loneliness. He's a widower with a daughter who means a very great deal to him. Once he loses her, he loses everything."

Mr. Craven, we have things to talk about.

Like your name and what you're doing here?

Like who shot your daughter.

The central and most complex character in "Edge of Darkness" is Thomas Craven, an experienced homicide detective for the Boston Police Department and a single father who thought he knew his daughter, but discovers there was a lot about her life that he knew nothing about. Because the story revolves around this character's journey and redemption, the casting had to be perfect.

"I think the part of a bereaved father consumed by grief, who gradually sets out to find and avenge those who killed his daughter, was attractive to Mel," observes Campbell.

Thomas Craven is a man in agony, a father coming to terms with his daughter's death the only way he knows how: by solving the crime. He's a cop, he knows the system, and he's been a straight shooter. He's always played by the rules, but for the first time in his life he's come to the realization that the rules will not help him get justice; he'll have to go after that himself.

"Craven is very pedestrian," observes Gibson, "just a guy who's getting by, day-to-day. He hasn't been the greatest father but he provided. His journey now is a war of attrition; everything that happens wears away at who he is. The stress, the traumatic experience of losing a child like that, has him just a little unhinged and walking around most of the time in a state of near breakdown. He is close--right at the edge--but he can't let it crack too much because he's got a job to do."

"Mel gave a terrific performance in a very demanding role that had him in front of the camera every day," admires Campbell. "He didn't get a day off from filming; his character is in almost every scene. He worked very hard and it shows in his performance."

King appreciated the actor's take on the complex role. "A cop is going to have a lot of enemies, so most people are going to think the bullet was meant for him and that she just got in the way," offers King. "On top of that, one can only imagine what it would be like dealing with that whole guilt and that emotion in a situation such as Craven's, where he's got no family left. He's really done. He's finished. He wants to find out who did it and then move on, but people are getting in his way."

Gibson says he found the biggest challenge to playing Craven was "the stillness. Stillness has always been a stranger to me, and he's very still. I tried to really rein myself in--not pull too many faces or make too many movements--because he's a very introverted man."

Craven has cause to tread carefully, especially when the imposing figure of Darius Jedburgh shows up unannounced in his backyard. English actor Ray Winstone plays the only Brit in an otherwise all-American cast of characters. In a sort of role-reversal, Jedburgh was the only American character in the all-British miniseries.

Says Campbell, who first worked with the actor early in their careers, some 30 years ago, "Ray brings a very powerful, underlyingly threatening quality to the character of Darius Jedburgh, who at the same time is a total enigma."

"Those are the parts you want to play. I think Jedburgh is a clever man who is capable of being a cold-blooded killer," reveals Winstone. "He knows how to maneuver, how to work people. I felt he would have to have a certain amount of charm for Mel's character, in his state of grief and anger, to stand there and talk to him."

Working for an unnamed employer, Jedburgh connects with Craven in order to find out what Craven's daughter was involved in and what information she might have had. What some might call a "cleaner," he is given license by those who employ him to do whatever he thinks is necessary to resolve a situation. He is, in effect, judge, jury and, when necessary, executioner.

"Jedburgh is a very powerful man who clearly has been involved with government work for many years," offers Campbell. "You don't really know what agency, if any, he works for, or why he is endowed with the power he has. He is brought in to assess situations and clean up the mess--in this case, a potential catastrophe for the company Northmoor if the evidence gets out as to precisely what they're manufacturing at their facility."

Northmoor, Emma's employer at the time of her murder, is a top-security, private research compound with government contracts--though it appears the government turns a blind eye to what they are doing. It is run by a man named Jack Bennett.

"Bennett is your ultimate villain for today's climate," King describes, "a charismatic businessman with a slick facade, a real sleazy 'suit' put in a very high-powered position."

Danny Huston portrays the corrupt character. "I love playing characters that are evil but find a way to justify their actions," says the actor. "I don't think Bennett is political, he just knows how to use that world to his advantage. He figures that yes, people sometimes die, but there's a reason--they're meddling, they could cause greater danger. He feels he doesn't have to answer to anyone. To him, it's not a political game, it's a money game."

"Danny is a terrific actor," says Campbell. "There aren't many like him. I wanted him in this role because he doesn't initially appear as an obvious villain. There's a glint of humor behind what he's saying, which ultimately makes him more menacing."

One character with reason to fear Bennett is Emma's boyfriend and fellow Northmoor employee, Daniel Burnham. Burnham holds a key for Thomas Craven to his daughter's hidden past. Their first meeting is an explosive one and a pivotal moment in the film. Cast in the role was actor Shawn Roberts.

"The script really pulled me in," declares Roberts. "There's the sense that at any point in time there will be a knock on the door and somebody's going to die. That tension keeps the story going and really motivates the characters. When you first meet Burnham, he's been holed up in his apartment for days, just waiting for that knock at the door...and a barrel of a gun on the other side."

Burnham is perhaps the only other character in the film that can even begin to empathize with Craven's sense of loss because he, too, loved Emma. Serbian-born actress Bojana Novakovic plays the role of Emma, whose murder is the catalyst of the story.

"I found it to be a very interesting mix, this emotionally driven story that exists because of an action that this young woman took," says Novakovic. "She acted on her instinct--what she believed was good and moral judgment--and took on a group of people who are much bigger than her and have more money and more power."

"Emma loves her father but also takes him to task, questions him and stands up to him if necessary, even though, up until now, she's never given him a clue as to the other side of her life," notes Campbell.

In the opening of the film, Emma returns home to Boston to see her father, and there is a sense that it is more than a casual visit. The actress offers, "Emma needs her father to advise her on a personal level, but also because he's a policeman and he has a lot of experience. But mostly I think a daughter just needs her dad."

Unfortunately, Thomas Craven loses his daughter before she has a chance to tell him what's going on; nonetheless, he continues to see her, both as a child and a grown woman, even if it's only in his imagination. "He needs her in order to be able to do what she wanted him to do," Novakovic continues. "He needs to be able to talk to her, because he has nothing left. She comes to him as he remembers her, and helps him that way. The only way for him to save her now is to keep talking to her, to keep that relationship going by remembering it, or recreating it, in the best way that he possibly can."

Says Gibson, "Emma wouldn't say anything that couldn't have been conceived in Craven's own mind, of course, but he feels like he gets to know a little bit more about her in death than he did in life."

Novakovic met Gibson during the rehearsal period, before shooting began, and the chemistry between the two was immediate, making the father-daughter relationship a very real and believable one.

"There's a sense of gravity about Bojana," adds Gibson, "something intrinsic to her. She's a presence. You remember her."

You are out of your depth
and far from your jurisdiction.

"Edge of Darkness" filmed on location in and around the Boston area, including the historic Back Bay; the Boston Commons and Public Gardens; a stately Tudor mansion in Manchester; Charlestown; Newburyport; Lincoln; Merrimac; and Rockport. The interiors of Craven's house and Emma's apartment were shot on sets built at the Chelsea Stages. The company also filmed in western Massachusetts, in the picturesque towns of Northampton and Amherst and atop Mt. Sugarloaf in Deerfield, during the height of the autumn foliage season, known in New England as "the colors."

"Filming in Boston was terrific, as were the people," says Gibson. "Anywhere you looked, you got a pervasive sense of living history that gave you a true appreciation of our hard-won freedom. You felt you were in the cultural cradle of a young nation with the aged style and charm of Europe."

One mandate that director Martin Campbell laid down to his creative team was to keep the look of the film as realistic as possible. "Realism in the film was absolutely important," the director states, pointing out that "when Emma died, we had real forensic people, real cops, all of that. The action in this film is really grounded in a relationship story, so making it all appear very real was essential. So stylistically, we shot it very simply, in a very uncomplicated manner; there are no pretentious or slick shots."

Collaborating with Campbell were his longtime director of photography Phil Meheux and production designer Tom Sanders, who was working with Campbell for the first time.

"One task as a DP is to underscore what's emotionally interesting in every scene, and one way we did that was with light," says Meheux, who provides the example of Craven's kitchen and Emma's apartment, sets that were revisited throughout the entire film. "Craven's taken leave from the police station, so his kitchen and her apartment really become his areas of operation. In the beginning of the film there's more light there, but as the story progresses and what we learn about Emma's life and death gets darker and darker, there's less and less light in those sets. Now, I don't think the average filmgoer notices these subtle changes consciously, but I think they do feel it, emotionally."

Sanders and his team also made the most out of the sets and locations. "We picked Sugarloaf because the whole schedule of the film was around getting the fall leaves, which you don't always have the opportunity to do," he says. "Sugarloaf overlooks this beautiful, historic valley where famous battles took place. We put Bennett's office at Northmoor on top of the mountain so the whole scene would take place looking out at that valley."

For the rest of Northmoor, Sanders also utilized an historic site. "At Amherst, we built onto the exterior of a strategic air command center, which was the actual center where they would have pushed the button for the bombs during the `60s. We modernized it to make it into the lobby of the corporation, on top of this big mountain."

Sanders' team also kept tight control on their color palette. "We tried to keep everything muted and subdued so that the actors and the costumes stand out first," he says, "so that you're taking in more of the emotions in the scene than looking around the room."

Most of Craven's more emotional scenes occurred in his home and at Emma's place; both sets were built. "For Craven, we matched a house that we found on the outskirts of Boston," Sanders relates, "and we built the full interior and exterior on stage and in a warehouse. We also built Emma's attic apartment."

The behind-the-scenes teams weren't the only ones recreating that uniquely Boston tone. Gibson, a New York native who spent most of his upbringing in Australia, had to sound like a born-and-bred Bostonian.

"All my cousins were from Queens and Brooklyn. My mom was Brooklyn Irish, so it wasn't that far off; it does go back to a Gaelic root," says the actor, who enjoyed doing the research. "I hung out with detectives like Tommy Duffy. He's great, he sounds like a tough-talkin' dog in a cartoon," he grins. "The accent really has its own character. That diphthong can kind of slip you into a different place, a different level of being."

This is someone armed and dangerous.

What do you think I am?

Another tool Gibson used to embody everyday man Thomas Craven was his wardrobe. Costume designer Lindy Hemming received the same direction from Campbell that his DP and production designer did: keep it real.

"Martin is great because he really talks to you about the characters, what he thinks they're like, and then also about the actors, and then he lets you get on with it," she says.

One somewhat iconic image from the 1985 miniseries was carried over into the current feature: Craven's raincoat. "Martin really wanted to keep the raincoat, which is something Craven puts on after Emma's been shot and the coat he was wearing, standing right next to her, is ruined. And he keeps the raincoat on throughout most of the movie. It sort of isolates him in a film where so many men are wearing suits or a police uniform. He's often the only one who's drab and down in this wrinkly mac." In order to show the character wearing the coat throughout his ordeal, Hemming says she had "about 25 really ordinary, soft identical raincoats made so that they could get more and more broken down as he goes along, getting more and more broken down himself."

Hemming began determining her color palette for the film by a process of elimination. "I tried to eliminate white wherever I could so that you would see more of people's faces and expressions, because I knew that Phil was going to light it in a way that would focus on that." Hemming also tried to avoid one particular color when it game to Gibson--blue. "I tried to squash all his vibrancy. I just used a tiny bit of blue on him for a scene where he'd be walking on the beach, which I thought would be good. Of course, as soon as he had on that blue, it made his eyes vibrant and he looked incredibly handsome and I thought, 'I shouldn't have allowed that blue!'"

The beach scene wasn't the only time Hemming had to fight Gibson's movie star looks. "His wardrobe for the funeral was a $99 suit, the cheapest I could find so it would look like it belonged to somebody who didn't have a huge amount of money and who was just not interested in clothes. Mel put it on and I thought, 'Oh no, he looks too handsome again.'"

The costume designer took an opposite approach to clothing Danny Huston's character, Jack Bennett. "The only person I was really allowed to go to town with was Danny," Hemming smiles. "Beautiful suits, a little color. He had to look 'expensive.' I've worked with the company Brioni before, and they provided all the clothes for Bennett, and some for Jedburgh. I was very lucky to have them send such lovely pieces," she says.

Hemming made sure not to go over the top with Jedburgh, however. "His clothes had to look like they cost a lot, but be very subtle and sophisticated, not showing anything about who he was, not really giving any information about his life because everything's a secret with him. We used fabrics like cashmere, which don't reflect light, keeping him very soft, which is really the opposite of how Ray Winstone is. He's very vital and gregarious."

Another character Hemming kept very soft was Emma Craven. "I wanted to make her somebody you'd see among people in Boston or Northampton; I really wanted her to wear the clothes they wear." Because Emma appears to her father in several scenes after her death, Hemming and Campbell discussed whether or not to change her wardrobe. "In the end we decided it would be too confusing, so she always wears the same thing. There's a little bit of almost fuzziness to the fabric, because in Craven's memory she would be a bit softened."

I'm the guy with nothing to lose.

For director Martin Campbell, revisiting the film's characters and themes after two decades presented an exciting challenge. "Just as it did years ago, I thought that the heartfelt story of a man losing his daughter, and going off after revenge, could just really capture an audience today."

Producer Graham King concurs. "For me, 'Edge of Darkness' is not about politics today. It's about a reckoning, a man out for justice, and it's a great ride on the crest of the unknown, not knowing how things are going to pan out but going along for that ride."

Despite the violent lengths Thomas Craven goes to in seeking retribution for his daughter's murder, the film's star, Mel Gibson, found it to be a very human story. "I was intrigued by the characters and how they reacted to what was happening to them," he says. "At the same time, it's a very compelling mystery involving issues we're all uncertain about, and uncertainty is scary to most people."

Edge of Darkness

Films in 2010

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