YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

THE CASTING : fall sneaks

A country embodied in 'Kite Runner'

September 09, 2007|Betsy Sharkey | Times Staff Writer

As director Marc Forster began the process of re-creating the world of Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner," he was committed to retaining the authenticity of the story that had so touched him when he first read the novel in 2003.

Like the book, the film tells the heartbreaking story of two Afghan boys swept up in and scarred by the violence and religious strife that tore through Afghanistan with the Russian invasion in the early '80s. Forster knew the boys who would play young Amir, the son of a wealthy Kabul businessman, and Hassan, the son of the household's servant, would become the heart of his film. If the audience didn't believe in them -- their relationship, their pain, their loyalties and betrayals -- the power of the film would be lost.

"After reading the novel, I understood this culture in such a different way. . . . You forget Kabul was like the Paris of the East, rich and wonderful," says Forster. "And the humanistic level of these characters, how three-dimensional they were."

To keep that authenticity, the first issue was whether to shoot the film in English or Dari. "The only way to do it was to tell the story in the original language," says Forster. And that affected casting. "When we started looking for the boys in all the different places around the world where the Afghans had escaped to, the kids we found were too Westernized. I needed to go to Kabul and look."

Forster's casting director, Kate Dowd, headed to Kabul first, concentrating on two schools, with the director joining her about halfway into the three-month process. "These kids were the best educated -- they were reading and writing. I went in and played and improvised with them to find the ones who had the strongest connection to the characters." Young elementary school unknowns Zekiria Ebrahimi would be cast as the young Amir, with Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada as Hassan.

Amir and Hassan's story includes moments of violence, humiliation and brutality, intensely emotional and difficult scenes for seasoned actors, much less for children. As he did in other decisions he made about the film, which opens Nov. 2, Forster opted for honesty. What he asked of the children was to imagine that they were there, that this horrific moment was happening to them.

"We had very early conversations with the families," says Forster, who worked closely with a female Afghan translator. "We discussed the scenes, and those kids were incredibly smart and really understood the story. I was very clear with them about how I wanted to portray it; ultimately, they had an understanding of what happened."

Ironically, it wasn't the intensely violent scenes that were the hardest to capture. It was the staging of the kite battle, in which all the town's children try to have the last kite in the air, cutting down the competition. "With the scenes with them individually, it was easier to keep them focused, they were completely present," Forster recalls. "But with the kite battle, there were hundreds, thousands of extras, everyone was playing and having fun, it was difficult to keep them from being distracted."

That Hosseini had given him a story the boys could believe in is what ultimately helped power the performances: "They were growing up with so much violence around them; they grew up under the Taliban, so they have a very deep understanding for violence and a great love at the same time for their country."


Los Angeles Times Articles