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CHAMBER (THE): CHARACTER DRIVEN DRAMA

Following its publication in June 1994, John Grisham’s fifth novel, The Chamber, spent 20 weeks on the bestseller list, mirroring the success of the author’s other popular books such as The Firm, The Client and The Pelican Brief. Louise Keller reports on the filmmaking process.

"I thought The Chamber had this identifiable quality about it, something that every person could relate to," says producer Brian Grazer. "And that something is the journey of this kid, played by Chris O’Donnell, who is in so much pain over his family’s history. What makes it thrilling and compelling is how through this process of defending his grandfather he learns about himself."

"There is a magnetic pull that is natural between relatives." James Foley, director

The Chamber is director James Foley’s eighth film as director and calls it "a thriller with a broad, universal theme about families in love. It is a realistic portrait of this young lawyer, this heroic figure, who reunites his family. It is not simply about someone being executed, but about a grandfather dying, and his grandson’s frightening circumstance of trying to win both a legal victory to save him and an emotional victory to reach him."

Foley said: "There is a magnetic pull that is natural between relatives. And so a grandfather and a grandson, even if they’ve never met, and have nothing in common, are still going to have that primal pull towards each other. It’s their discovery and evolution of that feeling that becomes the most powerful emotion in the movie."

"This film could not be made, and we would not have made it, without Chris O’Donnell." Producer Brian Grazer

Grazer says of the cast, "This film could not be made, and we would not have made it, without Chris O’Donnell. We needed someone the moviegoing public knew, with boxoffice recognition, who was intelligent and forceful. He looks like a kid who has everything, but he can also show the vulnerability and the pain."

"The film is about a young man, very alone in the world, connecting with his grandfather and trying to understand who he is." Chris O’Donnell

O’Donnell says: "The film is about a young man, very alone in the world, connecting with his grandfather and trying to understand who he is. Adam has a lot of skeletons in the closet, and I don’t think he really feels he’s ever going to be free of the past. So, he’s made it a mission, ever since his father died, to get to the truth and put an end to all his grandfather has done to destroy his family."

"It’s hard to believe anyone else could capture this character like Gene." Director James Foley

" In addition to Chris being perfect for Adam," Foley continues, "there were really only a few major actors who could play the role of the grandfather: it’s hard to believe anyone else could capture this character like Gene."

Two-time Academy Award winner Gene Hackman shed 30 pounds for his role and endured an extensive, yet imperceptible, make up applications designed by Oscar winner Kevin Haney, to wither the 66 year old to match the character’s decimated look as conceived by Grisham in the book.

"He’s a fascinating character to play for an actor," Gene Hackman

"He’s a fascinating character to play for an actor," Hackman declares about the death row inmate. "Sam is, make no mistake about it, a terrible man. I thought it would be interesting to play as much of the human element of the man as I could so that we see behind this kind of monster. This guy has done such terrible things that I didn’t want the audience to have sympathy for him. But, there is a human being there, a man who might have been decent had he not been so dreadfully conditioned. He’s so full of anger and hatred, but also has a kind of repressed feeling of love for his family that he can’t admit. By the time he does, it’s too late."

"I thought it would be interesting to play as much of the human element of the man as I could so that we see behind this kind of monster." Gene Hackman

O’Donnell is happy to be acting his own age (26) after years of playing younger characters: "It was pretty intimidating that first day on the set. But Gene was great. And Faye is unforgettable, a very talented actress. I think she gives a great performance in a very tough role."

"It was an incredible experience to turn around and see his face come through the door," Faye Dunaway on working with Gene Hackman

Faye Dunaway’s first day on set was the demanding scene of her first meeting in 15 years with her condemned patriarch, played by Hackman. "It was an incredible experience to turn around and see his face come through the door," Dunaway recalls. The reunion marked their first onscreen work together since their unforgettable collaboration on Arthur Penn’s 1967 Oscar winner, Bonnie and Clyde, in which Dunaway played Hackman’s sister-in-law.

"It was great fun working with Faye again," Gene Hackman

"It was great fun working with Faye again," Hackman enthuses. "We had this wonderful emotional scene to do our first day together. It had been almost 30 years since we’d worked together, so that was really interesting. Since then, of course, she’s seen me in films and I’ve seen her in films, so it’s almost like we hadn’t been apart that long."

"Chris is absolutely magical," Faye Dunaway on co-star Chris O’Donnell

"Chris is absolutely magical," Dunaway declares. "He’s one of the only young ones who has that particular kind of grace, very lovely, very true with a real sense of kindness. He’s a real natural."

Baseball and football legend Vincent (Bo) Jackson makes his motion picture acting debut in the film, as the tough, sensitive death row guard, Sgt. Packer. In preparing for his debut, Jackson trained with former death row guard Bobby McFadden , who spent ten days putting him through the drills of working in a prison. "Physically, he (Jackson) was a dead-on match for the way Grisham described the character in the book", Foley remarks.

The Chamber was filmed on location in Jackson, Indianola and Parchman, Mississippi, Chicago and on the Universal Studios backlot.

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Gene Hackman portrays white supremacist Sam Cayhall


Chris O'Donnell (Adam Hall), Lela Rochon (Nora) and David Marshall Grant (David McCallister)


Robert Prosky plays E. Garner Goodman, Adam's mentor


Lela Rochon as Nora Stark, legal advisor

See Reviews

CHAMBER (THE) (M)
(US)

 

CAST: Chris O’Donnell, Gene Hackman, Faye Dunaway, Robert Prosky, Raymond Barry, Bo Jackson, Lela Rochon, David Marshall Grant

PRODUCER: John Davis, Bran Grazer, Ron Howard

DIRECTOR: James Foley

SCRIPT: William Goldman, Chris Reese (based on the novel by John Grisham)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Ian Baker

EDITOR: Mark Warner

MUSIC: Carter Burwell

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Brisbin

RUNNING TIME: 112 mins

 

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: UIP

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 15, 1997


Gene Hackman in flashback at the scene of the crime


Former baseball/football legend Bo Jackson is terrific in his film debut as the prison guard


David McCallister plays Mississippi's ambitious governor







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