×

Andrew Garfield to Star in Martin Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ (EXCLUSIVE)

With Garfield aboard, helmer will make his passion project on the 'essence' of Christianity

Martin Scorsese can finally give voice to “Silence.”

After two decades of false starts and near misses, the director can now look forward to shooting his long-gestating adaptation of Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo’s novel next summer.

Scorsese not only has secured the financing he needed and a production greenlight for June 2014, he’s landed a coveted leading man: “The Amazing Spider-Man’s” Andrew Garfield.

The project, which also will feature Ken Watanabe, is sure to catch the attention of international distributors at the upcoming Cannes market, which marks a new experience for the director, who has headed the Cannes jury and presented four movies in competition.

Sinking into a sofa in his midtown Manhattan office on a recent morning, Scorsese reflected on the planned pic, which he holds particularly dear to his heart. The subject matter — the very roots of religious faith — has long fascinated him, from his childhood aspiration to the priesthood to his controversial screen adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ “The Last Temptation of Christ,” released in 1988.

“It’s something that has always been part of my life,” he says. “It’s difficult for people to understand who are not part of that world that I grew up in, which was Roman Catholicism in New York City in the 1950s. I was impressed enough to try to become part of that world, and realized at the age of 15 or 16 that it was much tougher, much more complicated than I thought … in terms of vocation.”

Garfield will star as Father Rodrigues, a 17th-century Portuguese Jesuit who travels to Japan with a fellow priest amid rumors that Rodrigues’ mentor has abandoned the Church. It is a moment of religious persecution in the Asian nation, with Christians forced to practice their faith clandestinely. Watanabe will portray the priests’ interpreter, alongside a Japanese cast that includes Issei Ogata (who played Emperor Hirohito in Alexander Sokurov’s “The Sun”). As with “Temptation of Christ” and his 1997 Dalai Lama biopic “Kundun,” a box office dud, the commercial prospects for Scorsese’s latest passion project are challenging.

Scorsese admits that the mostly Japanese-language production is meant for a smaller audience than his hits “Shutter Island,” “The Departed” and “The Aviator,” but suggests, “Then again, it’s a thriller. Thriller meaning they are undercover,” he says. “I’m interested in this, whether it’s undercover priests or undercover cops.”

Location scouting is still under way for the production, which is being co-financed by Emmett/Furla Films and Belgian producer Paul Breuls’ Corsan Films. Scorsese hints that a veteran collaborator, singer-songwriter Robbie Robertson, may come onboard for the soundtrack.

“He and I started talking about this a year and a half ago, before I started ‘Wolf,’ about ideas for certain kinds of sounds,” said Scorsese, who is busy editing his latest film “The Wolf of Wall Street,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

The helmer first read Endo’s novel 25 years ago, when Archbishop Paul Moore sent it to him following a screening of “Last Temptation of Christ” held for New York religious readers. He recalls being struck by the book’s “complex simplicity,” and its sense of “cutting away all the trappings, cutting away the dogma, cutting away everything and dealing with the very essence of … you could say Christianity, you could say Jesus.” Added the director: “It seems to have been a great idea, but can it be implemented? And if it is, it seems that it has to be on an individual level, in how one behaves, in how one treats other people in one’s own lives.” (Curiously, Scorsese, a voracious cinephile, admits he never saw the 1971 Japanese film version of “Silence,” directed by nonagenarian Masahiro Shinoda.)

Almost immediately after reading the book, Scorsese began working on an adaptation with frequent screenwriting partner Jay Cocks, but other projects interrupted the process, and the script wasn’t completed until 1996. By then, Scorsese observes, “the landscape of Hollywood had changed.”

His most recent picture at the time, “Casino,” had performed solidly at the box office ($116 million worldwide), and was made with the full support of its studio backer, Universal Pictures. “But ultimately, when the film was released, it was clear that it no longer pays for studios that are owned by major corporations to make a $50-$60 million profit on a movie,” Scorsese said. “They want to make more. So that was the end of that kind of picture for me.”

In the two decades since, Scorsese, like many of his generational colleagues (Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin), has depended largely on independent financing, much of it from longtime patron Graham King, who produced/and or co-financed “Gangs of New York,” “The Aviator,” “The Departed” and “Hugo.” King has a stake in “Silence,” which he helped shepherd since 2001, but his ultimate involvement in the production is uncertain. “It’s an issue of what makes sense at that time,” said Scorsese, whose frequent collaborator Emma Koskoff (a producer on “Wolf of Wall Street” and executive producer on “Hugo”) will produce “Silence,” along with Irwin Winkler, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Vittorio Cecchi Gori and Barbara De Fina.

Asked whether he has any hesitation making a film about Catholicism at a moment when the Catholic Church has been making its most unflattering headlines since the reformation, Scorsese said: “Not at all. Certainly, it’s a religious subject, but the mystery that I’m talking about, Rodrigues’ conflict with himself, and the essence of Christianity — which is something I believe in strongly — is timeless, and has to do with who we are as human beings.”

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • (from left) Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham)

    Korea Box Office: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ Topples ‘Exit,’ ‘Roar to Victory’  

    Opening on Wednesday, “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” debuted on top of the South Korean box office. Showing on some 1,311 screens nationwide, the UPI release earned $15.1 million from 2.03 million admissions over five days. That included the four-day National Liberation Day weekend. “The Battle: Roar to Victory” remained in second. The [...]

  • Tracy Morgan Netflix stand-up special

    Film News Roundup: Tracy Morgan Joins Eddie Murphy's 'Coming 2 America'

    In today’s film news roundup, Tracy Morgan and Michael Rooker book roles in major movies, and Gravitas buys “Christmas Break-In.” CASTINGS Tracy Morgan has signed on to appear in Eddie Murphy’s “Coming 2 America” sequel as the brother of Lesley Jones’ character. “Hustle & Flow” helmer Craig Brewer is directing the project with Murphy, Kevin [...]

  • Spider-Man Far From Home

    'Spider-Man: Far From Home' Gets Re-Release With New Scene

    Sony Pictures is re-releasing “Spider-Man: Far From Home” with a new action scene. Starting Aug. 29, a new extended cut, featuring four minutes of a never-before-seen action sequence, will be released in theaters in the United States and Canada. The film will also be available in IMAX and large formats in select locations. “Spider-Man: Far [...]

  • Matthew Modine

    Supporters Back Matthew Modine After Clumsy Joke at SAG-AFTRA Meeting

    More than 100 women, including Ellen Barkin and Allison Janney, have voiced support for Matthew Modine’s campaign for SAG-AFTRA presidency, following a joke at a SAG-AFTRA meeting that some decried as misogynist. With voting set to conclude on Aug. 28, the campaigns have featured vitriolic attacks between supporters of Modine, secretary-treasurer Jane Austin and incumbent [...]

  • Lady Gaga

    Variety Earns 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Award Nominations

    Variety has received 14 Folio: Eddie & Ozzie award nominations for its coverage of the entertainment industry over the past year. The awards gala, which will take place at The Hilton Midtown in New York City on Oct. 30, celebrates publications that have demonstrated impressive investigative journalism, in addition to thoughtful digital and print design. [...]

  • WGA Agents Packaging Fight Placeholder

    Writers Guild Withdraws State Suit Against Agencies, Refiles in Federal Court

    The Writers Guild of America has withdrawn its state court suit against WME, CAA, UTA and ICM Partners alleging packaging fees are illegal and re-filed suit in federal court. The WGA also responded to antitrust claims brought against the guild by the three agencies. Those agency suits alleged that the WGA abused its power in [...]

  • Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart

    Tim Roth to Receive Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award

    British actor Tim Roth is to receive the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo Award in recognition of his “exceptional contribution to the art of film.” The ceremony at the Sarajevo Film Festival will be held on Tuesday. He will hold a masterclass on the same day. His first screen role was the lead in the controversial [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content