Don't Say a Word - The Characters

Last Update: 24 September 2001

Elizabeth Burrows (Brittany Murphy)

Brittany Murphy makes an indelible impression as Elisabeth Burrows. Fleder had met the young star of such films as "Clueless" and "Girl, Interrupted" when she auditioned for the title role in a planned biopic of Janis Joplin, which Fleder was to direct. Murphy won the role over one hundred others, but the film was never made.

Remembering her remarkable audition for the Joplin picture, Fleder invited Murphy to meet the Kopelsons about playing Elisabeth. "She did a cold reading of a scene on tape that knocked everybody out," says Fleder. Murphy then screen tested with Michael Douglas. "We knew then and there that no one else could do the role," says Fleder. "Brittany really embodied Elisabeth's mercurial quality, and her chemistry with Michael was extraordinary."

From our first glimpse of a seemingly catatonic Elisabeth sitting lifelessly in a holding cell in a hospital psychiatric ward, Murphy makes the character her own. "There is something very poetic and beautiful about Elisabeth," the actress notes. "It was very freeing for me to become someone that doesn't have a lot of airs that most 'normal' people have from participating in society. It's visceral, something I can't describe. I just know instinctively whether or not a character is supposed to be inside of me for three or four months. I knew Elisabeth should be."

Dr Louis Sachs (Oliver Platt)

Elisabeth is a patient of Dr. Louis Sachs, a forensic psychiatrist at Bridgeview Psychiatric Hospital. Unable to pierce Elisabeth's armor of apparent catatonia and make sense of her myriad diagnoses, Sachs calls in Nathan for help. The filmmakers modeled Louis after Dr. Berger, with Oliver Platt taking on the role. "It's like the part was written for Oliver," says Arnold Kopelson. "Oliver, like Dr. Berger, is a bit ruffled, like a big teddy bear."

Platt relished the opportunity to play a character who offers one of the film's major surprises. "The character has a secret, a 'swerve' as I like to call it," he says. "Nothing is what seems, and those kind of textured parts are always fun to play."

Aggie Conrad (Famke Janssen)

There are also surprises to be found in the character of Nathan's wife, Aggie - even for those familiar with the novel. To open up the story and provide another dimension to the character, the filmmakers made her immobile, nursing a broken leg. Virtually trapped in her apartment, as Nathan races around New York trying to save their kidnapped child, Aggie's frustration and fears are made even more palpable.

Famke Janssen, who plays Aggie, saw the dramatic possibilities with the character and her handicap. "The first thing that any parent would want to do when there's a crisis involving their child, is to move, and Aggie cannot," says Janssen. "Aggie is an active woman - she broke her leg in a skiing accident - so being immobile is an enormous burden. Now she's trapped and thinks she can't do anything at all to help her husband or child."

Patrick Koster (Sean Bean)

The mastermind behind the kidnapping is Koster, a ruthless and professional criminal who had been sitting in a jail cell for ten years thinking about his plans to reclaim what he thinks is his: a priceless diamond whose location is somehow tied to a young woman hospitalized in a psychiatric ward. Fleder sees Koster as a prototypical villain. "He's completely inflexible and a total professional," says the director. "Everything - kidnapping, murder - is simply a business to him. He's like Robert Shaw's subway hijacker in 'The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.'"

According to Fleder, British actor Sean Bean had the intensity necessary to be a formidable adversary to Michael Douglas' Nathan. Bean is no stranger to villainous roles, having played notable heavies in the Bond film "GoldenEye" and in the Tom Clancy thriller "Patriot Games." But he found new and fertile ground in Koster. "He is formidable, uncompromising and precise," notes the actor. "He deals with things with a military precision. Koster's not out to be clever or ironic. He wants the diamond, and will do anything to get it."

Sandra Cassidy (Jennifer Esposito)

Another character, New York police detective Sandra Cassidy, is investigating a murder that at first seems unrelated to Koster and the kidnapping, of which she is completely unaware. Ultimately, however, her work intersects with the Nathan/Koster kidnap scenario.

Cassidy, played by Jennifer Esposito, was created by the screenwriters to bring another story element to the narrative. One element has Nathan working with Elisabeth to save his kidnapped daughter. In another, Aggie battles her feelings of helplessness stemming from her daughter's kidnapping. A third story element traces Cassidy's murder investigation, which leads her to Nathan and Koster. "I love the film's multi-layered narrative," says Fleder. "There are not just one or two stories, but several going on simultaneously - and they're all on a collision course."

Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas)

At the vortex of these intersecting forces is Michael Douglas' Nathan Conrad, whose comfortable Upper West Side life is torn apart by the kidnapping. His pain and frustration after learning that his daughter is gone is realized through Fleder's moving camera, which showcases the Douglas' talents. Fleder explains: "The scene of Nathan's realization is an example of actor and camera collaborating to create a specific emotion. Michael is not only of the great stars, he's one of the great actors. The power he has in this scene is the power of silence, of listening. The camera circles him in a predatory fashion, externalizing Nathan's internal feelings of frustration, longing, despair and anger, and of being completely surrounded."

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