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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26

Rather And Robert

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Thursday November 26, 07:18 pm
James Vanderbilt directed Bob Redford and you haven’t

In 2005, Dan Rather’s illustrious career as the anchor of CBS Evening News came to an ignominious end as a consequence of a report that purported to reveal a massive cover-up on the subject of George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era military service.

The story was produced by Rather’s long time collaborator Mary Mapes, and contained allegations that during the time Bush spent in the Texas and Alabama Air National Guard he received preferential treatment and failed to meet minimal standards in training and performance. The authenticity of the documents that backed this claim were called into question, and although never fully discredited, the report wasn’t strong enough to resist all the scrutiny that ensued.

This has been a good year for journalistic movies. The current Academy Award front-runner is Spotlight, the story of the team that unveiled the plot to conceal sexual abuse by Catholic priests in Boston. But if Spotlight represents a triumph for the fourth estate, Truth sees a trusted news source buckle under external pressure.

Regardless of your feelings about Truth, it’s clear the subject is not an easy one to tackle, particularly for a first-time filmmaker. That didn’t stop director James Vanderbilt from trying. A veteran scriptwriter (Zodiac, The Amazing Spider-Man, White House Down), Vanderbilt rounded up a top-line cast featuring Robert Redford (as Rather), Cate Blanchett (as Mapes), Dennis Quaid and Elisabeth Moss.

I interviewed Vanderbilt during the Toronto Film Festival in September. I was wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt I’d grabbed blindly from a pile of clean clothes. I had to explain to Vanderbilt I wasn’t pandering. His response: “Hey, I love Spidey too. And that’s a cool shirt.”

Going in, I was worried I wouldn’t be able to buy Robert Redford as Dan Rather. I imagine this was a concern for you as well.

We always knew that was going to be the “big buy” of the movie. My thinking was that Redford casts the same shadow, has an iconic voice and look. It felt a more natural fit: cast an icon to play an icon. We grayed his hair, didn’t do prosthetics to avoid distraction, and changed his voice a little, since Dan is from Texas and Bob is from California. I feel it worked because Redford didn’t try to impersonate Rather, but played the character.

You’ve been around sets for a long time but this is your first movie with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford. How do you prepare for that?

As much as you possibly can. In a way it’s like cheating, because they’re so good. I knew that casting was 90 per cent of the job. I’m lucky [to have] worked with a bunch of directors I respect. I took a few for lunch and picked their brains. I also did a bunch of research and spent time with the real people, so if nothing else I had that knowledge to fall back on. Being a first-time director is weird because you are the least experienced person on set and yet you’re in charge. It’s like sitting in 32A and having someone tell you “we would love you to land the plane.”

Redford himself is a director.

The first time he directed a movie (People Like Us), he won an Academy Award! It would be crazy not to take advantage of his film brain.

In Truth, you put a lot of information on screen without diluting it or dumbing it down. There has to have been a producer who got nervous.

Usually when films go wrong it’s because different people are trying to make different films. I had a conversation early on in which I established I wanted to treat Truth like a submarine movie. When the captain walks onto the bridge and spouts a bunch of jargon, the audience sort of catches half of it, but trusts the person on screen to know, so they go along with it. That’s how I wanted the characters on Truth to talk like. I also tried to make the exposition interesting so you didn’t feel like facts were thrown at your face.

It’s kind of ballsy to stage your climax in a deposition.

That was our verbal gunfight.

Was there anything about the case you weren’t privy to when researching the movie?

The emotional stuff was revelatory to me. The relationship between Mary Mapes and Dan Rather was very close, as was Mary’s with the other reporters involved. They were like a makeshift family. I only learned this by being in the room with them and watching them interact. I decided that’s where the movie was going to live. You’ll be able to take a ton of exposition because you care about the people going through this.

Being a writer/director, how attached are you to your own words?

Not that much. Asking an actor to be word perfect can rob [the dialogue] of its immediacy. Their job is to say something as if they just thought of it, which is crazy tough. I worked hard on the script, but once I got to set, I did whatever it took to make the scene feel real.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about Spider-Man’s turnaround. The story you conceived as The Amazing Spider-Man is truncated as we stand.

As a fan, I want to see him at Marvel. I want to see Spider-Man and Iron Man interact. I wrote the first draft of the second film, Alex (Kurtzman) and Bob (Orci) came in and did their own thing, a totally different story than the one I was going to tell. I’m sad for Mark (Webb, the director) that he won’t be able to finish that out. But I haven’t been involved with that incarnation for a few years. I’m really excited though for the Marvel Universe and I’ll be there cheering them on.

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