In this epic true story of the unrequited love between King Mongkut of Siam and Anna Leonowens, the British nanny who tutored his children in the mid-19th century, Tennant (”Ever After”) and producer Lawrence Bender (”Pulp Fiction”) fulfilled nearly all their casting dreams. For Anna they nabbed Foster in her first post-”Contact” and first postpartum role (for a reported $15 million payday), and by casting Chow as the king, Hong Kong-cinema fan boy Bender could finally show America that the Asian star could do more than just fire Uzis in slo-mo.
The only role they couldn’t fill was Siam itself (today’s Thailand). Seeking permission to shoot on location, Tennant faced a hypercritical Thai Film Board still stinging from Hollywood’s singing version of Siamese history, 1956’s ”The King and I,” which has been banned in Thailand for portraying its esteemed former monarch as a buffoon.
After the board rejected four versions of the script (each with increasing historical accuracy and a far wiser King), the production moved to Malaysia, a treacherous decision considering that Foster’s initial enthusiasm hinged on her desire to shoot a movie in Thailand. ”I was worried at first,” says Bender. ”There was a moment of, ‘Oh, s—, I’ve got to call Jodie.”’ Luckily, Foster was persuaded to stay on. ”They didn’t seem to be afraid of my reaction,” she says. ”They should have been, huh?”
But everyone was sweating it after the vast production set up shop last year under Malaysia’s scorching sun. ”Getting 25 elephants, 2,000 extras, and 250 horses back to position 1 for take 2 in 120-degree heat doesn’t always happen as fast as you want it to,” says Tennant. Luckily, he could count on his leading lady to keep cool under pressure. ”In the heat and humidity I was in corset, bonnet, three petticoats, a hoopskirt, leather boots, and gloves,” she says. ”It makes you realize that back then these English people were insane. Luckily I’m not a big sweater, or this film really could have been a disaster.” BUZZ FACTOR: 6
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