Silence: Casting and Locations

Pre-Production

With a screenplay finally completed to his satisfaction after so many years, Scorsese, Koskoff, and Winkler stepped up efforts to secure financing for the project. Scorsese and Koskoff also began to grapple with casting and location issues: who would be the perfect actor to play the all-important role of Father Rodrigues? How to find Japanese actors for other crucial roles? And where to make the film? None of these issues would be resolved quickly or easily.

Finding financing for a serious, character-driven film dealing with profound religious and philosophical issues in today’s worldwide film market was a daunting challenge.

“This project has so much meaning for Marty, it’s so personal for him that it became personal for me as well,” says Koskoff who is Scorsese’s producing partner and President of Production at his company, Sikelia. “I was determined to get the film made and I wasn’t going to rest until that was achieved. Every possible avenue—I pursued them all.”

After a series of postponements, Scorsese, Koskoff and Winkler finally met with success. With the release of Scorsese’s hugely popular and commercially successful The Wolf of Wall Street, three companies, Emmett Furla Films, Fabrica de Cine and SharpSword, came on board to move ahead and finance Silence.

Emmett Furla Films, now collaborating since 2013 with Oasis Ventures Entertainment, has financed more than 80 films including Rambo, Lone Survivor and Heist.

Fabrica de Cine, headed by Gaston Pavlovich, co-produced and co-financed the Tom Hanks drama A Hologram for a King and is set to produce Richard Gere’s Oppenheimer Strategies.

SharpSword Films is backed by Dale Brown and participated in the financing of The Ticket, starring Dan Stevens, Malin Akerman and Oliver Platt.

Locations:

Even before the means to make the film became available, in 2008 and 2009, as various ways were being explored to secure financing, Scorsese, Koskoff and key members of the director’s creative team began to scout locations for a proposed production. Understanding that it would be prohibitively expensive to make the film in Japan, the filmmakers scouted New Zealand, Canada and other various locations in search of places to shoot the story on a more economically feasible basis, eventually finding the perfect locations in Taiwan.

While discussing the possibility of shooting in Taiwan, Scorsese and Koskoff reached out director Ang Lee, who has extensive experience shooting in the country.  Mr. Lee and his collaborators, particularly David Lee, were integral to helping get the film made in Taiwan.

For her part, as she had done with other possible locations, Koskoff, made several trips to Taiwan traveling across length and breadth of the country with an eye towards shooting there.

“I traveled to Taiwan so many times that I can safely say I’ve been to every corner of the country scouting locations throughout the cities and the countryside. I also met with scores of people,” Koskoff says. “I understood that because of the diversity of the landscape and terrain, because of the talents of the people, and because of the filmmaking facilities available in Taipei, we had finally found the place in which to shoot Silence. In fact, I became convinced that this country was the only place in which the film could be made, that Silence had found the perfect location in which to recreate 17th century Japan.”

Scorsese concurs. “We looked at many different spots around the world, and we finally settled on Taiwan because the landscape was geographically close, the climate was similar, and the landscapes in the mountains and by the sea gave us just what we needed.”

Casting

With so many essential elements falling in place, the process of casting, which had been temporarily put on hold, moved ahead in earnest. The main priority was clear – filling the role of Father Rodrigues.

“The actor who would play Rodrigues had to have the ability and understanding to deal with the complex issues that inform the character,” Scorsese says. “I understood also that we had to find someone who would want to play the part. Over the years I had seen many actors. Some said right off the bat they had no interest in the subject and that was that.”

Over the years Scorsese had encountered many young actors who were fascinated by the material and the story, and he considered several for the role. As time went by, however, and the film failed to move forward, these actors became too old. Rodrigues is young man in his twenties.

Stepping up the search with a production start date looming, Scorsese auditioned several young actors, when lighting struck in the person of Andrew Garfield. Fresh off his Tony-nominated triumph on Broadway in Mike Nichols’ production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” as well as his stint as The Amazing Spider-Man, Garfield seemed like Rodrigues incarnate to the director.

“Andrew is the right age, but more importantly he as the ability to handle the role. And he cares. Frankly, he’s a god-send,” Scorsese says.

Garfield was primed for the assignment.

“How can you say ‘No’ when Martin Scorsese calls” the actor says. “Who would want to? It’s so rare and I never expected such an opportunity.”

Delighted as he was to land the role, the actor understood the depth of the challenge.

“The story confronts such deep and difficult material, timeless, huge in scope, huge in emotion,” Garfield says. “It’s a lifetime the character goes through that we witness. He wrestles with the great and most important questions we all wrestle with – how to live a meaningful life, a life of faith, and does that require you to live in doubt as well. That’s just scratching the surface of why I was attracted to this story and this character.”

As Rodrigues’ fellow priest Father Garupe, Scorsese cast another charismatic, up-and coming young actor, Adam Driver. Well-known for his role in the HBO series Girls, and for film appearances such as Inside Llewyn Davis and the latest Star Wars installment The Force Awakens, Driver stars in Jim Jarmusch’s Paterson. Driver, too, was intrigued and challenged by the story and excited for the chance to work with Scorsese.

To prepare he immersed himself in Endo’s book as well as in Scorsese and Cocks’ script.

“I was really taken by the idea of a crisis of faith which is always universal, and always relevant,” Driver says.

The individual characteristics of the two young men, Father Rodrigues, and Father Garupe, Driver’s character, also appealed to the actor.

“I liked that they were disgruntled guys, and questioning, which is a big part of faith. I thought of St. Peter. Doubt is healthy – it relates to everything, to acting even. Is this the right way to make a living? Is this part right? Do I want to be with these people? Am I just bad in the role? Anything creative leads to doubt. Relationships, between parents and children are filled with doubt.”

Driver was also attracted to what he calls the atypical representation of priests in the story.

“You think of priests as calm and rational. But these Jesuits were pioneers, rough and hard. They had to be durable. Conditions were harsh in that period. These men were rough, not polished, not how we think of priests today. I think of them as explorers.”

Two major Irish-born actors, the versatile and celebrated Liam Neeson whose popularity has increased over the years with performances in the action series Taken, and the distinguished stage and screen player Ciarin Hinds were also signed for key roles. Neeson, who plays the all-important Father Ferreria and who was Oscar nominated for Schindler’s List, appeared as Priest Vallon fifteen years ago in Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. He was delighted for the opportunity of being reunited with the director.

“Working with Marty is a joy and an education in creative filmmaking,” Neeson says. “But one of the most exciting things about this story that appeals to me is its relevance. Some of the very things described in the novel and the screenplay in great and terrible detail are actually occurring in the world today. I think Silence will be a film everyone will want to see.”

Of Silence’s themes, Neeson says, “I’ve been intrigued by the Jesuits for 30 years, ever since I did research for another movie in the 1980s, The Mission. The technical adviser for that film was Father Daniel Berrigan who became a great pal. He had a big effect on my life in regard to the history of the Jesuits, especially St. Ignatius and St. Francis.”

As for Silence’s screenplay, Neeson says, “I was hooked by the script as soon as I read it. It’s spare. Jay Cocks and Marty never write a paragraph when a sentence will do. And that sentence will have texture and subtext.”

The character of Father Ferreira also took hold of him.

“I wondered how this man, an historical personage, a man of great learning, steeped in the church and embedded in the Jesuit culture, could actually rescind his religion and become an embarrassment to the church.”

Ciarin Hinds (Munich) who appears as Father Valignano, head of the Jesuit University in Macao, echoes Neeson’s enthusiasm.

“It’s not every day that you get to appear in such a thought-provoking but heartfelt story, one being made by a great director. This is a special assignment for me,” Hinds says.

Scorsese, whose ability to elicit great work from his actors is legendary, expressed tremendous appreciation for his principal cast.

“First of all, I needed great actors,” the director says. “I know that sounds simple, but it’s true—the material is extremely complex, the world in which the story unfolds is unknown to most of us here in the west, and I needed actors who could absorb it all and dive in and bring it to life. I needed adventurers, and I use that term in the physical and emotional senses.

“With Liam and Ciarán, I needed people with a certain gravity, people who understood stillness and…silence. Every second that they were on screen had to count, and they needed to provide a contrast to Andrew and Adam, whose characters are younger, thinner, more impulsive. I also needed the audience to see that contrast visually: the thin, angular faces of the two younger actors, who move quickly, in contrast to the older, more becalmed, physically grounded actors. That was the idea, and that’s what the four of them bring to the picture.”

 

Equally important to the story of Silence as the four Portuguese Jesuits are the Japanese characters, the devout Christian villagers as well as their Samurai tormentors.  As early as 2007, Scorsese and his casting director Ellen Lewis traveled to Japan where they met with some of the best-known actors in that country, many of whom are stars in their native land.

“I made three trips in all to Japan,” Lewis says. “It was very inspiring. I could tell right away that we were going to be okay because all the actors were so good. Even if the English they spoke wasn’t perfect, we could tell they understood the intention of the scene they were reading, and that was so moving and exciting.”

For the important role of the wily and treacherous Interpreter, Scorsese cast Tadanobu Asano. The director was familiar with Asano’s work from the film Mongol in which he appeared as Ghengis Khan. US audiences will recognize him from Battleship and Thor.

Issey Ogata, a versatile stage and film performer who played the Emperor Hirohito in Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun was given the key role of Inoue, the elderly but widely feared Inquisitor whose barbaric policies spread terror throughout the country’s ‘hidden’ Christian communities.

One of Japan’s brightest young stars, Yosuke Kubozuka was signed for the role of the complex and devious Kichijiro, the priests’ sometime guide and nemesis, and Yoshi Oida who lives in France and has worked with the great theater director Peter Brook plays Ichizo, the Tomogi village elder whose faith and devotion inspire Rodrigues and Garupe. And the highly respected actor/director Shinya Tsukamoto was cast as Mokichi, another sincere and devout Tomogi villager.

Scorsese recalls he was stunned when he heard that ShinyaTsukamoto was coming in to audition.

‘’What?” I said. ‘What are you taking about? The great director is coming in to audition?!’ I was so surprised – I couldn’t believe it. Shinya is a true auteur whose films inspire me, Tetsuo, Iron Man and Snakes of June.”

Tsukamoto was honored just to audition for the man he considers a supreme master of cinema.

“I would have been an extra for Mr. Scorsese,” he says.

Scorsese is unstinting in his praise of his Japanese cast.

“The Japanese actors are remarkable. Meeting them, working with them is a revelation. Their range, the depth of their talents is astonishing.”

 

Concurrent with the completion of the casting process, the creative crew for the film was assembled. Several of the director’s longtime collaborators came on board, including director of photography Rodrigo Prieto (The Wolf of Wall Street) and three-time Academy Award winning production designer Dante Ferretti (Hugo). On Silence Ferretti was charged with creating the costumes for the film as well as the sets, a dual assignment he had carried out Scorsese’s Kundun.

And three-time Oscar winner Thelma Schoonmaker (The Departed), Scorsese’s editor for over forty years who has edited all of his features since Raging Bull, also took her position on the team. For Schoonmaker, finally get a chance to work with Scorsese on his long-cherished dream of filming this book, was a thrill and a great honor