Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford promote Truth!
Robert Redford And Cate Blanchett On Trump, Bush, Captain America And The ‘Truth’
It seems so unnecessary to write an introduction for two of the most famous people in the world. “Oh, you might know Robert Redford from The Natural,” or, “You may remember Cate Blanchett won an Oscar for Best Actress not too long ago.” So, I am going to just assume with a good amount of confidence that you know who both of these people are.
The reason I am sitting in a New York City hotel banquet room with Redford and Blanchett is because of their new movie, Truth — which dramatizes the events that eventually cost CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather his job. Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, a longtime television news producer working on a story that could change the course of the 2004 presidential election: George W. Bush’s questionable service record in the Texas Air National Guard. After Rather (played by Redford) reports the story on 60 Minutes, all hell breaks loose after it’s revealed two documents, reportedly typed in the early ‘70s, appear to have been created with 2004 technology.
Of course, with a story like this, the topics discussed in an interview will veer toward politics. And Redford and Blanchett are not ones to shy away from opinions about current politics: Jeb Bush, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina (whom Redford has dealt with personally and now calls “horrific”) are all discussed.
They also ponder if a story like what’s presented in Truth — a huge story in 2004 – would even have much of an impact only 11 years later, because of a) the way we consume media today and b) the way we react to media today. Would this just be a story we’d be mad about for one day then move on, like so many stories today?
When I met with Redford and Blanchett, I made small talk by mentioning that my mother had taken me to see Ordinary People, a movie Redford won an Oscar for directing and, little did I know, was one of Blanchett’s favorites. This set off Redford, recounting how the Oscar-winning film almost didn’t get made – which later morphed into Redford and Blanchett’s thoughts on how movies get made today and just why Redford, maybe one of the least-likely people to ever be in a superhero movie, decided to appear in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
The second movie I ever saw in a movie theater was Ordinary People.
Redford: Your second movie?
My mom took me when I was very young.
Blanchett: Oh, Jesus. I remember seeing Ordinary People. I was in, how do you say it, year 11?
Redford: Stop, you guys…
Blanchett: No, no, it changed my life. It completely changed my life. I wept on and off for about two weeks. I so connected with the son. It killed me, that film. It absolutely killed me.
At that point, the only other movie I had seen in a theater was The Empire Strikes Back. They are very different.
Redford: You know what’s weird about that movie? It wouldn’t have gotten made. I wanted to make it because it was the first picture I was going to direct.
And it wins Best Picture.
Redford: Yeah, that was a surprise. To me, I wanted to do a film about behavior and feelings. So, I read this book and this feels like what I want to do. So, anyway, I hired a screenwriter to write it and I paid for him, off the radar. And then when we took it, the studios wouldn’t touch it.
Redford: No, no. They wouldn’t touch it. And then it went to Paramount. And at Paramount at that time, Barry Diller was the head of Paramount, you had Michael Eisner under him and Jeffrey Katzenberg was under him. Eisner didn’t get it; he didn’t understand what it was about. Katzenberg didn’t think it was commercial. When I told them I wanted to work with Mary Tyler Moore, they said, “Now you’re really up a tree. She’s America’s sweetheart. I said, “There’s another side to her.” It didn’t happen, then Diller stepped in…
Blanchett: Thank God.
Redford: He said, “The budget is $5 million, it’s yours; we won’t bother you if you make it for that budget.”
Ordinary People was one of my first experiences with Mary Tyler Moore, so for me, that was my introduction.
Blanchett: The atmosphere in that house, the atmosphere of her looking at him in that garden and him in the phone box in the rain – it’s burnt into my soul.
Redford: Everything had to be perfectly placed.
Blanchett: It was perfectly placed.
At the premiere of Truth last month at the Toronto Film Festival, Dan Rather spoke after the film and got really emotional. It’s interesting to see him embrace a film that is about a subject that obviously still hurts.
Redford: My feeling is that he gets his day in court. I don’t think he really got it when this event happened. I think it was shut down so quickly and he was out so fast, that was the end of that. I imagine Dan, all these years, has been carrying this ache about never really being able to speak his mind about what happened.
Does Mary Mapes feel the same way? She did write the book.
Blanchett: Yes, I think that was somewhat of a kneejerk response to not having been heard in Black Rock and, as you say, not having her day in court, either. Because if you read this, basically, this really fascinating, factual dry, multi-perspective account that she presented at Black Rock, it’s a timeline; it was very measured – and I think it was just not heard at all.
The night of the premiere, people were tweeting at me stuff like, “Oh, I bet they glossed over the fact-checkers at CBS wouldn’t verify the documents.” And I responded that all of that’s in there…
Blanchett: And who’s “they?” Who’s “they?!”
But the people on Twitter assumed there would be a bias, but this movie gives the sense someone was railroaded, but also that definite mistakes were made.
Redford: Yeah. There are mistakes. It’s honest and you give James Vanderbilt credit for that. But weigh those mistakes versus the mistakes the administration made.
People forget how close the Bush-Kerry election was, a story like this really could have changed a state like Ohio…
Blanchett: It’s true, or if she had broken the story during the Gore-Bush election, because the question mark over Bush’s service in the Guard had long been socialized in Texas.
I’m not convinced, 11 years later, this would be a big story that could shift anything anymore.
Redford: Well, that’s pretty interesting.
Jeb Bush’s “stuff happens” quote after a mass tragedy, Trump says whatever he wants, it doesn’t seem to matter what anyone says or does now.
Redford: Bush is getting nailed on that. He’s getting nailed on that.
He’s getting nailed, but it doesn’t seem to affect his poll numbers.
Redford: But you know, what I think is interesting, what’s beginning to happen: Out of the box, Trump, Trump, Trump. And out of the box, Bush is going to be the top guy. Now, Bush is going down and somebody is coming up. There’s Carly Fiorina, who is really a horror. So, you think, is anyone really going to take the time to really dig into who these people really are. I was just reading an article today about Carly. I had some dealings with her years ago…
Redford: I was trying to get support for Sundance from HP. And she came, so I had some dealings with her at that time and drew an impression, but she’s become even more extreme in the last few years. And now it’s getting revealed. There’s an article today that really takes apart what she’s saying and what’s she’s doing and what she claims, and it’s undoing all of it. And so I think you’re beginning to see the unraveling. And with Bush, it’s pretty clear what his story is and that’s beginning to be uncovered.
But people are more divided and the true independent seems to be shrinking, the person who would pay attention to that. People have “their person.” Couple that with how we get mad about a story for maybe a day, then move onto the next thing…
Blanchett: You talk about things being more divided, but all the elements have become more enmeshed. Everything’s played out in the same medium. The Kardashians exist in the same world that Trump and Ivana exist in. So, the form is the same, but the content should be wildly different, but it’s not.
Redford: That’s a good point.
Blanchett: When you get corporate America intersecting with the political arena, intersecting with the media, and the whole thing is sort of becoming this organism that is mutually dependent and very difficult to extricate any of the individual components – then it becomes very, very difficult to analyze any of the things independently.
You’re correct, and that’s why I question if this story hits like it did in 2004.
Redford: Well, it would be competing against a whole bunch of stories every minute, every day.
Blanchett: Mary and Dan – and I still think there are investigative journalists who feel the same way – have a strong dislike of hypocrites and bullies. And I think what stuck in their craw was the hypocrisy of what they thought was the Bush campaign hitting Kerry so hard with the swift boat stuff — and thennot having fulfilled his military service. Whether you critique the story and say that they rushed it on air or there were sins of omission in the story, that particular question mark of Bush’s service had long been socialized. But not just in Texas, but nationally. Does it justify rushing a story if the actual story is considered to be newsworthy and there are enough sources both silent and outspoken? Does that justify the story going on if they didn’t dot all the “I”s and cross all the “T”s?
And the film doesn’t answer that question for the viewer. But I can’t help but think if I had an untrustworthy source on a low-stakes story, something like “Robert Redford to appear in another Captain America movie,” I can’t imagine running it. Let alone a high-stakes story about the president.
Blanchett: I remember when we were running Sydney Theatre Company, someone was told to get a story on us – so they said, “Oh, I’ll say that I’ve heard they’ve been fired.” So they ran a story that we’ve been fired, and not only had we not been fired, but we had been asked to stay on another term. But that story ran! And we knew, unlike 2004, if you don’t kill something within 15 minutes – which I’m sure it’s exponentially decreased the amount of time you’ve got now – it gets published three times on the Internet and it’s true.
Redford: And with the Internet, it’s exacerbated. The Internet exacerbates that, but it all roles back to the very beginning. It used to be that in journalism, to put somebody on the line, to quote somebody, you had to get two people on background. That’s gone. They just rush. They just go. They don’t wait for verification; they just go. So, therefore, you don’t know what’s true. It’s very hard to know where the truth is.
The origins of these documents still seem to be a mystery. You were immersed in this story, what do you think happened?
Blanchett: I think what the film says, which is interesting, is that the documents were a small part of a story. But they became the focal point of the story and the story itself got lost. I think what’s more interesting is: What about the story? What about any story? You can pull any story apart and say, “That detail is exaggerated,” or, “You missed this detail,” and simply by the sin of omission, you’ve made this fact more prominent, so you’re not telling the 100 percent truth.
If either of you made a great movie, but there’s a truly awful scene in the middle, people will talk about that awful scene. It’s terrible that happened, but isn’t that going to happen if there’s something that wrong included?
Redford: It’s because it’s sound bite culture. We are living in a sound bite culture.
Blanchett: I think the media might focus on it, but this is the thing: It’s who shouts the loudest. He who shouts loudest and longest gets remembered.
Redford: The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
Thinking about the trouble you had getting Ordinary People made, what’s changed since then? We hear so much about franchise movies, yet movies likeTruth and Carol still get made…
Blanchett: Oh, you’ve seen it?
Oh yes, I loved it. Have you seen Carol?
Redford: No, I haven’t seen it yet.
You really should see Carol if you get a chance.
Blanchett: I think there are many, many more ways to get films funded and distributed now, which is actually very exciting.
Redford: It’s good news.
Blanchett: And Bob was just talking before about the rise of the documentary – as being a place where real investigative journalism kind of happens. So that’s a really exciting form that’s just expanding exponentially. You know, the people who are binge-watching stuff, so in a way, they are attending to it with a greater interest and ferocity than I think they were 10 years ago.
Redford: Yeah, the binge-watching is a result of them not wanting to have sound bite stuff. They want continuity.
You did a superhero movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a superhero movie people really like. Did you want to jump in on that while it was the hot genre?
Blanchett: It’s fun!
Redford: Sure, I was fascinated to be able to play some role in this new world where there’s a lot of green screen stuff going on. For me, doing it, I wanted to play a villain. But I wanted to play a villain who was dark, but persuasively something else. I wanted to play a villain who was really bad. And there was only one villain that I ever remember seeing that I could liken it to that I liked, and that was The Third Man. Because Orson Welles was a villain – a bastard – but he’s an interesting guy and he had an interesting point of view. And I thought, well, this guy at least has a point of view that’s interesting and he can justify it. That makes him really a badass guy, and that’s what appealed to me.
Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford don’t think ‘Truth’ exonerates Dan Rather
Obviously Robert Redford has a lot to say about journalism. Back in the mid-’70s “All the President’s Men” helped fill journalism schools with those wishing to be the next Woodward and Bernstein. But Cate Blanchett, Redford’s co-star in “Truth,” is no slouch with opinions on today’s dire state of journalism. “Truth” reassesses the firing of Dan Rather, played by Redford, over after a “60 Minutes” story on George W. Bush’s alleged military service — a report whose veracity was quickly, and perhaps sloppily, called into question. Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, the segment’s producer, who went down with Rather. Still, neither think the film is a simple exoneration, even as it opens old wounds.
I’m a reporter, albeit an entertainment one, and this is a movie about reporters, albeit who are in news.
Robert Redford: So let’s start by talking about journalism.
Let’s do it. This is has a lot say about what has changed in journalism since 2004.
Redford: I think journalism is essential for society, as I do art. I can’t imagine a society without art. Journalism is, I think, vital, and somehow always under threat. If journalism threatens the powers-that-be, you have a problem.
Cate Blanchett: But there’s a difference between random opinion and journalism. What this film describes is a landscape, back in 2004, when Dan and Mary found themselves in really unchartered waters with the opinionated blogosphere we take for granted now, and which in fact which dictates a lot of what happens in cultural and political arenas. These people are very powerful. It’s caused a terrible erosion in investigative journalism. The notion of long-form ideas, long-form journalism doesn’t really exist in television anymore, in the way it did when Mary and Dan were at CBS.
“Truth” was by made James Vanderbilt, who wrote the script for “Zodiac,” which really conveyed the gruntwork of investigation. It shows there was an avalanche of data, and the truth was impossible to sift out. “Truth” does something similar.
Blanchett: What is interesting is that the story itself got lost. No one could see the forest for the trees. Mary and Dan are not in the legal professional, and they vetted the documents as best they could. If they’re guilty of anything they’re guilty of rushing. But by the time they could make their case, the horse had bolted. The blogosphere had taken over the details and dismantled the actual genesis of the story, which had long been socialized in Texas. It wasn’t just Mary and Dan who were aware of the question mark over Bush’s service. There’s a political charge around this particular story, because a lot of things during that political dynasty have not been processed. A lot of changes, visible changes, happened that have not been analyzed both in this country and globally.
Redford: Time is also a factor. One of the things I liked about Jamie’s script is they’re always racing against time, and how that affects behavior and how that affects work. You gotta meet that deadline. Time is not in your favor in the news cycle.
Blanchett: There are a lot of errors made in all walks of journalism, usually because of the time pressure. Does that warrant the punishment Mary and Don received?
Redford: And there’s the history. One of the things I like about this film is that history is always being revised. You think you know it, but then you get further down the road and it’s like, “Oh, Hamilton really didn’t do that.” “Jefferson, that’s not what happened.” I’m fascinated by history because it’s not set. This was a piece of history until now. You saw it one way and that was the way it was left. Now by opening up the story, it changes the historical point of view and that particular story.
Blanchett: History’s often told from the perspective of the victor. If you analyze history from the point of view of the so-called “failures,” it’s a very different landscape.
Rather is still considered evil by some, and some have assumed this would be a simple exoneration of him and Mapes. But when you watch it it’s clear the film’s position is that it’s complicated.
Redford: They made their mistakes. There’s one scene where Burkett’s wife comes in and really reams them out. That’s terrific. They were desperate to get the story. That those flaws are in the film, that’s a good thing.
Blanchett: I don’t think it was Jamie’s nor the film’s ambition to exonerate them. They’re not held up as saints. It’s re-opening the closed book and saying, “Has this really been discussed? Have we really pulled this apart?” Dan did a few interviews prior to the Black Rock period, but I know Mary was completely shut down. She was given legal warning to not discuss it. She was silenced. There are a lot of perspectives that weren’t allowed to be debated. I don’t think the film takes sides, but I do think it reignites a debate that is important to have.
Redford: It opens up a moment in history that never got fully exposed.
Blanchett: I think she oscillated between rage and despair. It’s a journalist’s worst nightmare that some fact wasn’t fully checked.
Redford: And how hard it is to control yourself with those two emotions rolling around.
Blanchett: And particularly for Dan, because he had to maintain a composure and dignity and self-respect in front of the camera. Whereas Mary’s behind the camera, feeling for the man she reveres and admires and is deeply connected to, feeling that somehow she’s responsible for his downfall. That in a way is the biggest cross she feels she bears. There’s also a sense of the toxicity of the political atmosphere — that as soon as you embark on analyzing politics or raising questions, it’s attack politics. You get shut down, not only from a professional standpoint but also personally. Once it enters your personal arena, it’s OK to go after your family and your sexuality and rumors — stupid stuff, like she and Dan were having an affair. I wish! [Laughs]
Redford: That part’s been cut out of the film. It’s too bad.
Blanchett: I like those sex scenes. I thought they were necessary.
Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford on Twitter, ’60 Minutes’ and their new film ‘Truth’
Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford have amassed a combined three Academy Awards and 10 nominations, not to mention six Golden Globes, a host of BAFTAs and plenty other accolades.
They are Hollywood royalty and show business icons, and their presence in a movie is a guarantee that the film in question will be, at minimum, interesting and worthy of discussion.
Their first joint venture as co-stars is awash in provocative ideas and ripped-from-the-headlines details. In “Truth,” opening Friday, Blanchett plays former “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes, who was fired in the wake of the discredited 2004 Killian documents report on George W. Bush’s Air National Guard record that also cost Dan Rather (Redford) his job.
The legends had plenty to say about the project, an adaptation of Mapes’ book about the experience, the media and more when amNewYork sat down with them for a joint interview in Manhattan recently.
Why is this a story worth telling?
Cate Blanchett: The story got hung up on the hitch that was the documents. But there’s a difference between the role of the lawyer and the role of the journalist, I always thought, and the journalist’s job is to ask provocative questions. The question regarding his National Guard service had long been socialized in Texas. Mary and Dan weren’t the only people who were chasing that story, who were aware of that story. But I think the truth is, there’s many, many different perspectives that go into making the truth. What I think is interesting about this film is, yes it’s told from the perspective of Mary Mapes, which certainly wasn’t told at the time and so that’s fresh. But it’s very prescient. There was a real fork in the road back in September 2004 when this story was aired. It’s like scientific research. It moves at such a pace that our sense of morality lags way behind it. We have unquestionably, unthinkably allowed the proximity between the political arena, the media and corporate America, to have an unhealthy intersection without us as a readership, as citizens to work out how we feel about that.
Robert Redford: The landscape’s changed. The film portrays the landscape as it was then. It allows you as an audience to compare that with now. The landscape has now changed to the point where you have a much heavier footprint of corporations.
The same logic applies to entertainment journalism, where the Oscar horse race has largely supplanted in depth writing about movies, for example.
CB: There used to be some critics out there, 10 years ago let’s say, who really moved the needle. And now it’s the 25 percent or the 65 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Not that we don’t love that or hate that, but where does the longer arc of thought exist? Rapid-burn assessments of things, caption news, is fine, as long as we’re not just reading the headlines. It’s beautifully delivered and a beautiful piece of writing where Dan is saying he’s going to step down as anchor and talks about being there at the moment when news made money.
RR: It’s a really key point in time and it’s interesting that the way things have changed, if you think back to that time and just before that time, you had a time in television when anchors were there — Kronkite, Brokaw, Jennings, whoever, Huntley, Brinkley — you were with their face the whole time. You had time. Now, you have a face competing with tape going underneath it and telling you a different story. Then it jumps over here and jumps over there. So the soundbite has become the norm. … So where are you going to get a real value? It seems to me that documentaries is maybe the new long form journalism.
CB: I think that’s right. It’s where people deeply investigate a subject matter and people can attend to it.
Twitter has even further exacerbated this.
CB: When Stephen Fry is tweeting it’s like a hiaku. It’s when it becomes the dominant voice. Or I’m watching mainline news and suddenly I’m being told what someone has tweeted about something. I actually want to know what the [expletive] is going on. Let’s start from that, then maybe we can have the commentary.
When you’re playing real characters, do you seize on a specific singular detail that illuminates something, or is it more of a bigger picture thing?
CB: It depends. I don’t know about you, Bob. Sometimes it’s an image. Sometimes it’s something someone says. Sometimes it’s something that another actor says that triggers it off. For me, I think this time — when I read [writer-director] Jamie’s [Vanderbilt] script and I ate it alive, it just goes like a freight train, it’s a brilliant piece of writing, and a lot of the direction you could tell was already inside the script, so you knew it was going to be something, if I didn’t screw it up, and you’d save the day, Bob. I went on the Internet and had a look at Mary, and when I met her, I found it so difficult to reconcile this locked-down, defensive person I’d seen giving interviews in the wake of the disaster, the scandal, and then this incredibly vital, vivacious, positive quip-a-holic. I decided, somewhere between those two states lies Mary.
RR: You start with one thing and that can lead to another thing or it can broaden to something bigger. It’s better to start with one little thing, I think, and then it will be natural. For me, that’s important. Authenticity, I think, is really important in a character and the actor’s responsibility, to be authentic to that character. … The thing that impressed me about Dan [when we first met in the 1970s], he always seemed like an old-fashioned man. He was eager to dig in and get his stuff, but he kept calling me, “Well, Robert Redford.” I said, “You can call me Bob.” But then I realized, that’s sort of who he is. He’s a very decent, polite man with an undercurrent of, he really wants to get to the truth. … I thought, “That’s really interesting.”
CB: And really emotional, too. And I think Mary is as well. You think about journalists, you have to be on the spectrum frankly to be able to ask questions, I think; you get to do that forensic stuff in a genteel way as an actor. You get to provoke and ask questions of the character. But to actually front up as an investigative journalist and ask the questions that nobody else has the chutzpah to ask. So you think of them as being hardened individuals, but they have soft cores. I think that’s where this crisis got them. It got them in the solar plexus, because they had given everything to an organization and to an ideal and that all backfired.
New stills! via Truth – Official site
And a new clip, via USA Today