Celebrity Interview: Director Jay Roach Talks on the Making of TRUMBO, Bryan Cranston, Casting and John Goodman

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TRUMBO, the true story from Director Jay Roach and Bleecker Street Films, has continued to garner praise for its lead Bryan Cranston as the cantankerous blacklisted screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, one of the infamous Hollywood Ten.

With Awards Season heating up TRUMBO has already scored with the film earning a three Screen Actors Guild Nominations, Outstanding Performance by a Cast, and individual nominations for Helen Mirren and Bryan Cranston and two Golden Globe Nominations also for Mirren and Cranston.

Cranston's portrays the Academy Award winning writer who outwitted the government in his effort to take back his own life and career and subsequently saved the careers of those closest to him both personally and professionally. Mirren, the silent screen queen Hedda Hopper squeezed out when talkies arrived reinvented and elevated herself to one of the most powerful women in the Hollywood circuit who, misguided, used that power for destruction and the collision of the two.

Jay Roach, the director behind the performances took time during the media day to talk more about the film, Dalton Trumbo, and insidious fear that gripped Hollywood.

Held at the Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills, the TRUMBO Media day brought the cast, director and writer to the table to talk on the film that had just opened and was gathering steam and accolades for all as it traveled into awards season.

Having the fortunate opportunity to screen TRUMBO multiple times it was difficult to understand how others, anyone for that matter, could not see its brilliance. Heading into the interviews the energy of this amazing story and well told account carried the day.

Jay Roach is forthcoming, talented, personable, intellectual and interesting.  A seasoned director with many pop culture films under his belt including the highly recognizable "Meet The Parents" and "Meet The Fockers" as well as the "Austin Powers" Series, Jay Roach is still unassuming and without the instant celebrity recognition especially with the level of his past success, it seems odd this small independent film, TRUMBO, would be the story that changes all that.

Janet Walker: Congratulations on the film.

Jay Roach: Thank you. Thank you so much.

JW:  Let me just ask you after the agent got you the script and you read it, what was your motivation? What made you decide to do it? I know it was a long time coming.

JR: I loved the script. It was actually Michael London. I think my agents probably wish I didn't get it. You know, I've made a lot of studio films that are much bigger budgets and scale of production so when you say to your agent, "I really love this screenplay about a left wing, opinionated, rich, trouble maker from 1947 and he's a writer" you know all the buzz words that tell agents or any studio people I'm not sure that's a great career move.

So for me I just  couldn't stop thinking about the guy, the guy is writing the movies he made, SPARTACUS, ROMAN HOLIDAY, which I didn't really know enough about, I had seen it but hadn't thought about it and I re-watched it and was moved, amazed, and laughed. It's so funny, too. I watched PAPILLON, which he made later, I watched THE BRAVE ONE, I watched this really little movie he made later OUR VINES HAVE TENDER GRAPES, with Edward G. Robinson.

He made patriotic film like 30 SECONDS OVER TOKYO, he made such a wide variety of films, and but they were very soulful and heartfelt sometimes to a degree were you could accuse him of being preachy, which I always find to be, interesting a kind of occupational hazard of someone who cares about how things work and who we are to each other and the quality of life.

The minute you start talking about that some people resent it, it's like you're too heavy handed, you were your opinions of your sleeves or, and I what I loved about Trumbo is that he wasn't afraid to do that, he wasn't afraid to dive right in and risk being a  little preachy. That's why he gets busted for in our movie when Louis C.K. [who plays friend and Hollywood Ten Blacklisted writer Arlen Hird] says '"Do you have to say everything like it is going to be chiseled into a rock?"'

Because that's what he did. He believed in those things, he performed them, he would work the language and turn them into talking points in a way and I don't know I have that risk in my own head, or my own way of telling stories, that I can get to caught up in it and I lose track.

I thought "'I care about this man, I'm going to tell the story the way he would tell it."' With humor, because he would, he's so funny; with a drive to make some kind of statement but most importantly to just raise questions on how should people that don't get along in civilizations work stuff out and figure out how to be better and then on the flip side, how do people use fear to get people to turn on each other?

McCarthyism, The Hollywood Ten and The House of Un-American Activities

JW: Yes. It is so multi-faceted and there is so much of that era that is a concern still and I wonder and believe that Hollywood seems to be embracing that Blacklist season more and more a stories are coming out about it . . .

JR: I haven't seen many about this part, I've seen about the McCarthy Era but there's only been two films about the Hollywood Blacklist one was THE FRONT and the other that DeNiro film, GUILTY BY SUSPICION, but that was made many, many years ago and I think  . .. It's interesting to me when I actually came across this story, I said to myself 'I can't believe this hasn't been told," he's such a great character. And the second thing I thought was "'this is a movie about then but it is a movie about today.'"

It is really about today. The fear of totalitarian communism was strong enough to get people to turn on each other even people who weren't in any way a threat, in the same way, the fear of terrorism gets people to turn on each other and attack people's character. When they are also not part of terrorism. When you can use fear to trash people and blacklist people, they don't call it blacklisting anymore, but people do get brought up in front of a congressional panel and accused of things, because of fear of terrorism. It is a real threat, and a fear that is valid but should we be manipulated other things that have nothing to do with the actual.

JW: So do you think the McCarthy Era . .  .you separated the two events and  . . .

JR: Well they were separate in a way. Geographically, McCarthy was going after people in government and academics, in the army. He wasn't himself going after the people in Hollywood that was left up to the House of Un-American Activities Branch under J. Parnell Thomas that came out here and Robert Stripling, the investigator, those people were invited by the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation Ideals that formed and met right down here in the American Legion in Hollywood by Hedda Hopper, Sam Wood and Walt Disney.

There was a whole bunch of people who decided we need to clean up our business and industry or it is going to get corrupted sort of the way you hear people talking the lame-stream media has infiltrated in some way by a bias. They thought there was an infiltration in some way by of these rabble-rousing, really union guys, they were Writer's Guild people, and they figured out a way to convince people that they deserved to have their careers ended. Imagine that. [he emphasis.]

JW: I know. I can't.

JR: That happened so little time ago but it can happen and it could happen if things went a certain way and people didn't question that kind of witch hunting. So I do think it is a film about today as much as it about then.

JW: it's amazing. I want to preface this question with I'm sure you didn't make TRUMBO with the possibility of awards and there is a lot of Oscar buzz. What do you think Dalton Trumbo would say and what are your thoughts?

JR: About our film? It's so interesting. I was watching our film last night at its premiere at the Academy and flanking the stage are two Oscars statues. In our film in the middle of the table there is an OSCAR that was handed to someone who wasn't Trumbo for a script Trumbo wrote.

So its sitting on a table and he can't claim it because he is a blacklisted screenwriter I think and he says it in the film itself awards became almost meaningless for him at the time because the entire Hollywood system embraced the idea, at this moment, for example, no screenwriter that had been blacklisted, officially blacklisted could even be nominated for an Academy Award.

So I think he would be skeptical about the awards process. And there are so many great films, I didn't make this at all for that reason, I made it because I hoped it would connect with audiences and hearing how it does connect is what I look forward to it. And it remains to be seen. We've played it for journalists and industry crowds we've played it in previews and it seemed to connect with the people but we haven't, it remains to be seen how it will connect with the public and that's why.

Interpretation verses Impersonation

JW: John McNarama said he when the screenplay got to the place where it was being made or approached there are things in it that didn't happened and he wanted people to know it wasn't a biography or it wasn't journalism it was a novel . . .

JR: It's an interpretation. It's not history it is a story about history. We tried to capture and authentic, connect characters to the authentic experience of every character but we didn't shy away from using composite characters from dramatizing events so that the essence of the dynamics involved were very faithfully recorded. People were portrayed, I feel, like as they were.

Kirk Douglas' amazing bravery in putting Trumbo's name on SPARTACUS, we tried to get that right. I met with Kirk Douglas before and he has seen it since then and said he very much likes the film and the only mistake "'you made was that you didn't offer me the part."'

And we hung out with the Trumbo daughters and did a ton of research and I've read so many books and articles on Trumbo and listened to every interview. I would say I've listed to thousands of hours getting to know Trumbo better. I miss him now because he was so inspirational to me. He really became a muse in a way. We've gone for authenticity and that's what I hope is what you feel. I feel the authentic Trumbo is there. That is why there is the range of the very serious driven, almost preachy spirit and the prankster, sarcastic smart ass guy, too. That's why we have Louis C.K. both being his funny man and busting him for hypocrisies and inconsistencies. I just tried to be faithful to Trumbo that was my main goal.

Challenges of Casting Iconic Characters

JW: And you did a great job with that. Did you face any challenges historically because there is a great responsibility building these characters? Building not only Trumbo but the surrounding characters, John Wayne, Edward G. Robinson . .  

JR: It was terrifying to me. To imagine the situation where such iconic actors that America loved to portray them with fidelity but also not to overly match. Don't impersonate, not to impersonate them was really important to me.

To ask the actors to evoke them and to have the audience get that we were committed to getting the essence of them but then to channel them through your own body, your own performance and do what great actors do, which is interpret.

I love talking about the difference between for example Tina Fey's amazing, impersonation of Sarah Palin verses Julianne Moore's interpretation of Sarah Palin. I even have them in the same shot of Julianne Moore watching Tine Fey's portrayal from that era to make that point. They're both incredible at what they're doing but there is a difference.

And that's what I tried to go for and my casting director, hats off to David Rubin, who found every one of those people for me. The Kirk Douglas guy he's from Australia. I looked at everyone in America. And I auditioned him from videotapes and I just kept trying different scenes how much Kirk should this guy be? And we just kept playing with it and giving performances until I said that's it, you're it man!

JW: The nuances can make or break even the audience's support, you never know and how long did your casting process take?

JR: Probably four months. The process of making lists of people for probably couple of years. Just thinking about them. But actually meeting with people and auditioning people probably three or four months. That's typical.

Cranston, Mirren and Goodman

JW: Who were your choices, I know Bryan Cranston, I mean I don't know . . Did you read multiple Trumbo's?

JR: No, no, no we didn't read any Trumbo's once we came up with Bryan. We definitely had talked about a lot of people and we had a big list to be honest. And there was pressure to cast bigger stars, there always is.

Bryan is an amazing actor and Breaking Bad had already, of course, been widely acclaimed and he hadn't really hit the level that he got to by the end of that run and once we thought of him it was impossible to separate. He is Trumbo-esque.

He is as passionate and as opinionated, funny,  warm and cantankerous and all the adjectives you could throw at Trumbo you could throw right at Bryan Cranston and once we thought of him it was like [snaps fingers]. And then I met with him, I had met with him a few times before on a couple of things. And then he came in and helped us get Helen Mirren.  The rest kind of cascaded in a lovely avalanche of talent. It was really a fantastic experience.

JW: Well I usually end with "'Do you have a memorable moment through the whole process?"' so I'm going to stick with that even as I have a dozen other questions.

JW: There are so many memorable ones. I remember shooting the scene where John Goodman confronts John Brewer who is the head of the IAA and realizing that I deliberately put John in a tiny office because he is a big man and I knew he was going to kind of go berserk so we put him in this tiny office and I remember that I didn't know it was going to be funny, I honestly didn't.

I thought it was going to be violent, and I just underestimated John Goodman's ability to find the ironies in that dialogue when he's talking about '"you can do whatever you want to me I'm not a part of your system. I'll cast winos and hookers, I'm not going to hire union guys I'm not part of your system"' that he had that range.

I just thought that was going to be a serious moment and it is deadly serious and that could work at a comedic level I was, when we wrapped that day, I was like, "Wow, that's going to be a scene."' That turns out to be the scene that gets the most audience reaction.

JW: It's a great film, a really great film. Thank you for your time.

JR: Thank you for your interest.

TRUMBO is in wide release. Check your local listings.

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