Some of the key cast members in director ROBERT REDFORD’S new historical drama THE CONSPIRATOR admit that they had no idea about the film’s subject before shooting began.

The independent feature, which is debuting at THE TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, stars ROBIN WRIGHT as MARY SURRATT, the woman executed as an accessory in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

JAMES McAVOY costars as her lawyer FREDERICK AIKEN.

At a news conference before the film’s first screening at the festival on today, ROBIN said her previous knowledge of MARY SURRATT was “zero.”

JUSTIN LONG, who plays an injured Civil War veteran, joked: “I still have no idea who she is.”

And KEVIN KLINE, who portrays Lincoln’s Secretary of War, quipped: “I thought it was George Seurat’s wife the pointillist. But that’s beside the point.”

ROBERT REDFORD said that general lack of awareness is one of the reasons why he wanted to direct the screenplay by James Solomon.

“(It’s) a story that very few, if any, know…A story sits inside of a story that everybody knows, which is the Lincoln assassination,” said the OSCAR winner and founder of THE SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL, who entered the news conference in a tweed pageboy hat.

Mr. Redford added that while the story may have parallels with today “that was not the story that we were going to be telling. We were going to be telling a more human personal story that sits inside of that.”

James Solomon thought of the idea for the screenplay as far back as 1994 after he came across a transcript of a real life Lincoln era court proceeding called THE CONSPIRATOR’S TRIAL.

Mr. Redford said he had to work with “a very low budget” and a “very tight schedule,” and sought out a cast he knew would deliver what he needed on time.

ROBIN WRIGHT, who costarred with him in THE LAST CASTLE and JAMES McAVOY were his “first choices,” he commented.

“When he called and he said: ‘I’m not going to give you a history lesson, so do you want to do it?’ I went: ‘Uh, yeah, because I failed history in high school.’ So I said: ‘Of course I’ll sign on,'” recalled ROBIN.

“He didn’t tell me much about it, to tell you the truth. We talked more about this relationship…and not so much about the factual story that he was going to tell.”

JAMES said with an enormous grin that working with ROBERT REDFORD was “hugely, hugely exciting.”

And JUSTIN, best known as the friendly Apple commercial guy, admitted he was a bit intimidated when trying to get down the vernacular of the times.

“When Bobby Reds over here would want a certain amount of improvising…there were times when I found myself saying, just simple things that you take for granted, like ‘Yeah,’ or a certain sarcastic tonality that you employ with a modern character.”

The film arrived in Toronto without a distributor.

The festival runs through SEPTEMBER 19.

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