Tribeca: 'The Circle' Team on Bill Paxton, Real-Life Inspirations for Tech Thriller

Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival
The 'Circle' cast ahead of Wednesday night's Tribeca premiere

Tom Hanks and Emma Watson star in the James Ponsoldt-directed film based on the Dave Eggers novel, which had its world premiere Wednesday in New York.

James Ponsoldt's tech thriller The Circle is Bill Paxton's final film, with the late actor completing filming before he died unexpectedly in February.

In the movie, Paxton plays the father of Emma Watson's main character Mae, an employee at the fictional Circle tech juggernaut co-founded by Tom Hanks' character.

The film pays tribute to Paxton with a "For Bill" note in the end credits. And prior to The Circle's world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Wednesday night, Ponsoldt, castmember Ellar Coltrane (of Boyhood fame) and producer Anthony Bregman all took time to remember their late colleague.

"Every second with him is a fond memory," Ponsoldt told The Hollywood Reporter on the red carpet. "He was the nicest, funniest, goofiest guy from Texas who had the soul of an artist who wanted to be honest in every moment. He brought that out of the actors he worked with. It seemed like he invited everyone that he worked with into his life, and when he passed away, I really came to understand how much he was loved by other people and how he was living 110 percent all of the time. It's a real loss."

Coltrane, who filmed one scene with Paxton, said the two of them connected over the fact that they're both from Texas and called Paxton a "legend," adding that working with him was "an honor."

"I really wish that I had the chance to work with him again," Coltrane said.

Paxton's Vinnie is battling MS, a performance for which Bregman said Paxton "transformed himself … it was a remarkable thing to see."

The character's disease and the treatment for it play a role in the film's cautionary portrayal of the loss of privacy in an increasingly connected world.

The movie, adapted from Dave Eggers' 2013 novel, follows Watson's Mae as she begins working for The Circle and increasingly becomes an advocate of and participant in its pro-transparency philosophy. While the technology in the film is fictional, viewers will likely recognize aspects of Apple, Google, Twitter and Facebook's products on the big screen.

Regarding the movie's real-life relevance, Bregman told THR, "I think we see stuff in the news every day that mirrors what happens in the movie. This is present-day science fiction. I think the technology is there for everything in the movie that can happen in real life. And now people are starting to use technology the way it's used in The Circle. There's always been a lot of concern about the government and surveillance. I think what we don't see and what the movie is showing is that we open up that door ourselves. We invite surveillance in. We invite a lack of privacy in."

Ponsoldt, who worked with Eggers on the screenplay, said that the reality of living in an increasingly connected world likely seeped in as he was writing the film.

"I think inevitably the details of the real world as we live it every day and friends of mine who work for tech companies, it made its way into [the film]," he said. "We never wanted to make something that was literally editorializing in real time on the world around us and the hope was that we didn't fetishize the gadgets so much as we understood the humanity and psychology of the main character."

Karen Gillan, who plays Mae's close friend and Circle employee Annie, said that she did some research into her real-life tech counterparts after reading the book.

"I did a search on what these girls look and act like, the ones who go around and are the spokeswomen for the companies," she said. "And then that was it and I basically dissected the character and got into it that way."

Coltrane, meanwhile, started working on The Circle shortly after Boyhood's awards run, and he drew on his own experience with less privacy in the face of increased fame.

"When I was hired for this, it had not even been six months since I was at the Oscars. It's a different context, but that feeling of no privacy and just being bombarded with technology and all this stuff was very real for me," said the young actor. "I think maybe I tried to channel that fear and anxiety that I had just from being famous all of a sudden into [my character's] experience, which is different but similarly a fear of a lack of privacy.

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