On the monitor screen, Tom Hanks's eyes, in extreme closeup, flickered through a complicated sequence of emotions: hatred, fear, anger, doubt. "Cut!" Lana Wachowski shouted. The crew on Stage 9 at Babelsberg Studio, near Berlin, erupted in a din of professional efficacy, preparing for the next shot, while Hanks returned to his chair to sip coffee from an NPR cup. Lana and her brother, Andy, who are best known for writing and directing the "Matrix" trilogy, were shooting "Cloud Atlas," an adaptation of David Mitchell's 2004 best-selling novel of the same name
The novel has six story lines, and the Wachowskis and their close friend the German director Tom Tykwer, with whom they'd written the script, had divided them up. They were shooting at Babelsberg, using the same actors, who shuttled between soundstages, but Tykwer had an unplanned day off. Halle Berry had broken her foot while on location in Mallorca and he needed to wait for her full recovery to shoot a chase scene. And now there was another problem: the actor Ralph Riach, who played a small but crucial role in one of the story lines that Tykwer was working on, had fallen ill and been hospitalized, and his state was progressively worsening. Tykwer had been on the phone with Riach, and the prognosis was, at best, unpredictable. Tykwer, with a bad cold and a large scarf around his neck which resembled a Renaissance millstone collar, had stopped by the Wachowskis' set to discuss the situation.