Mark Wahlberg, Thandie Newton, ...
Credit: The Truth About Charlie: Ken Regan/Camera 5

Three years ago, Jonathan Demme screened one of his favorite films for friends, family, and colleagues: Stanley Donen’s 1963 romantic thriller ”Charade,” about a widow (Audrey Hepburn) chased through Paris by various nefarious parties (including Cary Grant) who want to know where her crooked dead husband stashed some ill-gotten loot. Watching the film, the Philadelphia director became convinced of two things: (1) No one would kill him if he remade it, and (2) Thandie Newton, who’d starred in his 1998 drama ”Beloved,” should play the Hepburn role.

”She has this fusion of brains, charm, decency — and of course, she’s beautiful to look at,” says Demme. ”But she’s also a very contemporary woman, and no director has really made use of that yet. I wanted to be the first.” Recalls Newton: ”The one note he gave me was ‘I want you to play you in these situations.’ On face value, that sounds like ‘Okay, I’ll just do nothing for three months.’ But it was a challenge, because you feel so much more exposed when it’s just you.”

Actually, Demme also had a third thought: that Will Smith should play the Grant part. But with Smith tied up making ”Ali,” Demme went with Wahlberg after getting a strong recommendation from the star’s ”Boogie Nights” director, Paul Thomas Anderson, who helped Demme brainstorm script ideas. Shot in Paris last summer by Demme’s acclaimed ”Silence of the Lambs” cinematographer Tak Fujimoto, ”Charlie” is steeped in the director’s love of French new-wave cinema, from a cameo by Godard great Anna Karina to the in-the-streets, handheld photography. ”I felt I was getting the chance to make the film I never got to make right out of film school — which I never attended,” says Demme, laughing.

Ironically, his passions (which also include music — the dense soundtrack features more than 50 songs) made for a yearlong postproduction. ”We shot lots and lots of stuff,” says Demme. ”There’s a fantasy element. There’s some very strong action stuff…. It’s not a brainteaser, but it’s complicated. It was a complicated movie to find the right tone.”

THE LOWDOWN Pairing Wahlberg and Newton feels appealingly fresh, but a yearlong postproduction? This isn’t ”Lord of the Rings.”

The Truth About Charlie
  • Movie
  • 104 minutes