Andrew Garfield and Ken Watanabe To Star in Martin Scorsese’s Passion Project ‘Silence’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

One of Martin Scorsese's long-simmering passion projects now has a screenplay, a budget, and a leading man.

It was announced Tuesday that Scorsese has cast Andrew Garfield, best known for his roles in "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Social Network," in his upcoming adaptation of "Silence," a novel by Shusaku Endo set in 17th Century Japan.

In "Silence," Garfield will play Father Rodrigues, a Jesuit priest from Portugal who travels to Japan as a missionary at a time when Christians are not allowed to freely practice their faith there. Scorsese has also cast Ken Watanabe in a key role as Rodrigues's interpreter.

Scorsese first read Endo's novel when Archbishop Paul Moore recommended it to him shortly after he'd seen a pre-release screening of the director's "The Last Temptation of Christ" in 1988. Scorsese, a man of faith who as a teenager planned to become a priest, has been trying to bring "Silence" to the screen for the better part of twenty years, and it looks as if the pieces have finally fallen into place for him.

"It’s difficult for people to understand who are not part of that world that I grew up in, which was Roman Catholicism in New York City in the 1950s," Scorsese told a reporter. "I was impressed enough to try to become part of that world, and realized at the age of 15 or 16 that it was much tougher, much more complicated than I thought … in terms of vocation."

Scorsese co-wrote the screenplay for "Silence" with Jay Cocks, who worked with the filmmaker on "The Age of Innocence" and "Gangs of New York." Emmett/Furla Films and Corsan Films are backing the picture, and the production team includes Barbara De Fina, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Vittorio Cecchi Gori, Emma Koskoff, and Irwin Winkler.

Scorsese has also hinted that another of his frequent collaborators may be working on "Silence." Robbie Robertson, who as a member of The Band was the star of Scorsese's music documentary "The Last Waltz," and help compose and coordinate music for "Shutter Island," "The Color of Money," and "Raging Bull," has been discussing ideas for the score with Scorsese. "He and I started talking about this a year and a half ago, before I started ['The Wolf of Wall Street'], about ideas for certain kinds of sounds," Scorsese said.

While locations are being scouted for "Silence," Scorsese is busy editing his next picture, "The Wolf of Wall Street," an expose of dirty dealings in high finance starring Leonardo DiCaprio. The director admits that "Silence" has slimmer commercial possibilities than many of his recent projects, especially since most of the dialogue will be in Japanese. "Then again, it’s a thriller," Scorsese adds. "Thriller meaning they are undercover. I’m interested in this, whether it's undercover priests or undercover cops."