In Rod Lurie’s Nothing but the Truth, a female reporter who writes an article exposing a female CIA agent is thrown in jail for refusing to name her source. This might sound like a fictionalization of old news. It isn’t. At least, not according to Lurie.
“First of all, Miller didn’t write the article,” Rod Lurie says, leaning forward with the energy of a filmmaker ready to snap back into work. “I put a different human being in Judith Miller’s shoes, and a different human being in Valerie Plame’s shoes, and tried to find out what would happen.”
Jenny Halper: Judith Miller notwithstanding, what was the impetus for Nothing but the Truth?
RL: When I was running Commander in Chief I wanted to do a show about a journalist who gets thrown into jail for protecting a source. And the twist was going to be that Geena Davis’ character, the President, was going to say “get her out of jail, because in my country, journalists are not going to jail for what they print.” When Steven Bochco came in to replace me, he threw out every single idea I had . Everything goes, as did the show. So I had this idea and it really intrigued me because I think there can be great nobility in journalism. And that’s when Judith went to jail. So I said…what if? Let’s say Miller had a kid who went to school with the child of a person she outed. Where can it go from there? The first thing I wrote was the ending. I said, “what could really trap you?”
JH: Did you think about what you would have done in her situation?
RL: Almost every journalist who has gone to jail for protecting their source has eventually cracked. Those people are not equipped to survive in jail. And they don’t make it easy for the journalist, cause they’re trying to coerce them. I was an investigative journalist, and I’ll tell you this, I would go to jail to protect a source. Whether or not I would have the strength to survive it, I don’t know. Nobody can answer that till they’re there. But I definitely would let them put the handcuffs on me.
JH: Kate Beckinsale’s character originally exposes the CIA agent to advance her career. Does she protect her source to serve as a role model for her child?
RL: I remember having this talk with my wife. I said, “I think that a good rule of thumb for life is, act as if your child is in the room watching you and you’ll be a better person.” Because we always want to be good people for our children. I think she’s making decisions based on what would her child think, eventually. She’s going along the path of journalistic ambition, but she believes in protecting her sources. What the child in Nothing but the Truth will eventually learn is why his mother was in jail. He will respect her, and be a better person for it.
JH: Kate has said the hardest aspect of the character for her to reconcile was putting her career first.
RL: If she had not said that to me I wouldn’t want her in the film. Kate’s (character) says something to the effect of: “If a man leaves his family to fight a war, they build a monument to him. If he goes to jail to protect his family they name highways after him. When a woman does that, she’s a monster.” It’s a double standard. One of my least favorite people in the past ten years is Sarah Palin. But when she came on the scene, one of the immediate hits on her was, “how could a woman, raising children, assume the job of the Vice Presidency?” Obama’s got two little girls, nobody asks if he’s still going to be able to be a father. So here’s a woman faced with a gigantic principal, and she has to speak up. Most people think she’s crazy. And my response to those people is that most people who are now known to be great were once thought to be crazy. They were cleaved from their families in order to protect principles they stood for.
JH: Do you see principles as the major theme in your work?
RL: Principles are a strong issue with me. I think what defines great people are those that stand by their principles. I made a movie called The Contender, and (in it), Laine Hanson, Joan Allen’s character, says “Principles only matter if you stand by them when they’re inconvenient.”
JH: The Contender and Commander in Chief and this film – I can’t think of another screenwriter currently writing such great parts for women.
RL: The reason I wrote The Contender was I met Joan Allen – I’d given her an award for Best Actress – and I said,” I’m gonna write a screenplay for you.” She encouraged me to do it. I went home that night, and I didn’t know what to write. I went to kiss Paige, my little girl, goodnight. She was seven at the time, and George Bush had just announced he was running for President. Paige said to me,” you know, why don’t women ever run for President?” and I said, “I don’t know.” She said, “why doesn’t Mom run for President?” and I said “because Mom is too young.” She said, “why doesn’t Grandma run?” and I said, ”Grandma’s selling real estate.” She said, “I’ll do it then one day.” And I knew what I had to write, and I knew I was going to devote much of my future life to trying to do the projects that would say, “Paige should be able to run for President one day.” That’s one of the reasons I’ve been so devoted to writing female characters. This movie never would have been made by a studio.
JH: That’s too bad. Kate’s incredible in this, and so is Vera Farmiga.
RL: Vera is the actor that every director wants in their movie, but very few directors can get because the financier says she can’t bring any money into the box office. And part of that is the films Vera has chosen to make – smaller films, independent films, women who are imperfect to the degree that they are almost broken. She doesn’t do feel good movies, she doesn’t play feel good characters. The only people who want to see a Vera Farmiga movie are people in that independent film frame of mind.
JH: If film critics stop working, are independent movies going to lose their audience?
RL: That’s one of the reasons why film critics are going away. The independent film market is drying up a little bit. What does it take really to review Iron Man or Batman or films that regardless of critics are going to bring people in? When I was a kid (film critics) were my heroes. I became pen pals with Judith Crist, Pauline Kael, Roger Ebert, and Rex Reed. I wrote to everybody. I became a film critic in my high school paper and my college paper and went into the army and then came back and became a critic. When I was a kid I thought critics were so cool that when I became a critic I would get girls like crazy. (Laughs). Didn’t turn out that way.
JH: Was making films your eventual goal?
RL: I had always wanted to become a filmmaker, to be honest with you. What I learned very soon was that they take it very personally here – actors, directors, studios . I remember when I was doing The Contender, there was an actor I wanted to play Joan’s husband. And I met with the actor. The whole reason he was meeting with me was to tell me to fuck off. He quoted back to me a really vicious review I had written about him. Sayonara.
JH: How did you succeed in not making this movie a soapbox, especially in writing the role of Alan Alda’s character, Rachel’s lawyer?
RL: What I tried to do was make a good case for both sides. There was a scene I cut out of the film because it was a technical fiasco. It’s my favorite exchange, and it breaks my heart it’s not in the movie. Matt Dillon (the prosecutor) says, “You know, we’re both after the same thing. She wants to expose a criminal, and I want to prosecute one.” And Alan says, “Yeah, you’re right, we’re very much the same. The only thing is, one of us can put the other in jail.” The point was to show that they’re both good people. They’re both driven by a righteous cause, but one has more power than the other. That’s what makes it inequitable.
JH: What’s next?
RL: I’ve written a pilot for Showtime, and when you hear what it’s about, it will immediately strike you as being anti-feminist. I’m going to take it and twist it in a completely different way. A woman is an undercover Vice Cop during the week. On the weekends she’s a legal prostitute in Nevada. We’re going to show the hazards of prostitution, we’re going to show why it is morally bankrupt, we’re going show how even when it’s legal a criminal element can come in. However, it’s about women having the right to make choices. It’s not a choice I would want for any woman I know, but if an adult woman makes that decision, that should be her choice. The challenge is to make a feminist statement on a show about a woman who is a prostitute. And by the way, she doesn’t enjoy her job. My next film is called Straw Dogs, which was a Sam Peckinpah film famous for a rape scene in which a woman appeared to enjoy being raped. Box office poison. I’m going to try to keep to the spirit of the original without being misogynistic.
JH: Have you figured out how?
RL: I think I have.