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Memoirs of a Geisha - Marshall hits back

Memoirs of a Geisha

Story by Jack Foley

FILMS based upon popular books frequently face controversy particularly if they omit key characters or sections.

But Rob Marshall, the director of Memoirs of a Geisha, has been forced to answer criticisms of a different sort following his choice of casting.

The film features a pan-Asian cast including House of Flying Daggers star, Ziyi Zhang, as well as Crouching Tiger’s Michell Yeoh and The Last Samurai’s Ken Watanabe.

But given the book is set in China and none of the central performers are actually Chinese, Marshall has been forced to defend his selections at several press conferences around the world.

At the London junket he responded quite calmly: “I have a very simple philosophy about casting; you cast the best person for the role. That’s it. That’s all it is. When I cast Queen Latifah, for instance, in Chicago, everyone said to me, ‘well, you know, it’s 1920’s Chicago, there’d be no such thing as an African-American matron in a jail’.

“But to me she was right. As a director the hope that you have is that an actor claims their role. Every actor on this movie that I met and worked with claimed their role – there were no question marks at all.

“But it’s a tradition in filmmaking; having an Egyptian-born Omar Sharif playing a Russian in Doctor Zhivago, or an America-born Renee Zelwegger playing Bridget Jones, or Nicole Kidman and Jude Law playing Americans in Cold Mountain.

“To me it’s all about their acting. The demands for these roles were extraordinary – every one of them. I couldn’t have cast this movie twice. These are the best actors in the world for these roles period.”

He was backed by Michelle Yeoh who was quick to point out: “I remember a huge feeling of warmth on the first day when all of us got together for the first time and it was a pan-Asian cast.

“Rob [Marshall] said: “You are all here because I believe in each of you.” And that was all we needed to hear.

“In Asia we have played Koreans, Japanese and we constantly do that so we don’t question this in the same way that Western actors don’t question if you play a German.”