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Actor Paul Walker is shifting gears in New Orleans, where he is playing a father struggling to keep his newborn daughter alive in a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Makers of the suspense drama, "Hours," say this is one of the most challenging film projects yet for "The Fast and the Furious" star.

Walker plays the lead character Nolan, a grief-stricken man struggling with his wife's death while trying to keep his prematurely born daughter alive in an incubator through power outages and rising floodwater and chaos when the two are abandoned in a New Orleans hospital after Katrina strikes.

"Paul is literally in every scene," said the film's producer, Peter Safran, whose other films include the blockbuster parody "Scary Movie." "I love how this project challenges him."

Production got under way this week.

Shooting on Wednesday involved a scene in which Walker was trying to flag down a helicopter from the roof of a parking garage that will appear in the movie to be the roof of the hospital in which Walker's character and his daughter are trapped.

Filmmakers point out that the movie isn't just a Katrina story.

"It's about parenthood," said screenwriter Eric Heisserer ("Final Destination 5" and "The Thing"), who is making his directing debut with "Hours." "As I was writing this screenplay, I could see every scene. There comes a point where you fall in love with a project so much you just can't let go of it."

Walker, who has a 13-year-old daughter, said the premise of a father fighting to keep his child alive is what drew him in.

"This father is doing everything he can to just keep things going, keep electricity going, to keep this little baby going," Walker said. "My little girl means the whole world to me. I really want to believe that if I was placed in the same situation that I would rise above, that I would be able to see it through the end and do what it would take to make sure my baby came out on top."

"Hours," which also stars Genesis Rodriguez ("Man on a Ledge" and "Casa de mi Padre"), will be filming in New Orleans through next month.

It's one of a cluster of productions filming in south Louisiana. Others include "The Tomb" starring Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and "Django Unchained," the Quentin Tarantino-directed film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Samuel L. Jackson and Jamie Foxx.

Besides "The Fast and the Furious" movie series about Los Angeles street racers, Walker's other film projects include "Fast Five," "Varsity Blues," "Flags of Our Fathers" and "Into the Blue."

"Hours" is expected to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival in January and will be released early next year, Safran said.

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