''I've been working on this film for six years,'' says Edward Norton, who produces and stars in The Painted Veil, an adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham novel about a British doctor and his wife (played by Norton and Naomi Watts) living in Shanghai and going into the interior of China to treat a cholera epidemic. Norton shepherded the script by Ron Nyswaner (the scribe's first feature since 1993's Philadelphia) over the bumps (the SARS outbreak postponed production in China in 2004) until Watts and her We Don't Live Here Anymore director, John Curran, were safely aboard. ''Since the time that he first read the book and then the script, Edward's been living and breathing this character,'' explains Watts, ''and he knew he had to play it.''
Eager to put things on screen that hadn't been seen before, Curran shot the whole film in China, including a chunk on location in Guangdong province. ''That's the area of southern China that has these great Dr. Seuss-looking mountains,'' Curran explains. ''It's so unique to China. We didn't want this to look like a film you shot in Canada, or in Australia against a greenscreen. Edward and I both love David Lean, and the classic romances of that period. We wanted the opportunity to go to a really exotic place and tell this great story, and capture the sweep of it.''