But before any deal could be signed, Cruise and Weinstein had a falling-out over money. ''It ultimately collapsed because of problems between Harvey and Tom,'' says Pollack, who tried to mediate. ''Tom didn't see this as a charity picture, like P.T. Anderson's ''Magnolia.'' Harvey did not want to step up to Tom's deal. That's what it came down to.''
''I met with [Cruise]many times and we discussed every beat of the film,'' says Minghella, who had by then warmed to the idea of casting a superstar in the role. ''The studio really wanted Tom, and he really wanted to be in the film. So, in a sense, it was a marriage and a divorce that occurred with me on the side.'' (Weinstein reasons: ''It's an ensemble piece, and if one guy is getting too much, your other talent could have got limited.'' Cruise's rep says scheduling, not money, was the issue: ''Tom does not base decisions on money. He had to make a decision on two different projects, and he chose 'The Last Samurai.''')
Minghella decided to cast the trio of Inman, Ada, and Ruby simultaneously. He offered the film to Law, Kidman (who was by then divorced from Cruise), and Zellweger on the same day, four months before shooting began. In an odd twist, Zellweger had unsuccessfully tried to purchase the rights in manuscript form for $10,000 in 1997--in the hopes of playing Ada. ''It never occurred to me that I would be Ruby,'' she says. When Minghella offered her the role, however, she took it immediately. ''[This movie] was the kind of thing an actor might dream about being a part of,'' she says. Money was no longer an issue, because hefty production costs left little to go around. Initially, a deal was struck to pay the three leads $2 million each plus a share of the profits--far from the $10 million Law and the $15 million Kidman and Zellweger now earn. But Kidman says even that figure was pared down by the time production began. ''They had an absolute trust,'' Minghella says of his stars, and ''the film is stained with that shared commitment.''
The relationship between Inman and Ada is, as Minghella puts it, the heartbeat of the film. To buy into the love story of Inman and Ada is to believe that a few moments of flirtatious banter and a single, well-executed kiss can transform two lives. Though Law and Kidman did not know each other previously, they immersed themselves in hours and hours of preparation, pondering how Inman and Ada's relationship could grow during four years of separation. Kidman calls the chemistry between her and Law ''perfect.''