When you're a two-time Oscar-winning writer-director, you're able to assemble a cast made up of two Oscar-winning actors and two Best Actor nominees. Of course, it also helps if you offer a trip to Rome to sweeten the deal.
In "Third Person," Paul Haggis — the man behind 2006's Best Picture winner "Crash" — has put together another talented group of actors for interconnected stories of love and heartbreak. And like his earlier movie, "Third Person" features big-name stars getting out of their comfort zone alongside fresh faces ready to break out.
The film centers on Liam Neeson, who puts aside action heroics to play an author who has left his wife (played by Oscar-winner Kim Basinger) for a Parisian romance with a much younger woman (Olivia Wilde). The actress embraced the challenges of her role, completely stripping down for a scene where her character runs through a hotel naked. "I've decided [it] is something that I think I should do on every film as it's a real ice-breaker with the crew in the first week," she joked. "Once you do that nothing else is intimidating."
Wilde, 30, is actually six months younger than the actress who plays Neeson's daughter in the "Taken" series, Maggie Grace, so seeing the 61-year-old actor romancing his co-star rather than rescuing her is a bit of a shock.
Another plot line focuses on James Franco and Mila Kunis, who obviously aren't in Oz anymore. They play a divorced couple — he's an artist, she's a former actress — embroiled in a bitter custody battle over their 6-year-old son. It's the first time the pregnant Kunis has played a mother on screen, though she and Franco play another married couple with a child in the not-yet-released biopic "Tar." And in the third story, Adrien Brody (another Oscar winner) gets entangled with a Roma woman (Israeli actress Moran Atias) who is trying to recover her daughter from a smuggler.
Each story takes place in a different city, but almost all of the film was shot in Rome in the famous Cinecitta Studios where Fellini made his classics. Martin Scorsese filmed his epic "Gangs of New York" (which also starred Liam Neeson) there, so the standing sets were updated for scenes set in modern-day Manhattan. And Via Veneto, one of the most famous streets in Rome, stood in for Paris. Neeson, who previously worked with Haggis on 2010's "The Next Three Days," says it wasn't the language that made filming there a challenge, it was the photographers. "The paparazzi were like mosquitoes," Neeson said. "It was a real exercise in concentration to try and ignore them when we were working."
Don't they know that even when playing a romantic lead Neeson still has a particular set of skills for dealing with people who get in his way?
"Third Person" opens in New York and Los Angeles on June 20.