Although director-producer Doug Liman began his career with indie fare like 'Swingers' and 'Go,' it could be said that spy movies are his true love. He's most famous for kick-starting 'The Bourne' series with Matt Damon, as well as directing the movie that introduced Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith.'
His latest foray into espionage,'Fair Game,' is based on the Valerie Plame scandal. Plame was a CIA agent whose career ended when her identity was leaked to journalist Robert Novak by a government official. (Richard Armitage later admitted he was the source of the leak.) 'Fair Game' is about this betrayal and how this revelation ended Plame's career in the CIA and changed her life irrevocably; it's also about the ripple effects it had on her marriage with outspoken former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.
Cinematical was able to sit down with Liman to discuss the difficulties of researching a project where so much of the information remains classified, the responsibilities of staying true to the Plame story, and filming in Iraq. 'Fair Game' stars Naomi Watts and Sean Penn and opens Nov. 5.
What's especially interesting about 'Fair Game' is how much footwork went into putting the stories together. The script was done by the time you came --
A rough draft was done.
Can you tell me more about that process?
John-Henry Butterworth and Jez Butterworth sent me -- I worked with them on 'Mr. and Mrs. Smith' and they're my favorite writers in Hollywood. I've sent them every movie I've done since then, asking them to come in, and [I've] never been able to entice them. And they sent me the script -- in fact, I was working on a movie about a private mission to the moon. I said, "If you guys come and take a look at this and maybe come write," and they said, "Okay, but will you take a look at our script?" Which was a rough draft of 'Fair Game,' and you know, the rest is history. I went to Washington instead of the moon.
What they had written was a very sprawling look at the entire Valerie Plame scandal ... every aspect of it was interesting and compelling, but the part I found overwhelmingly compelling was the marriage between Ambassador Joseph Wilson and CIA super-spy Valerie Plame, especially given the fact that, as a CIA cover officer, you live a life of secrecy. You can't brag to anybody about anything you may have accomplished that day. And she ... was married to this larger than life guy, Joseph Wilson, who, as an Ambassador, was -- part of his essence was [being] a talker, so you know, there's kind of an old couple marriage, and how they would have to -- what it's like to be married to a spy.
So I said, that's really what I want the movie to be. Let's drill down on that. So we threw everything else out and then spent about a year researching not only conversations with Joe and Valerie but many, many conversations with former and current CIA officers who had come out of the woodwork to speak to us, because Valerie had told them it was okay. And mostly what I was asking these people were about the nuts and bolts of how do you balance [things]? How does Valerie balance having twins with a job that sends her to foreign countries where she can't tell her husband where she's going or when she's coming home? And he just needs to know, do they need a nanny the next day or not?
Some of this information was still at that point classified, and parts of her book --
There's information in the movie that's never seen the light of day until this moment.
How did you get access to that? And how does that affect the process of pre-production and figuring out how things are going to look?
Unlike some studio films where you're writing and shooting at the same time, we got the script done first ... [When] I first met with Valerie, I said, "You know, I need a lot more information than is in your book or that you've told the writers to date. I need the real story here." And she said, "I can't tell you that; I could go to jail. But here are some people you can talk to, and they may know people who might be willing to talk to you." And I had producers who were amazingly connected, Janet Zucker and Jerry Zucker, in Washington, D.C. ... and they were able to get me ... about a dozen people inside the intelligence community, and so the script is largely based on those interviews.
We tried to hold ourselves to a journalistic standard of having two sources. For us, if one of the sources was a book written by a journalist we respected, then that would count as one of the two sources.
You also filmed in some extraordinary circumstances in locations around the world. Can you talk about that, and especially filming in Iraq?
We're the only American film to ever have shot in Iraq. You know, I wanted to shoot -- I had such success on 'Bourne Identity' going to the real places ... It was an all-out war with Universal on 'Bourne Identity' because I wanted to shoot in Europe, and they said, "Well, just shoot in Canada," and I said, "Well, just because they speak French in Canada doesn't mean it looks anything like Paris," and I made those executives' lives hell and did take the film to France.
So for 'Fair Game' it was really important for me that we go to the real places. Not only did we go to the real places, but because Valerie Plame was a consultant, I could ask her -- I said, "Well, hypothetically, if you were going to Jordan, what hotel would this operation be based out of?" And Valerie would sort of couch us onto some of the details that wouldn't affect national security, but just give the film an air of truth. And in fact, the hotel that we shot in in Jordan, in Amman, the Grand Hyatt, is in fact the same hotel that Valerie operated out of. I don't know if it was the same room or not. And I did learn from Valerie some incredibly scary things about hotel rooms in foreign countries
Only a small part of this film takes place in Iraq but it was really important for me to go to the real place, to show people ... what Iraq really looks like, not how we fake Iraq in some other country. I also wanted to just see the country with my own eyes because although this is a film about abuse of power by the president of the United States, that abuse of power was about going to war, and I wanted to see with my own eyes what we did, what was going on in Iraq.
What did you learn about international hotel rooms?
I don't think I'm allowed to say. You'll have to ask Valerie that. Maybe she'll tell you.