Lincoln Lawyer, The: Ryan Phillippe Working with Matthew McConaughey

The Lincoln Lawyer, directed by Brad Furman and starring Matthew McConaughey, Marisa Tomei and Ryan Phillippe, will be released by Lionsgate on March 18.

For the pivotal role of Louis Roulet, the filmmakers auditioned a number of actors before offering the role to the much-lauded Ryan Phillippe. Says Lucchesi, “This film is very much a two hander and a big part of the satisfaction of this film is seeing two great performances. If the villain doesn’t work, the hero isn’t as good, so Ryan and Matthew were really mano a mano in this.”

“I had cast Ryan in a movie some years ago and he was great in it,” reports Rosenberg. “I’d kept track of him and his career and when his agent called to say that he wanted to audition for the role of Roulet, we were excited.”

“Louis Roulet is unlike anything I’ve played before,” explains Phillippe. “I was drawn to the idea of playing this guy who’s so deeply troubled. I couldn’t wait to mine all of his psychological characteristics.”

To develop his character, Phillippe combed through the novel to find details and nuances he might apply to his performance. “In a screen adaptation there isn’t necessarily room to explore every scene that takes place in the novel, so the book becomes your bible,” he says. “Also, I was really into the novel. It was a page-turner. Now I can’t wait for Michael Connelly’s next book!”

McConaughey’s and Phillippe’s on-screen relationship as lawyer and client evolved not from a lengthy rehearsal process but rather from a mutual respect and confidence in the other’s talents. McConaughey says, “When we went to the first read-through I said to him, ‘If it’s alright with you, Ryan, I’d rather not rehearse anything because in the film we don’t know a thing about each other until we meet. I want to be surprised by what you do, and for you to be surprised by what I do. So let’s rehearse on film.’ He completely agreed.”

“Matthew and I have a great chemistry together and it was great to watch him be so in his element,” Phillippe says. “It’s been fun because both of our characters are manipulating each other. What I think is so interesting and original in terms of their dynamic together is that we’ve created a lawyer and client who essentially hate each other. It’s a fascinating relationship.”

When the producers and Furman were considering who would play Haller’s ex-wife Maggie McPherson, there was only one actress they wanted: Academy Award® winner Marisa Tomei. Rosenberg says, “We wanted an actress who was a contemporary of Matthew’s and who would be totally credible as Haller’s ex-wife, who is also a prosecuting attorney. Marisa had the intelligence and charisma to bring this character to life.”

Although they’re no longer married, Mick and Maggie are still attracted to each other and work together to raise their eight-year-old daughter – theirs is a complex, real-world relationship that we haven’t seen on screen before. Says McConaughey, “There are a lot of couples like Mick and Maggie who still have working relationships, who are still attracted to each other, but they’re not together. Maggie and Mick understand something about each other that no one else does.”

Tomei impressed Furman from the moment of their first meeting. “First of all, Marisa is all heart,” says the director. “She has so much passion and cares so deeply that there’s nothing she doesn’t do without a hundred and fifty percent and thinking everything through. When we first met she had five million questions for me about every piece of the filmmaking process. Halfway through I thought, ‘Wow, now I know why she’s won an Academy Award®.’ Her preparation, her diligence, and her understanding of the material were tremendous.”

Based on the strength of the script and commitments from McConaughey, Phillippe and Tomei, the project attracted a notably high caliber of actors for its rich supporting roles. William H. Macy, who plays Frank Levin, a private investigator and Mick’s best friend, focused on finding ways to bring humor to his performance whenever possible. He says, “I tried to bring some levity to the project because it is deadly serious. So I approached it with a light touch and anywhere I could find a place for a little bit of a giggle, I put it in.”

“There’s nobody like Bill,” reports Furman. “He has his own individual performance style and his innate ability to hit moments naturally is so wonderful to watch. He just makes the filmmaking process so easy.”

“He’s a ball,” avows McConaughey. “I had worked with him briefly before in the film, SAHARA, but this time we really got to have some good scenes together where we got to show our past relationship, what our relationship is now, how much fun we have together.”

John Leguizamo, who plays bail bondsman Val Valenzuela, relished playing a character who is deeply flawed yet still sympathetic. “Val sets the whole thing with Roulet in motion,” explains Leguizamo. “He’s always looking for a chance to make a little extra cash and hook up his friends at the same time, but this time he sets off a little lie that ends up getting Mick into trouble.”

Furman says, “John is truly one of the most gifted people I’ve ever met in my life. Everything he does is so natural and charismatic and quirky, and then he can also be effortlessly cool and hip. He’s got the whole package.”

Even with only a handful of scenes in the film, actor Michael Pena makes a powerful impression as Jesus Martinez, Mick’s former client who’s been putting in jail time for a crime he didn’t commit.  “The scenes between Matthew and me are pretty potent,” says the actor. “It’s a turning point for Mick when he learns that I was wrongly convicted. He becomes almost a different person.”

McConaughey agrees. “Mick helped put Jesus in prison when he was innocent and now Jesus has been there for four years. So how does he make amends? Getting an innocent man out of jail and getting his freedom back is more important to Mick than anything else.”

Mick’s adversary in court, assistant D.A. Ted Minton, is portrayed by actor Josh Lucas as a man who’s precise and used to playing by the rules. Says Lucas, “But at a certain point Ted realizes that in order to win against Mick he has to play like him, too, which means playing more dangerously than he normally would.”

To research his role, Lucas, who lives in New York City, would walk to his local courthouse and watch various real-life cases in process. “One of the amazing things about the U.S. legal system is that you can walk into the courtroom and watch any trial,” he says. “Whether it’s murder, rape or aggravated assault, you get a list and you can just sit down and watch the amazing judicial process that happens in this country.”

Homicide detective Lankford, played by Bryan Cranston, is another figure who pits himself against Mick Haller. “I’m kind of a hard ass and I hate the way Mick keeps ruining my hard work by getting criminals off on technicalities,” says Cranston of his character. “But as the story turns, Mick starts planting clues that help the prosecution and it gets hard for me to figure him out.  I don’t know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.”

Rounding out the cast are a number of other supporting players, including country music superstar Trace Adkins, who plays Eddie, the leader of a motorcycle gang who also happens to be one of Mick’s clients. “With just a few scenes, Trace did a fantastic job in making this Harley gang leader an appealing character,” says Rosenberg. “He and Matthew had a great rapport onscreen.” Additionally, veteran actress Frances Fisher appears in a key role as Louis Roulet’s upper-crust mother. “She’s absolutely elegant,” reports Furman. “I remember saying to her, ‘You make it all look so easy.’ And she proved that every day.”

Following McConaughey’s lead, the entire cast maintained an uncommonly high work ethic on set. According to Lucchesi, this had partly to do with McConaughey’s deep commitment to his starring role. He explains, “When you have the lead actor knowing his lines and being as focused and as driven to make good work, it elevates the rest of the cast. Matthew was really a wonderful piece of good fortune for this project.”

Adds Furman, “Production was all about performance and being an actor. For instance, Laurence Mason, who played the role of Mick Haller’s driver, Earl, has no ego; he just loves being an actor and he brought that enthusiasm to set. Everyone put their best foot forward every single day.”