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'The Ghost Writer' Provides Tale of High-Level International Intrigue

  • Alan Silverman

Pierce Brosnan in 'The Ghost Writer'

Pierce Brosnan in 'The Ghost Writer'

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The political thriller, The Ghost Writer, earned controversial director Roman Polanski top honors in February at the Berlin Film Festival. Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor co-star in the 'ripped-from-the-headlines' tale of high-level international intrigue adapted from the novel by Robert Harris.

Adam Lang is a former British prime minister. Immensely popular while in office, he remains active in world politics and wants to get his version of his legacy into print. That's where The Ghost Writer comes in.

He's been hired to finish the job started by another writer who died under mysterious circumstances. Accident or murder? Or perhaps it is fallout from the memoir's bombshell revelations.

The events making headlines date back to British involvement with the United States in a Middle East military action. The echoes of real people and recent events certainly intrigued Pierce Brosnan, who plays Lang. The Irish-born actor turned to director Roman Polanski for guidance.

"My first question was 'am I playing Tony Blair,' because all indication and all roads seemed to lead to one man only and that's Tony Blair," Brosnan said. "He said 'no, you're not playing Tony Blair.' However, I have to start somewhere as an actor and I looked at the performance of Tony Blair as prime minister, I looked at Tony Blair in public interviews and I was liberated somewhat by Roman saying I am not playing him."

Ewan McGregor in 'The Ghost Writer'

Ewan McGregor in 'The Ghost Writer'

Ewan McGregor co-stars as the title character who is never named in the script and just referred to as "the ghost." The Scottish actor says the political content was not important to his portrayal.

"When you are reading a script for a character you read it much more looking through the eyes of that guy," he said. "So I was looking through the eyes of "the ghost" and I wasn't that aware of the political impact of the piece. It is not really until you see it finished; and current events and the real world get closer and closer to the story line of our film every day. Then you see the more political angle on the piece.

McGregor found working under director Polanski to be a tough, but satisfying creative challenge.

"I was the luckiest of all the actors in that I was on set from day one through the very last day of shooting," he said. "I got an opportunity to watch him work on set for four months. He drives you quite hard …he pushes you quite hard, Roman …and you're called upon to look for great detail [and] look for the truth of a scene. He doesn't worry about how long a scene is. He just wants you to move from point to point as honestly as possible and find the fine details that make something very realistic.

Most of the action takes place on a resort island off the Massachusetts coast, but The Ghost Writer was shot in Germany because Roman Polanski faces arrest if he enters the United States.In fact, while he was still finishing the film, Polanski was apprehended by Swiss authorities acting on an arrest warrant from California, the place the director fled in 1978 when he was about to be sentenced for unlawful sexual conduct with a 13-year-old girl. Brosnan finds a lot of the director's own life reflected in the film's characters.

"You can't help but go to the isolation of my character living in exile," he said. "You look at Polanski and the life that he has led, looking over the shoulder and constantly in motion. The films that he has made all have the theme of isolation and claustrophobia and certainly a kind of foreboding atmosphere of life. So he uses himself, constantly, it seems."

The Ghost Writer also features Olivia Williams as the ex-prime minister's wife and political advisor; Kim Cattrall plays his svelte personal assistant; Tom Wilkinson is a shadowy connection to the world of espionage; and 94-year-old Eli Wallach plays a local resident of the island who helps fill in some important clues for the puzzled writer. The screenplay, written by director Polanski and author Robert Harris, is adapted from Harris's 2007 novel The Ghost.