ORLANDO, Fla. -- You sit in a darkened room and images on a screen in front of you connect you to a story that is not your own, but that becomes yours. And if it's working, you lose yourself in it.
That sounds a bit like hypnosis. When a movie has you, it puts you in a trance.
"The act of cinema is hypnotic in itself, isn't it?" says "Trance" director Dan ny Boyle. "It's got a lovely interface with cinema."
A hypnotist captures the totality of your attention and tells you a story, leading you through a narrative that, as you react to it, reveals something of yourself. That sounds a bit like acting.
"Actors lead people on kind of guided meditations, or trances," says Ro sar io Dawson, star of "Trance." "Therapists lull you into a state where you can go into the depths of your subconscious."
It makes sense to Boyle that a film story that used hypnosis and trance could be a new spin on the classic heist thriller.
"Trance" is about a heist, a head injury that causes amnesia in an art auctioneer (James McAvoy) who can't remember where a stolen painting was stashed, the gangsters (Vincent Cassell leads them) who want that information and the hypnotherapist (Dawson) who may help them uncover it.
Boyle ("Slumdog Million aire," "127 Hours") spent years trying to get "Trance" made, and then delayed finishing it while he staged ceremonies at the 2012 London Olympics. The reasons he persevered? It has a woman (Dawson) at the heart of the story, something that Boyles' "guy movies" have never had. It has "an unreliable narrator (McAvoy's character)." We never know if he's telling us the truth.
"And I love this idea of ‘trance,' this mental condition that's a surface value that, when you use it, it lets you tell a story in a non-linear way. It interferes with the characters' and the audience's perception of reality. We tend to think it's ‘perception VERSUS reality,' when in this film they cross over."
Dawson went under hypnosis to prepare for the role, but Boyle says "I'm too much of a control freak to ever do that." But she did her prep and he did his -- learning about the great works of stolen art, and about hypnosis. Director and star became a couple while making "Trance."
"When you cast her you get a kind of Californian therapy thing," Boyle says. "To me, anyway. Soothing voice, talk us through our problems, she'll find a safe route through them. And of course, that can be deceiving.
"She's a very beautiful girl who understands her allure. She can play the femme fatale, which within the mechanics of the film, is important. She isn't one, because her story is deeper than that, emotionally."
And Dawson reacted right-off to Boyle's "love of actors. He asks a lot of questions. He wants to know our impressions of the character, the scenes."
"Trance" went on much longer than your average film shoot, mainly due to Boyle's side job at the Olympics. By the time he came back to it, finishing it up.
"We had to go back and insert clues to the mystery into it," he says. "My first heist picture, and I realized we'd forgotten to do that."
And by the time all the re-cutting, prepping for premieres and publicity was done with, the finished film opened to decent, but not stellar reviews, with some dismissing "Trance" but others, such as a London Times critic, calling it "a psychedelic ride into the blackest pits of the subconscious." What's more, during that interval, the couple -- Boyle, 57, and Dawson, 33 -- broke up.
For Boyle, it was on to his next project, "a period piece, which WON'T be like ‘Downton Abbey.'" And for Dawson? There's a "Sin City" sequel, among other projects on her plate. Not that "Trance" didn't give her ideas.
"I visited an institute founded by a man who married Florence Henderson -- you know, Mrs. Brady from ‘The Brady Bunch,' " Dawson says. "She became a hypnotherapist. It makes sense that actors would be good at that. And I could totally see myself trying it, too."