A very long engagement

Big-name 'Marriage' cast holes up in Vancouver for suspenser shoot

TORONTO — On the Vancouver set of “Marriage,” a neo-noir drama about love, deception and murder, it’s supposed to be pouring rain as the young seductress Kay (Rachel McAdams) tells her adulterous older lover, Harry (Chris Cooper), “You look a little bit off. Why don’t I put up some soup? Go and sit by the fire.”

Actually, it’s an unusually hot August summer day outside and even hotter under the lights inside the soundstage of First Avenue Studio. And Cooper, beneath his pale makeup, is in the pink of health, despite a hectic schedule this summer that has him going back and forth between this film and the Peter Berg-directed thriller “The Kingdom.”

“I’d rather help you,” Cooper replies wistfully.

In a way, the physical discomfort lends an extra edge to the period suspenser about a man (Cooper) who attempts to leave his faithful but cold wife (Patricia Clarkson), for the passionate and much younger Kay. Afraid of the shame divorce will bring, Harry plots to poison Kay, which he reveals to his best friend, Richard (Pierce Brosnan). In the noir tradition of whatever can go wrong will go wrong, the plot thickens when Richard falls in love with Kay, becomes Harry’s rival and tries to foil the murder.

The long-gestating project, with its starry cast and Sundance prizewinner Ira Sachs at the helm, represents somewhat of a coup for a new studio complex known primarily for its commercial shoots.

“I’m still awestruck,” says First Avenue Studio owner David Switzer, as he watches carpenters dismantle the main set, a meticulously crafted, 1930s-style house erected inside his 9,000-square-foot building in Burnaby, a Vancouver suburb.

“We just opened last year, and a ‘Marriage’ location scout saw our sign and knocked on the door,” says Switzer says. “So this has been one amazing experience.”

It’s taken four years for the on-again, off-again “Marriage” to march down the aisle this far. In the end, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment came onboard to finance the $17.5 million pic.

Homegrown star

The first 22 days of shooting have gone smoothly, and the crew is in a good mood. They are clearly enamored with McAdams, a homegrown star on the rise who is the daughter of a truck driver and a nurse. Earlier in the week, McAdams — who was raised in St. Thomas, Ontario — was named No. 8 on Canada’s Celebrity Power list by Canadian Business magazine (after Avril Lavigne and before Matthew Perry). Brosnan has almost achieved local status, having made thriller “Butterfly on a Wheel” in Vancouver earlier this year.

With the bulk of the shooting over, production manager Simon Abbott has just circulated a memo to the crew on behalf of the producers extending their “heartfelt thanks for a job well done.” Most of them are looking forward to an Indian summer vacation before returning to finish filming in October. Not returning are McAdams and Brosnan, who have completed their scenes.

“This is only my 74th day as a director in my life,” says Sachs. “But people are willing to take a risk with me because creatively, ‘Marriage’ is full and rich.”

Screenplay, penned by Sachs and Oren Moverman, is based on a 1953 novel by John Bingham, first published in the U.K. as “Five Roundabouts to Heaven” and then Stateside as “The Tender Poisoner.” Sachs brought the project to exec producer Geoff Stier, who introduced it to SKE’s production prexy Bill Horberg last year. Stier worked with Sachs on “Forty Shades of Blue,” which won the 2005 Sundance Film Fest’s grand jury prize.

“Marriage” is being produced by Sachs, Sidney Kimmel, Steve Golin and Jawal Nga.

“The opportunity to work on a film so performance-driven is refreshing,” says David Nicksay, one of the seven credited executive producers involved with the film. “This kind of picture is the new wave for North American filmmaking. They’re able to attract better casts than ever before. Indies are the place for movies with content and ideas.”

Cooper was the first actor inked for “Marriage.” “He had seen the script,” says Nga, who produced Sachs’ Sundance winner. “Then Ira and I went to Boston in 2005 and showed him ‘Forty Shades of Blue.’ He’s been completely dedicated to the project.”

Nga, a NYU grad who grew up in Tripoli, Libya, and London, says he’s looking forward to people seeing “Marriage.”

“You can win all the awards, but you can’t get four people to see it,” he says. “Nobody went to see ‘Forty Shades of Blue.’ Distribution adds legitimacy to your project.” MGM will distribute “Marriage” Stateside through its arrangement with Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, and Kimmel International is handling the film overseas.