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Amid Oscars buzz, lead cast of ‘Green Book’ say how the film came to life

Raffi Boghosian

Published: Updated:

Oscar buzz has already begun with the release of a heroic and moving new Hollywood film, Green Book, starring Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.

Set in the Deep South in 1962, Green Book follows the true story of Dr. Don Shirley (Ali), an African-American pianist who's about to embark on a concert tour. He enlists Tony Lip (Mortensen) to be his driver and to provide protection on his travels. Tony is an Italian-American bouncer from the Bronx and despite their differences, the two men soon develop an unexpected bond in an era of segregation, while confronting racism and real danger.

While it’s the first time the two actors have worked together, their sincere chemistry is nothing short of breathtaking and engaging.

Director Peter Farrelly shared with Al Arabiya English how he first heard the true story of Shirley and was immediately inspired to work on the film due to the real friendship that the pianist and the racist bouncer formed.

“They became lifelong friends,” he said, “and that’s the part that got me. How did that happen?”

One of the key actors in the film, Mortenson, is extremely selective with projects, was a rare and brilliant find for the project. Farrelly told Al Arabiya English how he actually managed to hire Mortenson.
“I wrote him a letter,” he said. “I asked him to just read the first 30 pages of the script. If you don’t like it, don’t read on.” The story was so captivating that Mortensen read the entire script immediately and signed on to the project.

When Mortensen was asked on why he took on the project, he shared his initial hesitations: “It’s a long time in your life so it better be something you like. I knew the script was beautiful, but I wasn’t sure at first if I was the right guy for the part.” Even so, Mortensen took on the captivating role.

One of the more breathtaking elements of the story is Ali’s piano skills. “We did several months of preparation… and we treated it like we were doing stunts,” he said.

The film was well received when it aired at the Cairo Film Festival in the Middle East, and the film’s stars talked about how they wish they could be there.

“We wish we could be there, we are so happy that people are responding universally,” Mortensen said.

The film sparks deep emotions in everyone who watches it, and I asked about how the actors themselves feel when they watch it.

“I still get emotional watching it,” Mortensen said. “Even though I remember filming it, there are many many parts that I find moving.”

I further investigated how the director was able to accurately tell this true story. “We listened to Tony Lip audio messages over and over again,” Farrelly said. “The actual story takes place over a year and we had the sixty detailed letters to help.”

It was the Oscars buzz that finally left the Farrelly speechless. He told me, “I honestly never thought anything about Oscars until we started screening the movie and people started telling us”

“In twenty-five years I’ve never made an Oscar type movie, but I’m glad we are here and it’s getting this buzz,” Farrelly gushed as he told Al Arabiya English.

Confronting, captivating and curious – Green Book will hit cinemas in the Middle East on November 29.