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"We sat down with the studio," Joel Silver recalls, "and we said, 'How do you feel about the part where we blow up Parliament?' I mean, we weren't really going to do it — look, it's a story. And, I mean, Parliament is empty. There's not a shot of the janitor mopping the floor or anything. Everybody is outside watching the building explode."

 "V for Vendetta"
Production Art

 Alan Moore's Comic
"V for Vendetta"

 "V for Vendetta" Photos

 In Focus: Natalie Portman

 "V for Vendetta" Premiere

When you see that happen, Hugo Weaving says, "it affects you, because it's a symbol of democracy. But in the world of this film, it's not a symbol of democracy anymore. It's a symbol of oppression."

V's motives are not entirely political; his David-and-Goliath battle is at least partly a form of payback. He was once an "undesirable" relocated by the government to a detention facility where he became the subject of gruesome experiments that resulted in genetic mutation (and which may have been the source of his lightning-quick fighting abilities).

In a moving (and ambiguous) moment in the film, V claims that what was done to him in that detention camp was "monstrous."

For her part, Portman's Evey sadly agrees: "They created a monster."

"He was tortured and abused, mentally and physically, by individuals who are now in positions of great power," Weaving says. "So he is actually out to kill them. He certainly is fighting for something we believe in, and he is certainly going at it in a fairly cold-blooded way. But he is also a figure of hope."

Like V, Evey — the reluctant Robin to V's Batman — was also sent away to a camp for five years. But in her case, it was a so-called "Juvenile Reclamation Project" — a kiddie concentration camp — since her parents, both political dissenters, were murdered. (Ah, sorry — they were "detained.") Now, nine years later, she's working as a production assistant at a television station and trying to play it safe; the last thing she wants is to get caught up in V's dangerous machinations.

"The Wachowski brothers were really great about writing her," Portman says. "The character in the graphic novel was this almost-baby prostitute. Instead, they made her a smart, emotional person with a past that informs her situation and her thoughts on whether she wants to get involved politically or not. She is totally scared of taking that risk."

And yet she does. And when she does, we are right there with her. Because we never see V's face, we have to view the world through Evey's eyes.

"You really want her to be OK," Silver says. "You want her to survive and get through it. And you want to know what it takes to get her there."

What it takes is a brutal stint as a political prisoner, in which her head is shaved, she's thrown in a cell with a rat and tortured.

"She looks beautiful with or without hair," Silver says.

The big haircutting scene, however, was a one-time-only shot, so it was first rehearsed with extras, "so that nothing would mess up," Portman says. "We had five cameras going, and I just tried to focus and stay in character so I wouldn't mess up this one shot."

In homage to the graphic novel, director James McTeigue says he lit Evey's prison-cell scenes "very graphically. They're such amazing images." The prison scenes are also an important and stirring part of the story, where a broken Evey finds a letter from a former prisoner named Valerie, who had been jailed for the crime of loving another woman. This letter not only moves Evey to tears but gives her the strength to face her own fear and inform her interrogator that she'd rather die than submit.

"Here is a girl that seemed disconnected," Silver says, "and at the end, she is a revolutionary."

While Evey and V's relationship remains a complicated one — "sometimes you think they might be lovers, sometimes they're father-daughter, sometimes they're mentor-pupil," Portman says — the love story is played up more in the film version than in Moore's book.

 "V for Vendetta"

"What we tried to do is make it a very filmic story instead of a retelling of the graphic novel," McTeigue says. "You have to amalgamate some of the characters, take out some of the subplots, make it a little bit more about today, a little bit more universal." Inevitably, something that was only hinted at in the book — a possible love story — is made more overt onscreen.

"Because he falls in love with her, and that falling in love redeems him, there's an extraordinary kiss at the end," Weaving says. "And there's that wonderful look on Natalie's face when she realizes she can't, because he actually isn't a human being, in a way. He is an idea, and that's what she falls in love with — his mind."

So do we, of course — even though we never see him, never really know him. And that mystery, that unknowable aspect, is part of his charm.

"Everyone becomes V at a certain point while watching the movie, I think," Portman says. "You are always thinking, 'What's going on behind that mask?' You almost become him because you are trying to get into his mind."

As V himself points out, it's a paradox to ask a masked man who he is. For the viewer, though, it's certainly fair to ask which V is V? Weaving, it turns out, isn't the only actor behind the mask; he stepped into the role four weeks into the shoot to replace James Purefoy, the original lead.

"[Purefoy] was having trouble with the mask," Silver says. "It was hard getting up in the morning, and he was not feeling able to do what he had to do."

"James McTeigue rang me and asked how quickly I could get to Berlin," Weaving says. "I was on a plane within three days."

Since V's face is never seen, all Weaving had to do to step into the role was re-voice the lines Purefoy had already done and then take over for the rest of the shoot. Purefoy doesn't get a credit, but sometimes that is him up onscreen — with Weaving woven in.

"Can I tell the difference?" McTeigue says. "Yeah. Can the audience tell? I doubt it."

"A lot of people play V," Silver adds. "Any move you make, you have different stunt guys, so in the knife fights it's one guy. When swinging on the ropes, it's another."

In the end, who is V, really? As Evey says, "He was you. He was me. He was all of us."

For an interview with "V For Vendetta" creator Alan Moore, check out "Alan Moore: The Last Angry Man"

Check out everything we've got on "V for Vendetta."

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Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

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