Great mini-interview with Jessica Chastain on her role in the film. Article includes these two gems:
She also said that Malick was taking a casual approach to the script. If there were seven pages of dialogue, and she didn't recall all of them, Malick would tell her to "just say what you remember."==
Fidelity to Malick's script, or the absence thereof, was a theme on the set of the 2008 shoot. As Malick was casting the children in the movie, Chastain pointed out that a particular actor wouldn't work because the script called for a 5-year-old and the kid in question was too old. Malick's casual response: "Oh, Jessica, no one reads the script."
Juicy bits from the Pop Matters article.
Malicki’s eccentric directing style is well known by those who have shot with him. Will Wallace, actor for The Thin Red Line, The New World and The Tree of Life described one occasion: “Terry has a very unique style of directing. It was Martin Sheen who first told me (before I was leaving for Australia to shoot TTRL) to just trust in Terry and his direction even though you may wonder what he is trying to get out of you. Martin says that to this day, he is most proud of his work in Badlands, and he told me that he attributes that to the direction he got from Terry. You may ask for an example of such: A line might be as simple as “Where is everyone in Charlie Company?”... Terry may ask that you say it again as if you are staring at a strange canoe. Upon trying to visualize a strange canoe, the actor says the line again. Terry then says, “no… that wasn’t it… say it again, but this time say it as if you are staring at a strange totem pole.” Upon commencing the lines, your eyes might tend to veer upwards in applying this direction, in which case Terry might shout “BUT DON"T LOOK UP!” This actually happened to Adrian Brody.”
Other sparse details compared Tree to the epic scope of Kubrick’s iconic 2001: A Space Odyssey. Malick careful to never include details about his characters or the plot, would discuss his ideas for the film with his team in cryptic metaphors. He suggested that he wanted a scene to suggest “the death of hope that we hold onto forever.” That particular scene, whatever it may be, was conducted without much CGI. It is Malick’s wish not to rely exclusively on computer-generated effects, going so far as to recruit2001‘s special effects wizard, Douglas Trumbull. Says Trumbull in Vanity Fair, “Terry is a friend, he said to me, ‘I don’t like CG.’ I said, ‘Why not do it the old way? The way we did it in 2001?’” The result is a retro-version of Trumbull’s best work combined with the unique artistic sensibility of Malick. By relying as much as possible on in-camera effects and super-soaking the film stock, the results were staggering. Says one source, “you do feel as if you’re seeing something not only important, but bold and eternal. I get chills down my spine every time I think about it.”