Puerto Rican-born Joaquin Phoenix met with Night Shyamalan in a New
York restaurant about the role of Graham's younger brother
Merrill. "I asked him what the film was called and he said Signs. And
he described it at first how it is the appearance of crop circles on
the family farm. And then as I read the script, the metaphor became
clear to me. That's kind of Night's expertise in a way. He brings you
these authentic characters and yet they have these amazing epiphanies
about themselves and the world but it's something with which everyone
can identify."

Merrill Hess, who lives with his brother and niece and nephew, is
also harbouring his own melancholy, much of which seems to stem from
his failed career as an athlete. Joaquin Phoenix explains: "Merrill
holds the minor league home run record, and on the other hand he
holds the strike-out record. And that conflict in a sense weighs
heavily on him.

It wasn't hard for him to jump on board when he was offered the
script. "It was just one of those movies where there's so many
things. You know, Night's films, I love. I'd seen Sixth Sense, it was
very cool and I liked it very much. [He's] the kind of director where
you see his work and you go, 'If he ever wants me for anything, I'll
probably just do it.'" He laughs. "I don't know what it is, but on
top of that kind of confidence in him as a director, I get this
screenplay which is just perfect, and I don't think that I've ever
read a script that's so well paced. The characters are defined, it's
very clear. His intentions, the laughs, the scares are in the right
place. Those were two biggies. Mel Gibson, that's another huge one.
That's all I really need, three! I just need three things to sign on.
That's it!"

Two of the most important roles in the movie are from the two child
actors, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin, and the cast and director
have plenty of praise for them.

"Kids are always great to work with," says Mel Gibson, "because they
are pure and they come to it clean. And Joaquin is just a terrific
young actor. Doing scenes with him, he feeds you a lot. He gives so
much. You can only give it back."

Phoenix adds, "The kids are the greatest kids in the world. We had
lots of fun and Abigail and I had endless bouts of thumb war, which
she won all of the time. I tell myself she's double jointed and she
has an advantage. Rory entertained everyone with his James Brown
impersonation. They were so easy to get along with and unbelievably
professional, and I was totally jealous of their abilities as actors
and tried desperately to get them fired," he laughs. "Actually, I
wanted to work with kids and I'd like to play a father like most lame
actors like me do. It was kind of as close as I was going to get and
it was a good opportunity to work with them. There was definitely a
sense of family on set."

Phoenix continues: "There is a great sense of camaraderie, for a
number of reasons. Night has a wonderful energy about him. And that
rubs off on everybody." But especially, says Phoenix, "Mel is just an
inspiration. He just has such drive and passion for his work. Films
can be difficult to make. There are times when you are on the same
set for a week, doing what will ultimately be a minute of screen
time. It's hard to keep that energy alive. But Mel comes on set and
he is a force. He has a wonderful sense of humour and I think people
are really going to be impressed with his work in the film and the