Thursday, March 22, 2018
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Hollywood comes to the Range

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Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron says it's an honor to be on the Iron Range to tell the story about the fight against sexual harrassment. (MPR photo/Stephanie Hemphill)
Shooting is about to begin on the Iron Range for a movie about female iron miners who fought a landmark legal battle against sexual harassment. It's being directed by New Zealander Nikki Caro, whose "Whale Rider" movie attracted critical acclaim. Caro and some of the stars met with reporters at a pre-shoot news conference.

Virginia, Minn. — The people making the movie are bending over backward to make friends in Eveleth, Virginia, and other Iron Range cities. Maybe it's because they know some people here are uncomfortable with the history behind the movie.

In the 1970s and '80s, some female workers at the Eveleth Taconite mine endured brutal sexual harassment. But director Nikki Caro says she's inspired by the story.

"The disgraceful thing that happened here was happening everywhere else," she says. "And it was here that the community fronted up to it. The community should be proud of that fact, I think. We're so proud to be taking it out to the world."

The cast members seem to agree. Oscar-winning actress Charlize Theron plays the main character, a single mother who works in the mine to support her family, and encourages her co-workers to fight the harassment.

"It's a long and hard emotional journey to tell this story," Theron says. "In a way, I hope you guys know, you changed how things are for women all over the world, and especially in America. So for me as a woman to be part of a story like that, I feel pretty honored."

The script is a fictionalized version of real events. Executive producer Doug Claybourne, who was assistant director of several films under Francis Ford Coppola, says that makes the story richer.

"You have more freedom to tell more stories," Claybourne says. "There was a lot of people that experienced these kinds of things around the country, and we wanted to be able to use all of that to come up with the best script we could. It's the best script I've seen in 25 years."

The weather has been warm by Minnesota standards since the film crew arrived in a convoy of trucks and trailers. But Nikki Caro says there have been some challenges.

"We have a team of people the like of which I've never had to work with before, called the heat team, entirely responsible for pointing heaters at the cameras so they don't just freak out in the cold," Caro says.

Theron says she's been trying to get used to the cold weather.

"It's really beautiful (here), but I am from Africa, which is a very hot continent," Theron says. She said in the three days she's been here, she experienced frozen hair-care products and slippery snow. "It was fresh snow, and it was really beautiful. And I loved seeing it from the inside of a house," says Theron.

Doug Claybourne has noticed other problems.

"The first day we had frozen water. We had no idea we wouldn't be able to have water in our trailers. Last night my beer froze!"

And what about those Minnesota accents? Lots of people think Minnesotans sound like the folks in the movie "Fargo." Rusty Schwimmer, who was in "The Perfect Storm," and Woody Harrelson of "Cheers" fame, have different answers to that question.

"I know that Fargo is in North Dakota, and it's a different accent than it is up here," Schwimmer says.

Her comment seemed to cause Harrelson some momentary pain. "Aw damn! I've been watching that tape over and over," he laughed. But director Nikki Caro says they've been coached on the Iron Range dialect -- not by professional teachers, but by drivers, helpers, everybody they run into.

"It's very important to me that we get the dialect as specific as possible," Caro says. "For the same reason that we want to film in this place, because cultural specificity is everything."

Harrelson also says he's trying to become convincing on hockey skates. He's taking lessons from the Virginia high school hockey coach.

"Currently, I suck," Harrelson says.

Filming on the Range is expected to last several weeks. Interior scenes and some mining scenes will be filmed in New Mexico. The movie doesn't have a title yet. It's scheduled for release in the fall.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)