Cover Story

A Dilemma of Epidemic Proportions

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By Kathy Blumenstock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 25, 2008

For Eric McCormack, the mystery that unspools when a satellite crashes in a small town, spreading a fatal plague, seems like current reality, not the plot of a new science fiction film.

McCormack plays Jack Nash, a freewheeling TV reporter, in "The Andromeda Strain," a four-hour remake of the 1971 theatrical movie.

The new production features an all-star cast that includes Benjamin Bratt, Andre Braugher, Viola Davis, Daniel Dae Kim, Christa Miller and Rick Schroder.

The story follows the sudden outbreak of a mysterious plague that kills all but two occupants of a Utah town. Baffled scientists are galvanized, racing to learn the disease's origins and to halt its spread.

Fears about the mutating virus, code- named Andromeda, prompt government officials to take action to keep the reporter from exposing details about the epidemic.

"There's nothing far-fetched about the coverup or the idea of a completely contagious disease," McCormack said. The coverup, he said, "is what gives my character so much oomph, and so much to overcome."

McCormack said the events transform his character from a reporter to "kind of an action figure -- I even did my own driving" in an escape scene.

Filled with special effects and a fast-paced plot, the film combines science fiction with bioterror.

"With a story of this scale and scope, you really need to have credible [visual effects] to make the details of the story come to life in an authentic way," said executive producer Ridley Scott via e-mail. "You need your audience to believe that what they're seeing on-screen could actually happen; it's essential to the drama of the story."

The production was filmed in Vancouver, "where there was a heat wave for the first time in history while we shot the desert scenes," Miller said.

"Besides the heat and all those scary CGI birds," which were carriers of the virus in the movie, "we had biohazard suits, so it was intense," she said. "The suits had cooling units inside with a breathing [apparatus] that you had to turn off when you talked."

Miller, who plays a specialist in exotic diseases, prepared for her role by talking to her physician father "about how to hold a scalpel and other things to do to make it look right," she said.

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