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Richie Mehta studies physics to add cred to 'I'll Follow You Down'

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TORONTO - Canadian filmmaker Richie Mehta admits he isn't a physics whiz, and so in writing the new drama "I'll Follow You Down" featuring dense time-travel theories, he took his time — 12 years, actually — and put in "a hell of a lot of library" hours in order to make sure it had credibility.

"There was a time when I was really deep into it where I probably could have written a thesis or done a presentation at a physics convention about all the stuff," the 35-year-old, who is based in Mississauga, Ont., said in a telephone interview.

"When we had physics consultants look at the script at the very end, they just kind of gave checkmarks and said, 'Yeah, it's fine.'"

"I'll Follow You Down" opens Friday in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa and Montreal.

Rufus Sewell stars as a brilliant physicist and professor who mysteriously disappears after boarding a flight to Princeton University for a conference. Years later, his wife (Gillian Anderson) is still reeling from his absence as their son (Haley Joel Osment) — a physics genius himself — explores his grandfather's (Victor Garber) theory that his dad disappeared through a wormhole.

The enigmatic nature of the story seems to span multiple genres as viewers try to figure out whether the time-travel element is true or if the father disappeared either on his own volition or due to something nefarious.

Also a mystery? How did the now-26-year-old Osment — who got an Oscar nomination as the cute kid in "The Sixth Sense" — seem to grow up so fast?

Mehta said he, too, didn't realize the actor was already into adulthood when two casting directors suggested him for the role.

"I was kind of like, 'Really?' It seemed interesting and I ended up meeting him in New York and we had such a great meeting, such a great lunch together, and we just really got along. He's probably one of the smartest people I've ever met, from a general-knowledge standpoint.'"

"I'll Follow You Down" is Mehta's follow-up to his debut feature, "Amal," which was nominated for six Genie Awards in 2009.

He said he got the idea for the film when he was waiting at an airport for a friend to arrive from Hungary. He noticed a woman nearby had been waiting for a long time for another passenger, and that got him thinking about the fallout from someone disappearing in that situation.

The film's broader theme of choices and consequences is one Mehta has been ruminating on since he watched the film "Jurassic Park" with his parents as they were going through a divorce. When Richard Attenborough's character said "I don't blame people for their mistakes, but I do ask that they pay for them," he felt a reaction from his mom and dad as they realized the weight of their decision to split.

"That kind of struck me, this idea of, yeah, we make mistakes, we all screw up, it doesn't mean we should be judged for that. However, there are consequences to those mistakes that we must pay for, all of us," he said.

Mehta said he mapped out the consequences of each character's choices using charts during the 12-year script-writing process, and he had physics consultants help out with math equations written on chalkboards in some scenes.

Besides his laborious library sessions, he also got some helpful physics information from listening to a National Public Radio show in New York featuring a guy "who was obsessed with inventing time travel to bring back his dead father."

"When they prefaced the interview, they listed all the subjects he was an expert at now, and it was like string theory, quantum mechanics ... and multivariable calculus," said Mehta. "And I'm like, 'Thank you. You just listed everything I needed to go and research.'"

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