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Ron Howard Gets Candid About 'The Da Vinci Code'

December 19th, 2005 11:51am EST
Ron HowardFilmmaker Ron Howard says that the upcoming movie based on Dan Brown's mega-hit novel "The Da Vinci Code" will not soften the story's more controversial elements. There will be "no placating," he told Newsweek in its annual "Who's Next" issue, which names the up-and-comers in politics, business, science, sports and the arts that will make headlines in 2006.

"It would be ludicrous to take on this subject and then try to take the edges off. We're doing this movie because we like the book," Howard says.

Since "The Da Vinci Code" was published in 2003, the book has become a global industry, spawning everything from critical documentaries to reverential bus tours. It has also been condemned by the Vatican for disseminating falsehoods about the Roman Catholic Church. The cult of "The Da Vinci Code" will reach new heights with the release of Columbia Pictures's $125 million film version, starring Tom Hanks and an international cast led by Jean Reno and Audrey Tautou.

In their first interview for the movie, director Howard, producer Brian Grazer and the cast open up to Newsweek senior writer Devin Gordon in the December 26-January 2 issue about filming at the Louvre, responding to the story's critics and preparing for the anticipated international media frenzy upon the film's release in May 2006.

Howard and Grazer describe one of the more unusual visits they paid to secure rights to film at the Louvre: the office of French President Jacques Chirac. "We thought it was going to be a five-minute thing, like a trip to the Oval Office -- a photo and a handshake," says Grazer. But Chirac asked them to sit down and get comfortable. Coffee was poured. They ended up staying close to an hour. Chirac insisted that his guests alert him if their request to film at the Louvre hit any snags. Not only that, he offered some pointers. He suggested they cast his daughter's best friend -- an actress of some acclaim in France -- in the role of Sophie Neveu, the elegant young cryptographer at the heart of the book's mystery (the part ultimately went to Tautou). And he wondered aloud, half seriously, if they could sweeten the paycheck for Reno. "That was hilarious," says Howard. "Fortunately the deal was already closed."

Six months later, Howard and the rest swarmed into the Louvre and set up shop for a week of night shoots. Paris in July offers, at most, seven hours of true darkness -- from about 10 p.m. until 4:30 a.m. -- so there was little time to stop and gape at the treasures. But everyone made sure to take a moment. "The clock's ticking, I've only got so much time to get a lot done, but even still, every once in a while, I would stop in front of, say, John the Baptist's severed head, and for just a second, I'd let myself remember where I was working," says Howard. "That was nice."

Hanks's trailer was parked on a street outside the museum, requiring him to hike through countless silent galleries to reach the set. "It was a great walk to work, I'll tell you that," he says. "You're walking past 'The Coronation of the Empress Josephine,' 'Leonidas at Thermopylae' -- just one masterpiece after another."

The Da Vinci Code is set for release May 19, 2006.


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