'Da Vinci Code' Stars Break Code Of Silence On Mysterious Movie

Paul Bettany, Jean Reno shed light on their roles in much-anticipated film.

With just about three months to go before the secrets of "The Da Vinci Code" are unlocked in theaters, rabid fans are still clamoring for revelations regarding the transition of the bestselling book to the big screen. With cast and crew under strict confidentiality agreements, details on the flick have been few and far between.

But with two of its key players — Paul Bettany ("A Beautiful Mind") and French thespian Jean Reno ("Hotel Rwanda") — out pushing other projects, a fresh batch of "Da Vinci" news has been trickling in.

"It never felt like [we were making] a huge movie," Bettany admitted while promoting the Harrison Ford-starring "Firewall," out February 10. "It was often just me, [director] Ron [Howard] and the crew. [My character] was usually on my own or murdering somebody, so it felt very much like a tiny, intimate film."

Based on Dan Brown's 2003 novel, the film adaptation stars two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks as renowned Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (see "Trailer For 'Da Vinci Code' Adds To Film's Mystery"). He's called on to help decipher a cryptic message written on the body of Jacques Saunière, the elderly curator of the Louvre in Paris who is found murdered in the world-famous museum. The film also features Audrey Tautou ("Amelie") as French cryptographer Sophie Neveu, who teams up with Langdon to unlock the series of riddles Saunière left hidden in Leonardo da Vinci's paintings before his death. The messages supposedly lead to an even larger secret being protected by the Priory of Sion, a mysterious society who hosted such historic members as Sir Isaac Newton, Victor Hugo and, of course, da Vinci. It's a 2,000-year-old revelation that, if leaked to the public, could shake the grounds on which Christianity is based.

The international all-star cast also boasts Ian McKellen ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy) as the eccentric Sir Leigh Teabing; Alfred Molina ("Spiderman 2") as Bishop Manuel Aringarosa; Bettany as the troubled albino monk Silas; and Reno ("Hotel Rwanda") as Captain Bezu Fache, the cop who is in charge of investigating Saunière's murder.

"We were shocked by the places we were shooting, because we were alone inside the Louvre, can you imagine, all night," said Reno, who is featured in "The Pink Panther," also out February 10. "Tom and I were like [in awe] for hours in front of those paintings."

Bettany, who worked with Howard on 2001's "A Beautiful Mind," said he jumped at the chance to be part of the project. "It's a no-brainer. I think if you're an actor and you say no, then you probably need to go home."

The actor went to great lengths — both physically and mentally — to prepare for his role as the self-tortured masochistic Silas, a devout follower of Opus Dei. The rival fringe organization is also seeking the Sion's secret — not to preserve it, but to unleash it to the world in order to take down the Pope and the Vatican.

"My image of [Silas] was a man who didn't eat a lot of cake," Bettany joked. "I thought he didn't eat, so I trimmed down and went to the gym. But [as far as] what happens in his head and his soul, [that's] sort of my business.

"I don't know how [readers] saw [Silas] but I know how I saw him, so that's how I went about it," he said of the pressure of bringing one of the novel's most colorful characters to life. "Frankly, millions of people have read the book and I can't give 25 million different performances for everybody. So the minute you start thinking it through logically, there's no real pressure because that's an impossible thing for me to deliver."

Howard spilled some early clues about the movie to Newsweek in December, promising fans he would not be softening the novel's controversial elements, which have spurred backlash from the Vatican for claiming — among other things — that Jesus Christ was married to Mary Magdalene and the two had a child together.

"[There will be] no placating," Howard told the magazine. "It would be ludicrous to take on this subject and then try to take the edges off. We're doing this movie because we like the book."

"The Da Vinci Code" is slated to debut at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival in France on May 17, followed by its worldwide release that same week.

Check out everything we've got on "The Da Vinci Code."

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