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A Nobel Cause

Alan Rickman, Bryan Greenburg, Danny DeVito, and Eliza Dushku discuss the new film Nobel Son. logo
Alan Rickman in Nobel Son
With the holidays just around the corner we're entering the season of family togetherness, which for many of us means wading knee-deep in dysfunctional family dynamics. Every year a few films bring the theme home, but none quite like the just-released Nobel Son, created by the husband and wife team of director/writer Randall Miller and writer/producer Jody Savin.

In the film, now in limited release, Alan Rickman plays Eli Michaelson, a philandering, egocentric, and hateful college professor. On the eve of winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry, his graduate student son Barclay (played by Bryan Greenburg) is kidnapped. Vile as he is selfish, Eli refuses to pay the ransom, which sets off a series of events filled with venom, lust, betrayal and ultimately revenge. "I call it a crime movie. A romantic comedy. A thriller. A film noir," says Greenburg. "I've never seen something like this before."

Best known for playing either multi-dimensional villains or romantic leads, Rickman strips down to the fundamentals in order to play Eli as a 7-year-old trapped in an adult's body. "He's Mr. Basic Needs. I eat. I take my pants off. I loosen my stays. I am man!" he says. The key to playing the intellectual and primitive man-child was elusive, but instinctive for Rickman. "That's what an actor is, I think. You're a bundle of instinct that you fling at something you call training. Ultimately you're dependent on your instinct and imagination, and that's not something you can pin down."

Rickman also relished the chance to reteam with Miller and Savin after this year's Bottle Shock (which also starred fellow Son player Bill Pullman.) "It's about feeling you are secure enough to challenge each other," he says of the working atmosphere. "You're not creating a kind of nest. It's not a safe place to go to; it's somewhere where you recognize the mutual respect means you push each other."

In addition to Pullman, the cast also includes Mary Steenburgen as Eli's long-suffering wife, a forensic psychologist who (literally) takes aim at those who threaten her family, Danny DeVito as an obsessive-compulsive neighbor, and Eliza Dushku as Barclay's sexy and mysterious love-interest, City Hall. "I wanted this part so badly," she says. "I auditioned my heart out. I brought props to the audition. We did the scene one way, then a completely different way. We found the weird nuances and variations in between. And, when they picked me, I was psyched."

For his part, DeVito says the independent spirit of filmmakers like Miller and Savin should be applauded. "You're looking at two people who have done every single thing on their own, whether it's booking the talent or writing the script, editing the film, dealing with the financing and distribution, all the way down the line," he notes. "These are the kind of films we need to support."


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