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Four veterans and a newcomer in 'Finding Forrester'

First-time actor bonds with Sean Connery

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Reading, writing, role models: That's the theme of "Finding Forrester," on screen and off.

Sixteen-year-old newcomer Rob Brown teams up with Oscar winner Sean Connery in a film whose lessons go beyond the halls of academia. Connery, 70, plays a reclusive writer and a reluctant mentor to Brown's untapped, gifted young scholar.

Connery isn't the only gold-plated name in this film, which opened earlier this month. Four Oscar winners star in "Forrester," brought together by Gus Van Sant, who directed "Psycho" (1998), "Good Will Hunting" (1997) and "My Own Private Idaho" (1991), among others.

A veteran of seven James Bond films, Connery won a best supporting actor award in 1987 for "The Untouchables," while fellow cast member F. Murray Abraham may be best known for his 1984 Academy Award-winning portrayal of the composer Salieri in "Amadeus." The pair is joined by 18-year-old Anna Paquin, a best supporting actress winner for "The Piano" (1993).

The fourth Oscar winner makes a surprise cameo appearance late in the film, and won't be named here. But here's a hint: This person starred in another of Van Sant's films.

Also appearing in "Forrester" is recording artist Busta Rhymes, playing the young scholar's older brother.

CNN recently sat down with some of "Finding Forrester"'s stars.

CNN:Mr. Connery, in addition to starring in "Finding Forrester," you are one of the film's producers. What is it about this film that appealed to you?

Sean Connery: It's got something to say about the human condition: It's about something. It has that kind of foundation, and the cement of it is literature -- which I adore -- at a time, really, when it's getting less and less common for people to read. And it's easier to just watch television or listen to the radio, which is kind of sad, in a way. But the idea this cat coming from long ago into the present-day and coming out, as it were, has an appeal for me. I think I understand a lot of him.

CNN: "Finding Forrester" revolves around the idea of family and friendship, and you've said your character was different from other roles you've played. Can you elaborate on that?

Connery: We wanted to get the sense of somebody who lived in the past, and had been out of touch ... so it would be more complex than the roles one usually plays. To be able to be friendly with anybody was going to be an amazing hurdle for him. The last movie I did that had to do with friendship was "The Man Who Would Be King" (1975). It's not used that much these days and that's why I think it's a different kind of movie. I don't want to make it sound like it's all so kind of serious and remote, (or) too literate. I like the film very much. It's the kind of film I like. It's really touched so many people -- more so, I must say, than I anticipated.

CNN: What was it like working with a novice like Rob Brown?

Connery: He's a wonderful boy who'd never acted before, never been in a film before. It says something for Columbia (the studio releasing "Finding Forrester,") that they went with it. Gus (Van Sant) and I were in complete accordance we wanted to take this kid.

Gus Van Sant: He's like a natural, and he's never had any past history of acting in plays or anything like that ... so that was kind of amazing.

Rob Brown: I found out about the film from a flier posted at my school. It basically said that they're looking for a black man, age 16, who can play basketball and star opposite Sean Connery. I looked at it, but that (acting) wasn't really the focus. That was just an opportunity to make some money. I hoped to go and be an extra so I can pay off my cell-phone bill, which (was about) $300. And I had no way of paying for it -- cash was gone, I had no job, I was just beat. So I figured I'd just go and be an extra.


CNN: What happened?

Brown: I read for this casting agent, and they called me back and I ended up reading for Gus, the director, and he told me to come back the next day and read with Sean Connery. When they said that, "Tomorrow, you're going to do it with James Bond," I kind of figured I had a shot!

Van Sant: That first day, he could easily hold his own. I don't know how easy that really is, you know, for anybody. But he made it seem easy.

CNN: Rob, did you feel overwhelmed by the cast of Academy Award winners and nominees?

Brown: Brown: More than anything else, I felt blessed -- you know, to be able to work with such people, being my first time. I mean, what better way to come in for your first time than this? It couldn't get any better than this.

CNN The scenes between Rob Brown and F. Murray Abraham are quite intense. What was that like?

F. Murray Abraham: The fact is, I was as brutal with him off camera as on. I had decided to treat him badly, so I carried that from the film onto the set. I think he was slightly afraid, on and off the set.

Brown: I had no idea what was going on, and nobody else told me. And I kept asking, "Why is this guy so grimy? What did I do?" That's just how he thought it would work between me and him, so our characters would show up real well on screen.

Abraham: The fact was, I just did that as an exercise, and after the film was over I apologized to him for treating him so badly, and explained what I had been doing. Wouldn't it be interesting if he'd just spit in my face? But he understood and he was very grateful.

CNN: Rob, do you have any lasting memories from shooting "Finding Forrester?"

Brown: I wasn't trying to be an actor. This was totally out of the blue, totally out of the blue. But there's a lot of stuff I won't forget: just being on the set, going out to dinner with Sean, just everything. It was such a wonderful experience. I won't forget a bit of it.

'Psycho': Play it Again, Gus
December 4, 1998

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