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When it came to casting the lead characters of ‘Buried’ director Rodrigo Cortés’ new ‘Red Lights’, Cortés set his sights high, envisioning Sigourney Weaver as the tenacious researcher Margaret Matheson and Robert De Niro in the role of Simon Silver, the elusive psychic superstar who returns to the limelight after three decades in exile.
“There is a great deal of emotion in the piece that is not verbalized,” Cortés’ observes. “It takes a highly skilled actor to communicate through silence. Sigourney and Robert each had immediate and strong reactions to the material. I met with both of them within a two-week period and they told me they really wanted to be involved.”
Cortés says that while he was developing the character of Matheson, he always pictured Weaver in the role. “The character felt very strong, but definitely not male,” he remembers. “She has this power and a very sarcastic sense of humor, as well as a sexy nature. You don’t see that in young women, because it has to do with experience and wisdom. You feel you can trust what this woman tells you. At the same time, she has something broken inside. It’s rare to find all of these elements in one actress, but we found them in Sigourney.
“I wrote every line with her in mind,” he continues. “It was like making the perfect dress for someone. If she had said no, it would have been a real problem. I would have had a perfect dress that wouldn’t fit most people.”
De Niro lends his own natural gravitas and superstar charisma to Silver. “I knew it would take a giant to play Silver the way I envisioned him,” says Cortés. “He is the greatest psychic ever, but I didn’t have a lot of time to establish that, so I needed a powerful presence. De Niro brings tremendous nuance to the character, speaking softly, but with a lot of power behind every word. And he does it in such an organic way.
“As an actor, he is never focused on getting to a goal. He’s just focused on being, so every emotion feels totally real. He works calmly, and then magic happens, and if you are fast enough, you steal it.”
Cortés cast Irish actor Cillian Murphy as Tom Buckley, Matheson’s protégé, because he saw a dichotomy in the actor that embodied Buckley’s journey. “At the beginning, Tom is like an innocent Boy Scout,” the director explains. “He lives comfortably in the shadow of Matheson, but then he has to inherit the film and his character becomes darker and more disturbing. We enter much more subjective and abstract territories. Cillian has a very intuitive approach to performance and had both sides that the character needed.”
Image Courtesy of Red Lights