Face the Strange
(snipped for relevancy)
THE PITCH: A widowed mom (Cate Blanchett) uses her psychic powers to help solve the murder of a poor little rich girl (Katie Holmes) in a genteel Georgia town. Other southern citizens include a battered wife (Hilary Swank), her brute of a husband (Keanu Reeves), the dead woman's fiancé (Greg Kinnear), and a mentally challenged tow-truck driver (Giovanni Ribisi).
THE BIG PICTURE: The star salaries alone would have totaled more than this project's reported $10 million budget had most of the actors not taken pay cuts to be a part of its intriguing gothic mystery. "There's a lot of darkness in the human soul that the boys shine their flashlights on," says director Sam Raimi (A Simple Plan), referring to screenwriters Tom Epperson and Billy Bob Thornton, who also collaborated on One False Move. (Blanchett's character, in fact, is based on Thornton's mother, a psychic and an astrologer.) For Holmes, the challenge lay in going back and forth between the "very insecure little 16-year-old" she plays on Dawson's Creek and this young woman who "asserts her power with sexuality and intelligence," she says. "I told Sam, 'Thank you for teaching me such subtle ways of manipulating men.' " Before Raimi had The Gift wrapped up, both William Friedkin (Rules of Engagement) and Thornton flirted with directing it, and Jodie Foster was once set to star. But Blanchett leaped into the role, body and soul. "I met an extraordinary psychic in Savannah who'd done a lot of police and FBI work," she says. "And I had several [palm and tarot] readings in L.A. One woman said, 'Electrical things tend not to work around me.' And my tape recorder didn't work. And then when she left, it did." (Paramount Classics, December)