The Island - Production Notes

Last Update: 24 July 2005

Island Formation
Island Inhabitants
Cast
Crew
 

ISLAND INHABITANTS
 
The juxtaposition of an action-packed futuristic thriller and a contemplative
drama that poses a moral question being raised in today's news was an
aspect of the film that intrigued actor Ewan McGregor and drew him to the
role of Lincoln Six-Echo in "The Island." "I'm always looking for something
different, and this was a big American action film, but with something at the
heart of it, which isn't always the case," McGregor says. "I thought the
exploration of human cloning taken to extremes was really interesting in and
amongst a full-on action film, and it's the kind of role I haven't really done
before."
 
McGregor continues, "I play a guy called Lincoln, and he lives in an ordered,
regimented society, where everything is decided for them--what they wear,
what they eat, where they work... Everything is controlled by someone else.
They have been told that the outside world has been contaminated, except
for one beautiful paradise, which is The Island. Periodically, there is a
lottery and if they win, they will go to The Island, where their job is to
repopulate the planet...which is nice work if you can get it," he smiles.
"They believe they are living to go to The Island, and whereas everyone else
seems to be fairly satisfied with that, my character is the one who rocks the
boat a bit and starts asking questions: Why are things this way? Who
decides?"
 
Parkes reveals that, unbeknownst to Lincoln, his full name, Lincoln Six-Echo,
indicates that he is a fifth-generation, or echo-level, clone; and science, in
its endless pursuit of progress, had unwittingly given his generation what
might actually turn out to be a fatal flaw. "Lincoln and others like him are
blessed--or perhaps cursed--with a very dangerous character trait in this
particular world: curiosity. So now, he has become the squeaky wheel."
 
"They've made different generations of clones, and the echo generation they
made a little too good," Bay expounds. "There is genetic DNA imbedded in
Lincoln's memory, and he's starting to have dreams that are making him
more restless. He wishes there were something more; he just doesn't know
what. Ewan is a very talented actor, and he also has an innocence about
him, a childlike quality that made him perfect for this role."
 
Lincoln's curiosity turns to suspicion when he finds a living clue that all is not
what it seems. He goes on a fact-finding hunt that leads to a far more
terrible truth than he could have imagined. McGregor says, "Lincoln discovers
it's all a huge lie. The people who win the lottery don't go to The Island.
The Island doesn't exist. When his friend Jordan is chosen to be the next to
go, Lincoln knows he has to get her out of there."
 
Jordan is Jordan Two-Delta, a fellow resident of the facility, who shares a
close friendship with Lincoln, although she does not share his more
suspicious nature. Scarlett Johansson, who stars as Jordan, observes,
"Jordan is very sweet and innocent. She knows nothing other than the
containment she's been living in, apart from the world that she was told has
been contaminated."
 
Bay notes, "Jordan is completely passive about the restrictions on her life.
She believes there is an island, but she has a bond with Lincoln that makes
her go along with him when he tells her, 'There is no island; you have to
trust me.'"
 
Johansson adds, "Jordan is shocked, but every instinct tells her to go with
him, so she does. She trusts him more than as a friend. They are attracted
to each other--not really physically; it's more of a soulful connection. They
don't know anything about sexual intimacy. They are totally naïve because
they have been living in a kind of plastic bubble with no knowledge of the
outside world. It's a wonderful love story in a way, because it shows that,
against all odds, people who are supposed to come together, will."
 
Johansson says that the development of her character's relationship with
Lincoln is only one of the things that brought her to "The Island." "I am a
big fan of genre movies, and when I read the script, I was excited to know
what was going to happen next. I really wanted to work with Ewan and
Michael, too, so all of those elements made me want to do this movie."
 
Bay remarks that casting Scarlett opposite Ewan was based largely on
instinct. "Once we had Ewan, we knew we had to find someone who was
not only a good actress, but would pair up well with him. I hadn't met Scarlett
before, but I knew she was a very fine actress. Sometimes you have to take
a gamble when you try to find a good onscreen pairing, but Ewan and
Scarlett ended up having great chemistry."
 
When we meet Lincoln, Jordan and their fellow residents, they are watching
a recorded message from a former inhabitant named Starkweather, who is
elated to have been chosen to go The Island. Later, it is seeing
Starkweather's actual fate that opens Lincoln's eyes to the truth behind the
lie. Starkweather is played by Michael Clarke Duncan, who states, "My
character sets things in motion. One minute he's saying 'I'll see you on The
Island,' and then he wakes up on an operating table. He sits up and just
starts running for his life. He's scared to death and he's thinking, 'Where am I
? You told me I was going to The Island. This can't be it.'"
 
Duncan only worked on "The Island" for two days, but Michael Bay, who had
previously directed him in "Armageddon," made sure they were memorable.
"Mike will tell you I tortured him for those two days," Bay laughs. "I made
him run, I made him cry, I made him be strapped down on that table for like
eight hours, until he was saying, 'You get one more take,' and I'd say, 'Come on,
Mike, give me five more.' I just love messing with him."
 
"Michael Bay is a piece of work," Duncan counters. "The few days I was
there, he was always thinking of something new to do to me. Actually, I
give him a hard time, but I really think he is one of the greatest directors of
our time."
 
The inhabitants of the sterile, contained facility have no way of knowing that
they are living deep beneath an uncontaminated outside world...or that
above them is a complex known to that world as Merrick Biotech. The
residents only know the name Merrick as that of the man who seems to take
a somewhat benevolent, albeit intrusive, interest in their health and
well-being.
 
In fact, Merrick's only interest in the residents, or "agnates," as they are
called, is in protecting his extremely valuable investments until they become
due. He has seen to it that the outside world is as unaware of the
agnates--at least as being awake and aware--as the all-too-conscious
agnates are of them.
 
Cast in the role of Merrick, Sean Bean explains, "Merrick is deceiving his
paying clients that Merrick Biotech is cloning organs that lie in a vegetative
state, in compliance with the eugenics laws set in 2015 to govern human
cloning. But Merrick learned that organs kept in that condition failed, so the
agnates are conscious, which is highly illegal."
 
Despite this, Parkes states, "Merrick is a brilliant man who believes he's
ultimately doing the right thing. Like the best villains, he is not evil, just
terribly misguided. In his soul, he thinks he is improving humanity by
pushing science to its very limit."
 
Bean agrees that Merrick's motives, while questionable, are not wholly
amoral. "He is a pioneer in his field, and he believes what he is doing is for
the good of people. I think he's a likable chap, although there is a clinical
air about him...quite cold and businesslike. I found him to be an interesting
character."
 
"Sean Bean is very cool, but he's got that sophisticated thing about him,"
Bay comments. "He played Merrick as polished, but not evil. It is in his
performance that you really see that Merrick is a guy who believes he is
doing right."
 
The only person in the institute whom Lincoln truly trusts is a worker named
McCord, who has befriended Lincoln and occasionally even sneaks him
contraband, like liquor. "McCord is one of the few people around who makes
the mistake of fraternizing with the 'products,'" Bay notes. "He feels guilty
about what's going on in this facility. He knows it's not right, but he does
his job anyway, because it's the only job out there."
 
From the start, Michael Bay had only one name in mind for the part of
McCord: Steve Buscemi, with whom he had worked on "Armageddon." "Steve
is the man," says Bay. "He literally was the part; it was totally geared for
him. He brought humor to the role, which was great because he had a lot of
exposition to get out, but Steve is the type of guy who can humanize
anything. He is just one of the finest actors out there."
 
Buscemi offers, "It's fun working with Michael because he'll throw things in at
the last minute or ask me to come up with something on the spot. We
always get what's in the script, but he's not afraid to try something new or
different, so you never know what to expect."
 
When Lincoln and Jordan make their daring escape, Lincoln knows he has
only one place to turn for help, and seeks out McCord. Buscemi relates, "He
is desperate for answers, so he tracks McCord down. But McCord knows it
means really big trouble that they are out in the real world because no one
on the outside is supposed to know they exist. It also means McCord is
dead if he's caught with them. It's a huge problem, but, on the other hand,
he can't not help them. To him, they are human beings, too. So, against his
better judgment, he decides to help them, even though he is putting his own
life in danger."
 
McCord is correct in his assumption that the agnates are being hunted down
and that anyone in the way is in mortal danger. Merrick, however, cannot
turn to the authorities for help for fear his own illegal activities would be
exposed. Instead, he enlists the services of an elite security squad, headed
up by Albert Laurent, played by Djimon Hounsou. "I wanted real badasses to
be chasing them," Bay asserts. "Through my films, I've worked with a lot of
Navy SEALs and other special forces guys. Some of them go on to be
independent contractors, which means they get paid more and get to play by
what they call 'big boy rules.' That was the tack I wanted to take with
Laurent and his team."
 
Hounsou remarks, "Laurent was in the French special forces, but now he's
pretty much a mercenary. To him it's just business, so he's comfortable with
the job he has to do. His mission is to catch the agnates or eliminate them
at all costs, because the implications of what could happen if they're
discovered are unimaginable. Unfortunately, Merrick forgot to brief him on
some of the issues about these two escapees and what they are capable of.
When he finds out the truth, Laurent starts to feel conflicted about it,
because he realizes they are dealing with human beings here."
 
Producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald have had a long history with
Hounsou, which began with his first major role in "Amistad" and continued in
"Gladiator." Parkes notes, "To watch this extraordinary actor develop before
our eyes has been great. It's interesting because he has such a commanding
physical presence and he's playing such a badass here, which is completely
at odds with who he is as a person. Djimon is one of the sweetest people
on the planet. The fact that there is a conflict between the toughness of his
character and the sensitivity of the man inside is part of what makes Laurent
so intriguing onscreen."
 
Hounsou and the other actors playing Laurent's security team were aided by
veteran Special Ops technical advisor Harry Humphries, a former Navy SEAL
and warfare specialist who had previously lent his expertise to several films,
including the Michael Bay-directed "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon" and "The
Rock." Mixed in with the professional actors were current and former
members of the military and law enforcement agencies, who added
authenticity to the film's crack security unit.
 

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