In this warm-hearted romantic comedy, 14-year-old Nicole (Katherine Heigl) has graduated from Barbie dolls to boys and presumes that going on a two-week tropical island vacation with her dad André (Gérard Depardieu), is going to be a real drag. Then along comes Ben (Dalton James), a sexy young man whose good looks and charm spin Nicole headlong into impetuous, adolescent love. Suddenly, paradise seems a lot like heaven.
Determined to impress this dream-teen and find a little enchantment, Nicole gets carried away with a scheme to attract Ben's attention by appearing sophisticated and alluring. But when she fabricates an elaborate tale about her life - including the idea that André is really her lover and an international spy, masquerading as her father - she sets into motion a comedy of errors and confusion that wreaks havoc on her budding romance as well as her father's reputation.
Calamity prevails as rumours of their "secret" relationship begin to spread, and when Nicole's pretense backfires, she comes to realize that she'll always be daddy's little sweetheart even when she's someone else's heart throb, in Touchstone Pictures' comedy, "My Father, The Hero."
A Touchstone Pictures presentation, "My Father, The Hero" is directed by Steve Miner from a screenplay by Francis Veber and Charlie Peters, based on "Mon Père, Ce Héros" by Gérard Lauzier. The producers are Jacques Bar and Jean-Louis Livi. The executive producer is Edward S. Feldman. Ted Swanson is co-producer. Buena Vista Pictures distributes.
Few people are strangers to the complicated and often comic nature of the relationship between teenagers and their parents. To tell one particular story about the trials and tribulations of a father and his young daughter, a talented group of filmmakers from both sides of the Atlantic came together to make "My Father, The Hero."
Starting with the internationally acclaimed actor Gérard Depardieu, the production team included producer Jean-Louis Livi, who has worked with Mr. Depardieu for many years, and producer Jacques Bar, both prominent members of the European film community; and from the United States, two award-winning filmmakers: director Steve Miner and executive producer Edward S. Feldman.
Messrs. Feldman and Depardieu are not exactly strangers to each other. In 1990 Feldman served as executive producer on the acclaimed actor's first major English-language role in Peter Weir's love story "Green Card". Asked to work with Depardieu again, Feldman enthusiastically complied. Director Steve Miner had heard about the project while he and Feldman were making Mel Gibson's "Forever Young." Soon after that experience, they reunited and began pre-production work on "My Father, The Hero."
Careful casting was a key element to ensure that the story resonated for audiences. With Gérard Depardieu in place to star as André, the filmmakers, along with casting director Dianne Crittenden, went to work finding a young actress to play the part of his on-screen daughter, Nicole.
They conducted a world-wide search, seeing over 450 young girls between the ages of 13 and 17 and even a few 20 year olds who looked 15. Katherine Heigl was one of the young women who auditioned for the part. "From her first reading, I felt, besides the fact the she's beautiful, she really understood this role," Miner recalls.
Ms. Heigl was exactly what director Miner was looking for to play the part of Nicole. As he notes, "There is a special quality in Katherine's performance as the 14 year old Nicole that comes, in part, from her actually being 14. I always felt it was important to cast a real 14 year old for this part. Nicole has to be equal parts little girl and woman, and that only happens at that age. Katherine is a very hardworking, serious, talented actress, who also has a magical quality."
In the film, André realizes much has happened in the year and a half he's been away from home and while he can't make up for lost time, he now has the opportunity to gain something else with his daughter. "He comes to realize, as his daughter is becoming a woman, that he is losing his little girl - but he is gaining something even more important, a relationship based on a real understanding of each other," Miner says. "That is very special."
Of course the path to that reward is not exactly paved with gold. Nicole pulls out every punch along the way, being surly and miserable and just as much of a terrible teen as she can manage. Not only is she irrepressibly angry with her father for being away for so long, she is equally humiliated, faced with her peers, to be accompanying him on vacation. So she does what every teenage girl would do - she lies. And that, says Miner, is something nearly everyone can relate to."Like every father, André doesn't want his daughter to become a woman," says Gérard Depardieu of his character's response to the changes he sees in Nicole. "The time goes so quickly between one year old and 14 years old. We're usually so involved in our work that we don't see our kids growing up. It happens too fast. It's very hard on André."
"It is a very real dilemma for parents and teenagers," the director says. "I remember when I was a kid and my parents would drive up with me in the back seat to the local burger place where all the cool kids hung out. I was mortified. I hid on the floor of the car so none of my friends would see me with my parents. In essence, Nicole is doing the same thing when she lies to Ben about her father."
Nicole's struggle between being a little girl and becoming a young woman is evidenced not only in her relationship with her father but also with Ben, the young local who attracts her attention.
Good looking and just a little aloof, girls flock to Ben. But they disappear almost as quickly; their vacations end and they return home. In response to the transient nature of his friendships Ben has learned to keep his distance. When he meets Nicole something changes. He's drawn to her vulnerability and for the first time he finds himself opening up to someone. Ironically it's someone who is lying through her teeth - but with the best intentions.
In looking for a young actor to play the part of Ben the filmmaker saw nearly 100 young actors. Executive producer Feldman recalls, "When it got down to it we thought that Dalton had the youth and the good looks and the acting ability to do the job. He was the kind of young man that parents might be a little nervous about sending their daughter out with but wouldn't be unhappy if he was her choice for life. I think that's the key to the movie, he plays a guy with a little bit of a hard edge bit is still basically a decent and caring human being."
Director Miner agrees, "Dalton was clearly the right choice for the role. Besides looking great, he played that sort of innocent naive but earnest young man. So it fell together perfectly."
Taking a brief hiatus from her tremendous success on Broadway, Tony Award-winning actress Faith Prince ("Guys and Dolls") plays the part of Diana, "goddess of the hunt" as André affectionately refers to her. Ms. Prince was cast very early on as Executive Producer Feldman explains: "The day after our casting directory Dianne Crittenden came on the film, the first name she brought up was Faith Prince. There was never any question in our minds that any other actress should play the part."
It is a delicate part that required exactly what Ms. Prince has to offer. "The character is very important to the movie," says directory Miner. "She gives André someone sympathetic to talk to when he can't talk to his daughter and is being shunned by all the other hotel guests. She's also a funny character chasing this Frenchman around the resort. However," Miner cautions, "there was a danger of making her sad or pathetic. In casting Faith we solved that problem immediately. We had an actress with such spunk and verve, you just love Diana. She's someone you like and you know André likes too."
Miner reflects on what he feels is the exceptional good fortune the filmmakers have had with casting. "Every once in a while casting comes together on a movie and all the roles fit into place. I think this is one of those times. It seems that every piece, every character, every role is complete and works really well."
At the center of this success is Gérard Depardieu. "He's the best actor in the world," Miner says. "He approaches his work with the whole movie in mind, not just his role, but how to work together to tell the story. He has great comic timing, as well as a wonderfully expressive face. And on top of that, he's just a really good guy."
Executive Producer Feldman concurs, "Gérard is one of the most charismatic actors I have ever worked with. He can go to the depths of real tragedy and rise to the heights of great comedy with equal ease."
Before meeting Depardieu, fellow actor Katherine Heigl was nervous about bonding with the actor. "That was one of my fears about doing the film," Miss Heigl says. "I wondered, am I going to be able to be this man's daughter on film? But Gérard made it easy from the start. It was such fun to work with him. He is a great actor and this has been one of the best experiences of my life."
"I love working with young actors, and Katie and Dalton were terrific," say Depardieu. "When they ask me for help with their performances, I tell them to just be true to the story. If you tell the truth and are honest with your character you will never be wrong."
With a story about a vacation in paradise gone awry, the filmmakers were especially concerned about the film's setting. "I wanted the location to be a character in film," director Miner explains. "Nicole is angry at her father and we get a hint of that at the beginning of the film when he picks her up at her mother's. A good way to show her anger is to bring her to one of the most beautiful spots on earth and have her still be angry. Then you know something's wrong."
Starting in November, 1992, Executive Producer Feldman had the pleasure of scouting locations throughout the Caribbean, which he admits, "is not such a tough assignment. I visited Puerto Rico, St. Croix, St. Thomas and was planning to look further south when I realized I was going to far from the mainland."
While he found many beautiful places, there were numerous logistical considerations, including daily processing of film, transporting trailers, cranes and other equipment needed for productions, and this all needed to be taken into consideration when choosing a location.
Finally, it was agreed that the filmmakers would come to the Bahamas. "Paradise Island, which has gorgeous beaches, gives us everything we need in a cosmopolitan society," Feldman explains. "Anything we couldn't get here, we could bring from Miami, which is only a 55-minute plane ride away."
Production designer Christopher Nowak whose job it was to translate the look of the story from paper to screen adds, "We decided that Paradise Island and Nassau was the best combination of tropical resort and island city."
Nowak goes on to explain the process by which some of the locations were altered to fit the story. "The Ocean Club on Paradise Island is a small, elegant colonial-style hotel built from the grounds of a private estate. While it had all the atmosphere we wanted for the story, it was missing a few things." So Nowak and his department built a bungalow overlooking the beach, a beach bar, water ski rental shack and a pool bar. What seemed like a rather long list of missing elements," explains the production designer, "turned out to be a very positive situation in the end because it allows us to create all of these environments to fit our needs instead of having to work around existing architecture that didn't work as well."
Construction and preparation took several weeks prior to filming at the peak of the tourist season. It was impossible to build the sets on the hotel grounds without disturbing the guests with the sounds of saws and hammers for 12 hours a day, six days a week. "Luckily, we found the perfect solution," Nowak explains. "Resorts International, the parent company of the Ocean Club, owned an undeveloped, empty, overgrown tract of land next door to the hotel and allowed us to construct whatever we needed there and on whatever schedule we needed to work. With this situation we were able to build the very large amount of scenery we needed, still be on the same beach, and yet not affect the guests of the functioning hotel."
Building began and in several weeks there appeared on the small cliff over-looking the beautiful blue waters of the Bahamas a luxurious little bungalow. "Aesthetically, Steve Miner and I discussed creating buildings that visually fit with the hotel, yet were not exactly of the same architecture, yet have their roots in Bahamian or Caribbean architecture, with white sand, lush tropical flowers and plants, and crystal clear turquoise water," Nowak recalls. " If anything, what we wanted to create was a palette for the audience to see and feel these things. I believe we accomplished this."
Production on "My Father, The Hero" wrapped on August 17, 1993.
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