Robert Redford, The Last Castle
Credit: The Last Castle: Elliot Marks

Last fall’s political drama ”The Contender” got a split vote at the box office. But that didn’t stop DreamWorks from assigning the movie’s writer-director, Lurie, to helm an action thriller about a court-martialed general (Redford) locking horns with a corrupt military-prison warden (Gandolfini). According to Lurie, ”Basically I was told, ‘Get Redford and you can direct it.”’ So Lurie flew to London last October, where the actor was working on ”Spy Game.” ”I was told to call him ‘Bob,’ or he’d walk away.” In fact, when Lurie introduced himself by gushing about ”All the President’s Men,” he kicked off several long chat sessions, culminating in Redford’s yes on Thanksgiving Day (salary: $11 million).

Gandolfini was a tougher sell. ”He has an odd lack of confidence,” says the director. ”He said he didn’t understand the character, and he’d never been in the military.” But Lurie kept arguing that Gandolfini’s character would be Salieri to Redford’s Mozart, emphasizing that this could give Gandolfini a shot at an Oscar. Besides, the villainous colonel would be the only main figure not to have attended West Point, easing Gandolfini’s authenticity concerns — so bada-bing, he was in for $5 million. ”He’s so un?Tony Soprano in this film,” says Lurie. ”There was one day I wanted his character to smoke a cigar, and he begged me not to. He wanted people to forget about Tony.”

But who to cast as the younger officer torn between two superiors? Mark Wahlberg was in serious negotiations when he opted instead for the lead in ”The Truth About Charlie,” Jonathan Demme’s update of ”Charade.” Enter Ruffalo, then hot from the pre-Oscar buzz for ”You Can Count on Me.” ”They were running out of names,” says Ruffalo quietly. ”Honestly, if it wasn’t for strike talk and every other actor being busy, I’d never have gotten this.” Not to mention the fact that he would have missed the opportunity to gawk at Redford: ”I kept thinking, That’s Jeremiah Johnson!”

The Last Castle
  • Movie
  • 130 minutes