When you're called a genius and avoid the press like Howard Hughes and direct only one movie every decade or so, it's an event when you crank out a new one. This time around, Terrence Malick, the media-shy maestro behind Badlands, Days of Heaven, and The Thin Red Line, trains his jeweler's eye on the love story between Native American Pocahontas (15-year-old newcomer Q'Orianka Kilcher) and English explorer John Smith (Colin Farrell) in 17th-century Jamestown, Va.
Malick originally wrote a draft of the screenplay in the late '70s, but much like his own Hollywood ambitions at the time, the project vanished into thin air. The director resurrected the script about three years ago and began casting for his leads. According to producer Sarah Green, Farrell was an obvious choice for John Smith. ''What we know about Smith from his journals is that he was an adventurer,'' she says. ''And when you meet Colin that's the sense you get from him. He's bold and wonderfully unedited. He's not someone who's careful about every word that comes out of his mouth.''
The search for Pocahontas was decidedly more challenging. The filmmakers scoured Native American reservations and chased leads that led them as far away as Australia. Ironically, they found Kilcher in their own backyard: Santa Monica. The actress, whose father is Native Peruvian, and whose first name translates as ''Golden Eagle'' in Quechuan, had never heard of Malick or Farrell when she was cast. ''I grew up without a TV, so I didn't know who anyone was,'' she says.
Christopher Plummer, who plays Capt. Christopher Newport, praises Kilcher as ''unbelievably real and innocent without being cute,'' and adds that carousing with Farrell made him wish he was 28 again. As for working with Malick, Plummer says he considers it a privilege so long as he's not edited out of the film like Adrien Brody practically was in The Thin Red Line. ''Colin and I teased him about that all the time. I think we shamed him into keeping my scenes.''