Cameron: The story was set in Boston when I first read Aline’s script, and she really made it sing as a universal story... I also knew a ton of places in “inner” California that felt like my “Dartmoor”… places that felt far removed and would support a struggling zoo. Then we found the Greenfield Ranch location, outside Westlake Village, and we all fell in love with the property.
Plus, I wanted to work with Matt Damon, and I think he gets things done pretty well with his natural accent… so we started casting American actors, reading with them, setting the story here in California… and the real Benjamin Mee gave us a thumbs up… and that’s a mighty thumbs up. We filmed in “out of the way” California, places that don’t normally turn up in the movies.
Crowe: [The film's] mostly about the characters, though. The animals are characters too, but it's mostly the story of this family and how Ben -- Matt Damon -- throws himself Don Quixote-style into an impossible task and saves his family. I just loved the relationships between the characters and the idea of Matt playing a young father.
I went to meet him on the set of "True Grit." Actually, they never let me near the set of "True Grit." [laughs] Everybody in the hotel was like, "Coen Brothers movie? We can't say anything about that. There's no set. There's no movie." So I waited around the hotel and Matt came back from having filmed this big scene crossing the river. We sat and talked and I immediately knew we had to do this.
Question: When you were rewriting the screenplay, were you writing it with Matt in mind?
Crowe: I was halfway through the rewrite when I met Matt. The rest of the way, it was all Matt because I just envisioned him doing this stuff. He's a real family man, but he's a rocking guy too, so I liked the whole idea of how the music would work with him because he's a real music fan. What I thought Matt would do is bring a real reality to it. So often movies about families seem like the domain of people that -- "That's somebody else's home, that's not mine. My childhood wasn't quite like that. That's a movie childhood, that's a movie family." But being an adult and raising children doesn't suddenly mean you can't do all the things you did when you were younger. In fact, you try and balance them. And Matt does that so well as a guy that I knew I could use all the music I wanted to use too.
Yet the first hints of a reappraisal came in 2008, when Anthony Minghella died at the untimely age of 54. Virtually every obituary decided that it was The Talented Mr Ripley, rather than The English Patient or Cold Mountain, that was his true legacy to cinema, and indeed since then the film's cool beauty and fierce intelligence have continued to attract admirers.
Its appeal has grown, and audiences who might once have dismissed 'the gay serial killer film' out of hand have started to reassess it. In an amusing piece of irony, it was originally released on Christmas Day, 1999. A more unusual Christmas present is hard to imagine, but the film's style, black wit and operatic complexity have very much proved themselves to be the gift that keeps on giving.