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'Derailed' actors share same train of thought

November 11, 2005|Stevenson Swanson | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — Jennifer Aniston and Clive Owen appear comfortable in each other's company, laughing easily between sips of frothy cappuccino in the living room of a hotel suite overlooking Central Park. They're discussing their new film, "Derailed," which opens today and is being billed as a "sexy, psychological thriller."

"I love watching thrillers," says Aniston, 36, wearing a loose-weave capelet and skin-tight jeans showing off a Hollywood-perfect physique. "I didn't know it would be this well done, this well written. I read it from beginning to end and just had no clue where it was going next. I like to think I can usually figure out where a story is going."

"Derailed," the first production from the new Weinstein Co., mixes the adultery-gone-wrong elements of "Fatal Attraction" with a Hitchcock-like sense that ordinary people can suddenly find themselves caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Owen plays an advertising executive whose home life outside Chicago has become suffocating. One particularly dispiriting morning, he realizes he's boarded a commuter train without enough money for a ticket. A stranger on the train, played by Aniston, pays his way and a flirtation quickly develops into an illicit romance. Their liaison turns dangerous when a gunman bursts into their cheap hotel room, brutally beats Owen and rapes Aniston at gunpoint. Things go even more horribly awry from there.

"You can let things become stagnant and succumb to outside temptation and excitement," says Aniston, "and this is definitely a film about thinking twice before you do that."

For his part, Owen was attracted to the intense psychological aspect of the film, calling director Mikael Hafstrom an inspired choice for this type of thriller.

"He's very specific and precise, and he's very psychologically clear," Owen says. "And for a movie like this, which you could do very bombastically -- a big, crash-bang-wallop thriller -- you knew that he would pitch it so that everything would be very objective and clear."

Much of the movie's momentum springs from the hotel rape scene, but filming the scene, which took several days, Aniston says, was much easier than watching it.

"It was so technical and choreographed, and there were stuntmen," she says. "It was very safe. And filling in the dramatic part, that just came out of the situation, really, and Vincent's [gunman Cassel] menacing presence. It wasn't too hard to fake that."

Although Aniston's role is crucial, "Derailed" is told through the eyes of Charles Schine, Owen's character. Known for ensemble roles in "Closer" -- for which he received an Oscar nomination -- and "Gosford Park," Owen carries the story on his shoulders. To hear him tell it, that was not a heavy lift.

"It's very reactive," says the unshaven Owen, 41, who is married to actress Sarah-Jane Fenton. "You're not driving the story. It's coming at you, really. It's about finding different ways of demonstrating that level of stress, because otherwise it can get very boring. I just relished the challenge of putting people into the nightmare."


Stevenson Swanson is a national correspondent with the Chicago Tribune.

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