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Behind the Scenes at "Monster's Ball"

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It took the casting of Billy Bob Thornton, at a fraction of his normal salary, to get the ball rolling - “Monster's Ball” that is. Tossed around from studio to studio since its script was completed in 1995, “Monster's Ball” always attracted the attention of top Hollywood actors and filmmakers. When Billy Bob Thornton signed on as “Hank” for a reduced salary, Lions Gate Films gave the go-ahead.

"The project was evergreen," observes producer Lee Daniels. "Like many people I became obsessed with the script like no other. It is a rare script that depicts the immediacy of life with raw, rugged and layered characters, and actors live for that."

“Monster's Ball” was the creative brainchild of actors Will Rokos and Milo Addica, who originally envisioned the film as a project they themselves would star in. Hollywood took notice, and the project became larger than Rokos and Addica imagined. Actors such as Robert DeNiro and Tommy Lee Jones were attached at various times to the film. High salary demands caused the film's budget to inflate, and studios weren't willing to greenlight the project without changes in the screenplay. Rokos and Addica wouldn't give in to their demands, and as a result, “Monster's Ball” floated from studio to studio in search of a home.

Rokos and Addica retained all rights to the project, and after going through years of rejections and close calls, developed a skeptical attitude. Executive producer - and former Lions Gate co-president - explains the key to getting their rights to the script “was that we never asked them to change any plot after every other potential financier had insisted on changes." Rokos and Addica were even able to fulfill part of their original goal, they were both promised small roles in the film.

Shot over five hot humid weeks in May and June 2001, "Monsters Ball" was filmed at locations on the outskirts of New Orleans as well as the notorious Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Warden Burl Cain was instrumental in securing access to the prison for the film. Cain even allowed inmates to be hired as extras with their fees directed to the Inmate Welfare Fund, a pool of money that provides for such shared goods as new television sets in common areas.

The fields, cellblocks and death house of Louisiana's State Penitentiary were used to shoot prison interiors and exteriors. The prison's interiors were harrowing to shoot, since some scenes were photographed in the prison's actual death chamber. The site disturbed the film's crew, some of whom made jokes to help them deal with their surroundings. In his role as a guard on the prison's death team, the reality of his surroundings hit writer/actor Milo Addica when he noticed someone's initials carved into the wood of the electric chair.


"Monster's Ball" opened December 26, 2001 in New York and Los Angeles, and opened in wider release in February 2002.

Director: Marc Forster
Executive Producers: Mark Urman, Miachel Burns, and Michael Paseornek
Producer: Lee Daniels
Screenplay: Milo Addica and Will Rokos
Director of Photography: Roberto Schaefer
Film Editor: Matt Chesse
Production Designer: Monroe Kelly
Costume Designer: Frank Fleming
Casting: Kerry Barden
Art Director: Leonard Spears

Hank Grotowski - Billy Bob Thornton
Leticia Musgrove - Halle Berry
Buck Grotowski - Peter Boyle
Sonny Grotowski - Heath Ledger
Lawrence Musgrove - Sean Combs
Ryrus Cooper - Mos Def
Tyrell Musgrove - Coronji Calhoun

SOURCE: Lions Gate Films

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