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Saga of survival

``A Beautiful Mind'', an Oscar frontrunner for best picture, is inspired by events in the life of mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr. The handsome and highly eccentric Nash fought back schizophrenia with the help of his devoted wife Alicia and received the Nobel Prize in 1994. A living legend, Nash continues to pursue his work today.

A tale of courage, convincingly told... ``A Beautiful Mind''.

IT IS 1947 and John Forbes Nash, Jr. has arrived at Princeton for graduate study in mathematics. ``The mysterious West Virginia genius'' has no prep school legacy or old money ties to cushion his entry into the Ivy League — just Princeton's most prestigious fellowship to signify that he does indeed belong.

It's not an easy fit for Nash, or for Princeton. Social niceties mean nothing to him; neither does attending class. He is obsessed with just one thing, finding a truly original idea. That, he's convinced, is the only way he will ever matter.

Princeton's math department is brutally competitive and some of Nash's classmates would love to see him fail. Still, they tolerate him, and inadvertently incite him to greatness. He's with them one night in a local bar when their reaction to a hot blonde grabs his attention. As Nash observes their rivalry, the idea that has been haunting him bursts into focus. His resulting paper on game theory — the mathematics of competition — boldly contradicts the doctrines of Adam Smith, the father of modern economics. One hundred and fifty years of accepted thought is abruptly outdated, and Nash's life is changed forever.

Nash subsequently wins a coveted research and teaching post at MIT, but is not satisfied. Science had played a huge role in bringing about America's triumph in World War II, and now, as the cold war rages, Nash yearns to play a role in this new conflict. His wish is granted when the shadowy William Parcher (Ed Harris) recruits him for a top-secret assignment as an enemy code-breaker.

Nash throws himself into this consuming effort while continuing his work at MIT. It is there that he is challenged in an altogether new way by the beautiful and brilliant Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly), a physics student, who introduces Nash to a concept he'd never seriously considered — love.

Nash and Alicia marry, but he cannot confide the dangerous project he has undertaken for Parcher. The work, the secrecy and the danger take their toll. Nash is furtive, obsessed and finally lost in a world of overpowering delusions. The diagnosis is paranoid schizophrenia.

Devastated by the implications of her husband's condition, Alicia struggles under the strain of loving a broken genius. The glamorous couple of their courtship vanishes as each day seems to bring new horror. But Alicia can still glimpse the charismatic man she fell in love with, and that fuels her commitment to him. Inspired by her unwavering love and faith, Nash finally decides to fight a disease thought to be not only incurable, but degenerative.

This humbled Nash has simpler goals, but they are even harder to achieve. Still burdened by demons, still driven by the intoxicating demands of mathematical theory, he is determined to find his own kind of normalcy. Through sheer force of will, he continues his work and in 1994, receives the Nobel Prize. By then, his insightful work in game theory has become one of the most influential ideas of the twentieth century, while Nash has become a man with a beautiful heart, as well as a beautiful mind.

Imagine Entertainment's ``A Beautiful Mind" is a Universal Pictures and DreamWorks Pictures co-production. Directed by Ron Howard, produced by Brian Grazer and written by Akiva Goldsman, the film stars Oscar winner, Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Oscar nominee Ed Harris (Pollock, Apollo 13) and Jennifer Connelly (Requiem For A Dream). The cast also includes Paul Bettany (A Knight's Tale), Adam Goldberg (Saving Private Ryan), Judd Hirsch (Running on Empty), Josh Lucas (You Can Count on Me), Anthony Rapp (Road Trip), newcomer Vivien Cardone and Christopher Plummer (The Insider).

The production team includes director of photography Roger Deakins (Oscar-nominated for O Brother, Where Art Thou?), production designer Wynn Thomas (Analyze This), editors Mike Hill and Dan Hanley, winners of the Academy Award for Best Editing for their work on Ron Howard and Brian Grazer's Apollo 13, costume designer Rita Ryack (Oscar-nominated for Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas), and composer James Horner (an Oscar winner for Titanic). The film's executive producers are Karen Kehela (Nutty Professor II: The Klumps) and Todd Hallowell (The Grinch).

``A Beautiful Mind" began its way to the screen when producer Brian Grazer read a Vanity Fair article about John Forbes Nash, Jr. Grazer was fascinated by writer Sylvia Nasar's true story of the mathematical genius who won international acclaim, then lost it all to schizophrenia. What made the story truly exceptional was the fact that Nash eventually recovered enough to return to work and later win the Nobel Prize.

``I loved this story because it was about survival,'' said Grazer. ``And I also loved that it was about genius as expressed through the root of competitiveness.'' After seeing early galleys of Nasar's biography on Nash, Grazer engaged in some competition himself to obtain the film rights to her book. ``I saw that the story could present a visceral experience for an audience,'' Grazer said.

Grazer hired Akiva Goldsman to write the screenplay. Goldsman brought an immensely singular perspective to the project. Although many directors wanted the project, Grazer and his Imagine partner Ron Howard quickly found that they were in complete harmony on how best to approach the adaptation. ``Ron has succeeded at the challenges of every genre,'' said Grazer, ``and has demonstrated particular strength in creating three-dimensional characters, which is critically important with this film.''

The two partners had spent years looking for a project that dealt with mental illness and its impact on people and their families. ``When you read about it, you realise that mental illness is so prevalent... The story of John Nash is an amazing, powerful journey. But as unique as this man is, his story is also very accessible because it is so heartbreakingly human,'' Howard said.

Grazer and Howard were also drawn to the love story at the heart of ``A Beautiful Mind." ``John Nash's victory wasn't only that he beat schizophrenia or that he won the Nobel Prize,'' said Grazer. ``The victory in the movie and in his life is how the love between him and Alicia survived and grew and evolved. John Nash's journey is incredibly heroic, but so is Alicia's,'' Howard continued. ``Alicia is very interesting — she's kind of the belle of the ball, you know? Gorgeous, intelligent and very, very interested in John Nash. And what she bargains for is not what she gets. It winds up being an incredible challenge for her as a human being.''

Nasar, the author of the Nash biography, was inspired by Alicia's strength. ``Nash never would have survived without Alicia,'' she said. ``To me, she was the heroine of the book, and she's the heroine of the movie.''

``A Beautiful Mind" brings together a unique ensemble of actors — major stars, distinguished veterans, exciting newcomers — who create intense chemistry. ``There's an element of danger with a number of these actors — especially Russell Crowe, Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer,'' said Howard. ``They project an unpredictability and volatility that might surprise people in a movie perceived as human interest or intellectual. There's always a palpable, visceral tension with them onscreen, the threat of some kind of explosion.''

Grazer and Howard cast the Academy Award-winning Crowe in the role of John Nash well before the actor's immense success with Gladiator. ``I zeroed in on Russell because he can communicate so intensely without words,'' explained Grazer. Crowe was drawn to the project for a number of reasons. He had an immediate reaction to the screenplay. ``There are a couple of cinematic tricks built into the script which are very special,'' he said.

Crowe also appreciated the opportunity to put a human face on schizophrenia.

The project also marked a personal achievement for Crowe, who had long wanted to work with Howard and Grazer. Grazer and Howard's productions include the 1997 film ``Inventing the Abbotts," which starred Jennifer Connelly in a performance that both partners admired.

Since then, Connelly has distinguished herself in such films as Requiem for a Dream and Pollock. Howard quickly knew that he wanted Connelly in this film. ``Jennifer has really emerged in the last few years. She's very intelligent, a great beauty and has a lot of integrity. And she's developing this extraordinary screen presence,'' he said. ``She had a clear understanding of what made this movie so compelling and involving.'' She also had strong chemistry with Crowe.

``We had many actresses read with Russell,'' Grazer said. ``When you do those private readings, you can immediately sense if there is chemistry. You want to know if the actress can challenge him in a way that will keep him at the top of his game. Jennifer more than held her own.''

The filmmakers cast Ed Harris as William Parcher, Nash's boss at the Department of Defence. Their previous collaboration with Harris in Apollo 13 had led to an Academy Award nomination for the actor. Howard felt that Harris embodied a mysterious quality that was essential for this film.

Crowe and Harris weren't the only company members who attended the Oscars on the eve of production.

Cinematographer Roger Deakins had been nominated for ``O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and costume designer Rita Ryack was a nominee for Dr. Seuss' ``How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

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