Interview – Rod Lurie on Nothing But the Truth

Rod Lurie’s bold new  venture is a reimagining of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 landmark thriller Straw Dogs.  He’s locked James Marsden to star in the film which will be transplanted from rural England to the American  deep south. The film brought a powerful new type of violence to cinema that still makes moviegoers wince today. it’s considered a classic.

Has Lurie bitten off more than he can chew?

Not really.

Lurie’s story is as dramatic as the films he makes.

His father is famed Israeli American political cartoonist Ranan Lurie, who opened Rod’s eyes to the intriguing world in which many of his films are set, international, presidential and sexual politics.  Lurie got a look inside the military complex as a West Point cadet and later as an Army Air Defense Artllery officer. None of which would seem to lead to his next career choice – investigative entertainment reporter and film critic.

After burning a few bridges with his outspoken views on the film industry, Lurie went even further into it. 

He became part of it – a filmmaker.

His debut feaure, Deterrence, concerned a US President trapped in a diner during a snowstorm and came out in 1999.  The following year, he released the critically acclaimed and award-winning political thriller The Contender with Joan Allen as the first female President.

Lurie also wrote and directed The Last Castle with Robert Redford and James Gandolfini, Resurrecting the Champ with Samuel L. Jackson and Josh Hartnett and the hit TV series Commander-in-Chief, which revisited the idea of a female president, and starred Geena Davis.

Lurie’s latest film, Nothing But the Truth, is inspired by real events in Washington. Kate Beckinsale plays a reporter who outs a local soccer mom as a CIA agent and excercises her journalistic right not to name her source. She is thrown into a world of government sanctioned hurt.
The award-winning film’s journey is a story in itself.

AB - Your films are often set in the political world in which an heroic protagonist struggles against outside forces to do the right thing … why does that interest you?

RL - I think your question speaks for itself.  The very concept of heroic protagonists struggling against outside forces to do the right thing…isn’t that sort of a classic dramatic struggle that we often see in great literature or in films?  In fact I would take it one step further and say that “Nothing But the Truth” and several of my other films deal with a person’s struggle against themselves…in other words: fighting for their principles even if it means adversely affecting their own self interest.

AB - Why politics?

RL - First of all, I have an enormous interest in it.  It’s been that way all my life.  My father is a political cartoonist.  According to the Guinness Book of World Records, he is the most successful cartoonist of all time…so how can you not be completely absorbed in that world?  When my friends in school were looking at box scores for the football games I was trying to figure out if Lowell Weicker still had a chance after losing the Pennsylvania Primary.

It’s also a world that is not explored very often.  It’s an opportunity for me as a storyteller to not be in the same arena that so many other films are in.  I don’t know, maybe it’s that I don’t want to compete.

AB - How ‘inside’ have you been able to get in order to achieve realism?

RL - As inside as one can possibly be.  This is particularly true in my films that deal with the White House or journalists. But for the sake of “Nothing But the Truth,” I was the technical advisor to both Angela Bassett and Kate Beckinsale who were playing jounrnalists – having been in that world myself for so long.  But I’ve had technical experts on all my films, in whatever field it would be helpful, be it editors or be it the chief aide to First Lady Hillary Clinton (for “Commander in Chief”), or be it wardens for military prisons (for “The Last Castle”).
AB - Did your personal experience as a former journalist play at all here?

RL - What I really like about having been a journalist is how acutely attentive the actors would be when I was telling them what a journalist would or would not do in a certain situation.  I really had credibility there.  For example, I remember telling Josh Hartnett that whenever he answers the phone to simultaneously pick up a pencil because you never know when you’re going to need to write something down.  I also have personal military experience and one of my great achievements was finally getting Robert Redford to learn how to salute properly.
AB - Were you conscious of what Valerie Plame might think? (Plame was outed by NY Times reporter Judith Miller).

RL - I don’t give a damn what Valerie Plame thinks.  I don’t care because the movie is not about her at all.  I do care what Judith Miller thinks in the sense that I want her to support the themes of the film and the notion that we should be doing what is necessary to get a federal shield law on the books – something she has been working on herself pretty religiously.

I should say that the film is about neither of these women although certainly their stories as reported in the press went in to the creation of their characters and the situation they find themselves in.  But quite honestly, I know almost nothing about Valerie Plame.  I have not read her book and I have read very few reports on her as a person or as a CIA Agent.  However I did know a little more about Judith only because she is very much a public figure, and a controversial one at that.
AB- Not only did you write a great script but your direction is strong – precise and accessible.

RL - I don’t know about that, but you’re the pro, so who am I to argue?

AB - Kate Beckinsale has been recognised for her work in the film.  How did you interest her in the film, and work with her?

RL - I could go on and on for hours about Kate Beckinsale, who probably should be known from here on after as “The Great Kate.”  She deserves to be discussed – in terms of her sheer talent and ability – in the same breath as Winslet and Blanchett and virtually any other actress working today.  It wasn’t me that attracted her; I think it was the script, or at least the character.  It was the fact that it was a woman of integrity, a woman who was struggling with her own principles, and a woman who had to determine whether or not she should sacrifice her relationship with her child to protect those principles.

As for working with Kate, I would say that she may be one of the most focused people I’ve ever worked with.  One does not have a social relationship with Kate when you’re directing her – as one does with many other actors – that is because she is obsessed with preparation and obsessed with self-rehearsal.  She would show up on set with the character fully formed before the day started.  If you looked at her screenplay it had notes on it like she was an M.I.T. student.

AB - Nothing But the Truth has had a tough time of it – a victim of the financial meltdown.  How hard was that for you personally?

RL - “Nothing But the Truth” never got into theaters because its distributor went into Chapter 11 the very week we were supposed to hit the screens.  What is most upsetting is that the reviews had been so fantastic and Kate and Vera Farmiga started to get attention from the critics groups.  It was sudden and unexpected.  In mid-December we found out our film was victim of a drive-by shooting…and the shooter was the economy.  We didn’t even get a poster printed.  If I hadn’t been through tougher things in my life, this might have been reason to get out the arsenic.  However the DVD is absolutely first rate and people are going to discover it that way.

AB - You had a lot of support from festivals, people in the business and colleagues. Did that make a difference to you and the cast and crew?

RL - It always makes it easier when a film seems to be as well liked as this one is.  But I know that for my actors and myself all the attention we got from the festivals, critics, and awards groups had an almost reverse effect, which is: imagine what we could have been had we been released.  People like Kate and Matt do these movies for a fraction, and I mean a tiny fraction, of their quotes because they assume that the movie will enhance their reputation as an actor.  I know that’s not the most “good sport” answer I can give, but it might be the most honest.

AB - Now NBTT is here to be seen on DVD, awards and all.  Are you excited again?

RL - You know what excites me most about the DVD release?  It’s the fact that it comes with a really great documentary, one that is much, much better than the ones we are used to seeing.  I also think the commentary that I did with my producer and business partner, Marc Frydman, is very straightforward and talks about mistakes I think I made as I directed the film.  I think it’s really important you do this for all the film students who will be watching the movie as they learn to become better at their “job.”

AB - Was there any Great Lesson to be learned from its journey?

RL - Don’t believe a thing until your movie is actually playing in theaters.

AB - What’s next? Anything political?

RL - I very purposely put aside a political project I was working on called “State of the Union.”  The reason is that I’ve become absolutely typecast as a political filmmaker.  That’s not something to be ashamed of, not at all, but I think I’m capable of doing much more.  That’s why I signed on to do the remake of “Straw Dogs,” which my partner and I obtained the rights to a couple of years ago.

AB - How do you see your version of Straw Dogs?

RL - It is going to happen, although that seems to be in direct contradiction to the answer I gave two questions ago.  It’s going to be Americanized and modernized.  I’m also not particulary interested in remaking Sam Peckinpah’s “Straw Dogs” in the sense that I’m not trying to replicate his style and not trying to replicate the themes he tried to accentuate.  I’m interested in doing a story that in and of itself is rather timeless.

AB - Are you returning to television?

RL - The minute they allow me in, I’m there.  I do have a project that’s simmering over at Showtime, and Battle Plan, my company, has every intention of going out with two or three pretty cool projects in the near future.  I find television extremely fun and fast moving which I really dig.

Note the date on this article may be incorrect due to importing it from our old system.