But the actress--who visited Darfur two years ago and is preparing for another trip--isn’t meeting with the press to discuss politics or overseas work with the needy. In a posh Manhattan hotel that’s worlds from genocide-torn Sudan, the star of “Rosemary’s Baby” has joined director John Moore and co-stars Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles to talk about their remake of “The Omen.”
Originally titled “The Omen 666,” the film is set for release on June 6--or, as the movie's advertisements endlessly remind us, 6/6/06 (666... get it?), the numbers that are believed to brand the Antichrist.
In the 1976 original, penned by David Seltzer and directed by Richard Donner, a middle-aged couple (Gregory Peck and Lee Remick) slowly comes to realize that their young son Damien is the embodiment of evil. Seltzer returns as writer this time around, but the couple, Robert and Katherine Thorn (Schreiber and Stiles) are much younger and more susceptible to external evil and the power of a lie. The Thorns' baby dies, but before Katherine finds out, Robert accepts Damien from a priest, leaving his wife in the dark and paving the way for a barrage of terrifying signs, including their nanny's suicide (the mysterious Mrs. Baylock takes the job, played in the original by Billie Whitelaw and much more angelically this time by Farrow). Then there's a telltale "666" tattoo, which brands Damien as the Antichrist, a devil with the face of an angel. He will, almost certainly, bring about the end of the world.
Moore’s contemporary version opens with a fresh and terrifying news montage--rape and slaughter run rampant in Darfur, the World Trade Center is demolished by a terrorist-steered airplane--suggesting that humans, not evil spirits, will bring about Armageddon. Damien (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick) arrives on the scene quickly, first to the joy and then to the distress of Robert and Katharine, well-meaning parents with laissez-faire attitudes toward faith.
“It’s so good a text that I would have been happy to remake it at any time, but the sweetener on the deal is the fact that we’re in trouble in the world right now,” Moore says.
A longtime fan of the original, the heavy-set, charmingly Irish filmmaker decided to present the story with a contemporary twist that would appeal to today's audiences, whom he believes are disillusioned with politics and turning to religion.
“We are living in chaotic times,” says Stiles, who was superstitious enough to suffer nightmares on the “Omen” set (and literally knocks on wood while we are talking). “People look for answers--faith or science or whatever it is to help explain these things we can’t control.”
But is it war that makes Moore’s version distinctly 2006? Or maybe it's America’s renewed religious faith in the face of chaos? Farrow recalls the tremendous political discontent among Americans when the original “Omen” was released 30 years ago.
According to Moore, who was raised in Ireland but has spent a good portion of his adult life making movies in America, the divisions and problems in our current cultural and political climate have been exacerbated by religion, a situation he sought to reflect in some way on screen.
In this version of the film, Schreiber’s Robert is smart on a genius level, promoted to the prestigious position of U.S. ambassador to Great Britain at the age of 34. In a line improvised on set by Schreiber, who says he made his character “a lapsed Catholic,” Robert scoffs at the priest (Pete Postlethwaite) who shows up to tell him that his child could be Satan’s spawn and must be eliminated.
“Robert has a very modern-day reaction,” says Moore. “He’s not anti-religious--it just doesn’t occur to him. Religion comes storming through the door, and his immediate reaction is ‘this is just bulls--t.’”
But what would any parent say if a priest prophesized the apocalypse and instructed him to kill his own son?
“What was pressing for me was that people can use arcane scripture to justify killing,” says Schreiber. “That seemed to me something that was very 2006.” Rather than consider grisly signs, Robert hands Damien over to Farrow’s Mrs. Baylock--an "apostate from hell," according to the film's press notes--who is the antithesis of her character in “Rosemary’s Baby.” Arguably the silver screen’s most memorable victim, Farrow’s Rosemary is destroyed in that film by the possibility that her child, like Damien, is the devil’s son.
"’Rosemary’s Baby’ had the first very popular concept of the Antichrist on film,” says Farrow. “And this also has the notion of a child who’s evil. As I was raised Catholic, it’s an interesting concept. The devil was portrayed as something outside of yourself, with horns and a pitchfork. A more interesting concept is to portray it as a child, (indicating) the dual nature of humankind.”
What does a modern-day Damien embody: human moral failings or an external, spiritual force of evil? Though Stiles says the realistically creepy concept made it easy to “buy into ‘there’s a force of evil out there,’” Moore and Farrow highlight the war in Iraq and the genocide in Darfur as disturbing examples of evil’s human face.
“Now more than ever, failure to act against the evil that’s being perpetrated on a daily basis could result in falling into the precipice of evil,” Moore says. “We’re fighting a war based on ‘we’d better get them before they get us.’ If that’s not an evil notion, I don’t know what is.”
“I would argue that our technology has exceeded our wisdom as human beings,” adds Farrow, who suggested that schools around the world should educate students about genocide. “It’s a sorry state of affairs--a genocide, three years into it, Rwanda in slow motion--it’s unacceptable. Better to take responsibility and say, ‘the enemy is us.’ This is taking it to an extreme, but, looking for wrongdoers, I think the angelic face of a child is as good as any place to start.”
6/6/06 will likely come and go, but Moore’s version of “The Omen”--which opens with references to contemporary tragedies and closes with an unsubtle jab at the current American administration--aims to serve as Hollywood’s warning, questioning human nature and urging moviegoers to prevent the ultimate disaster.