Six degrees of separation lie between Pittsburgh and 'Dark Knight'

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And here we assumed that when Michael Keaton bowed out of the Batman franchise that we would have no more Pittsburgh connections to the masked man.

Christian Bale didn't graduate from Montour High School like the then-named Michael Douglas, but like a boomerang kid, he returned months later for "Out of the Furnace" after shooting part of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Pittsburgh in July and August 2011.

As we know, there is always a Pittsburgh connection to almost any big news event, and "The Dark Knight Rises" is no exception. Director Christopher Nolan filmed key scenes at Heinz Field, where such faces as Hines Ward, Ben Roethlisberger and Bill Cowher loom large and 11,000 others are scattered throughout the stadium.

Nancy Mosser Casting also found thousands of paid extras for the production, and local performers such as Patrick Jordan, Daina Michelle Griffith and Joshua Elijah Reese scored roles. Shady Side Academy student C.J. Coyne, 12, sweetly and beautifully sings the national anthem before a Gotham Rogues-Rapid City Monuments game at Heinz Field.

A look at (just some of) the six degrees of separation:

Christian Bale -- He, or his directors, just can't get enough of the place. Eight months after battling Bane outside Oakland's Mellon Institute, he quietly returned to Pittsburgh for "Out of the Furnace." Mr. Bale and Casey Affleck play brothers in the movie written and directed by Scott Cooper, whose "Crazy Heart" earned an Oscar for Jeff Bridges.

"Christian is the best actor of my generation," Mr. Cooper told the Post-Gazette. "He has so much range, he's extraordinarily bright, he has a great, great physical presence. He's blessed with leading man looks, but he's really a character actor at heart."

Mr. Bale's character lands in prison, and his younger brother is lured into a ruthless crime ring. Once no longer behind bars, the older sibling must choose between his freedom and justice for his brother in the film that shot in Braddock, North Braddock, Rankin and elsewhere in Western Pennsylvania for 30-plus days.

Anne Hathaway -- Fresh from her Oscar-nominated turn in "Rachel Getting Married," the actress settled into Pittsburgh in fall 2009 to play an artist with early-onset Parkinson's disease in "Love & Other Drugs."

It reunited her with "Brokeback Mountain" co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, a salesman in the cutthroat world of pharmaceuticals. Both appeared in "Brokeback" with Heath Ledger, who earned a posthumous Academy Award as the Joker in "The Dark Knight."

During an interview for "Get Smart," in which she played Agent 99, she mentioned that her father, Gerard, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Law School. In "The Dark Knight Rises," she plays Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

Tom Hardy -- Before wanting to see Gotham in ashes as the muscle-bound Bane, he starred in "Warrior" as Tommy, one of two estranged sons of a retired Pittsburgh steelworker (Nick Nolte). Joel Edgerton portrayed the other.

To prepare for a mixed martial arts competition, Tommy moves back into his childhood bedroom, with its Terrible Towel tacked to the wall. "Warrior" took him to Marshall-Shadeland, Don's Diner on the North Side, the Gage Building in the Strip District and Petersen Events Center, doubling for an Atlantic City venue, among other places.

He was beefy for "Warrior" but is a brawny behemoth in "The Dark Knight Rises."

Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- As a warm-up for the July 10, 1994, world premiere of "Angels in the Outfield" at Three Rivers Stadium, he and actor Taylor Negron came to town to promote the movie, chat with reporters and DJs, and pitch balls to Pittsburghers at a makeshift baseball diamond erected in PPG Plaza.

The story had been updated, but "Angels," filmed in California, remained true to the 1951 original shot at Forbes Field. "Every Disney movie has a moral. This moral is believing in yourself," the 13-year-old said between bites of pancakes and sips of juice at a Downtown hotel restaurant.

At the time, he and eight relatives shared season tickets to Dodgers games. Asked if he attended many, given his schedule, he nodded. "It's not like I lead a movie star's life. Thank God I don't."

He was enrolled in a magnet school in LA and said he didn't enjoy being recognized although he loved acting. "I'd prefer to go, be creative, do a movie and then have people like it. I think Hollywood glamorizes actors so much, it's way out of proportion. It's just another job."

But one he mastered early and gave him an international following.

Liam Neeson -- The actor who played Ra's Al Ghul (translation "The Demon's Head") in the first film flew to Pittsburgh in 2009 to shoot scenes for "The Next Three Days." His character, a jailbreak expert who wrote a book about his exploits, advises Russell Crowe on springing his wife from behind bars.

Daniel Sunjata -- He is a law enforcement officer who appears in the wake of a string of crises in Gotham. He quickened hearts as Ranger opposite Katherine Heigl in "One for the Money," filmed in Pittsburgh in summer 2010. Pittsburgh doubled for New Jersey in the adaptation of Janet Evanovich's novel.

Thomas Tull -- He may turn up in cameo at Heinz Field thanks to his triple-threat status. Mr. Tull is chairman and CEO of Legendary Pictures, which teamed with Warner Bros. on the Batman movies and "300," serves as an executive producer on "The Dark Knight Rises" and is a partner in the Steelers ownership group.

In May 2011, the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette reported: According to Steelers president Art Rooney II and other sources, Mr. Tull used his influence as executive producer on a string of hit movies to encourage Warner Bros. to shoot a large part of "Dark Knight Rises" in Pittsburgh.

Turned out to be a win-win.

Katie Holmes -- What a difference seven years makes. In 2005, while promoting her portrayal of Bruce Wayne's lifelong friend and an assistant district attorney in "Batman Begins," she fielded breathless questions about her new beau, Tom Cruise.

In the intervening years, she married Mr. Cruise, gave birth to their daughter, accompanied him to Pittsburgh for his star turn in "Jack Reacher" (previously "One Shot") and, now, is divorcing him.

Years earlier, she came to town to star alongside Michael Douglas in "Wonder Boys."

Maggie Gyllenhaal -- Jake Gyllenhaal's sister replaced Ms. Holmes as Rachel Dawes in the 2008 sequel, "The Dark Knight." In 2011, she filmed "Won't Back Down" with Viola Davis in Pittsburgh. It is scheduled for a Sept. 28 release.

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Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published July 13, 2012 4:00 AM


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