Will Ferrell, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman co-star in a comedy-fantasy about an author with writer's block and the ordinary man who discovers he is a character in one of her books.
Novelist Karen Eiffel is at work on her latest book, filled with intricate details about a lonely income tax auditor at the Internal Revenue Service. So imagine the surprise of lonely IRS auditor Harold Crick when he begins to hear the author's voice describing details of his life. The trouble for Harold is only he can hear her:
It seems like a petty annoyance until the novel's plot takes an ominous turn ...ominous for Harold, that is.
To save his life, Harold must discover whose voice he is hearing in his head ...and then convince her not to bump him off on the last page of her novel, as she does with the main characters in all of her books.
Will Ferrell, best-known for broad comic characters, taps into a more subtle humor as Harold. "It was actually a welcome change for me to get to be not so overt with everything. It was a nice challenge to play things subtly for the run of an entire movie and be as close to, for lack of a better term, a 'real person' than I've ever gotten to be," he says. "It's very usual to underplay as much as I was doing, at least for me. It wasn't something I was used to doing, so there were moments when it did feel slightly foreign to be so still or quiet. I was wondering 'I'm speaking so softly; I wonder if the microphone is picking up what I'm saying.' But once you start playing something and living in that world and character for a while, it starts to settle in."
Emma Thompson plays the reclusive author who prefers dealing with characters on the page rather than meeting them in person. "There is nothing in the flat where she writes. There is no evidence, really, of her; and it is as though she's trying to wipe herself out time and again. When she suddenly realizes 'I kill them all' you know that she's talking about herself," she says.
In his search for answers (and a way to save his life), Harold turns to a literary expert: university professor Hilbert, played by Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman who says this character's quirks - such as constantly gulping down coffee or occasionally lounging barefoot in his office - come from a a key concept he studied at the beginning of his acting career: behavior.
"And behavior simply means that we get more information out of each other by their behavior, not their words. The words are just words. Sometimes they are insightful, but many times when you are listening to me there is so much other stuff that you're thinking about and some of it is being revealed in your behavior. I wanted the audience to know this guy, so I said to myself 'this guy has no life except here.' Almost all my stuff takes place in this office [which is] where he lives his life. This is his house. That's why I'm barefoot. That's why I'm always with the coffee. That's why I'm lying down. He doesn't have a home to go to. Wherever he lives, he probably doesn't want to be there.
The cast also features Maggie Gyllenhaal as a free-spirited - and tax-evading - baker who captures Harold's heart in the romantic screenplay by Zach Helm. "One of the big themes about the movie is how we look at the details of our life and it was really important to make the script detailed in that sense. Mies van der Rohe said 'God is in the details' and it's a fun thing for me to be able to play around with that stuff and, for all that's in the film, I try not to take it too seriously. So to put little puzzles and hints and foreshadowing is just great fun for me," he says.
Stranger Than Fiction is directed by Marc Forster, whose previous films include Monster's Ball and Finding Neverland. The German-born Swiss film maker is currently at work on a screen adaptation of The Kite Runner, the acclaimed novel by Afghani-born author Khaled Hosseini.