Former CIA agent Valerie Plame was hung out to dry when journalist Robert Novak revealed her identity in 2003. Novak later admitted his information was from a government source, and many suspect this leak and her forced retirement was retaliation by the Bush administration for the New York Times editorial her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, wrote about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The revelation and its effect on the couple's lives and marriage is the basis of Doug Liman's new drama, 'Fair Game.' Naomi Watts plays Plame, a private woman whose life as an active CIA agent surprised her closest friends. Sean Penn plays her husband Joe Wilson, the outspoken former ambassador whose dedication to justice is only rivaled by his love for his wronged wife.
What was it like reuniting with Sean Penn again ('21 Grams'), especially on a movie that seems like it would be of particular interest to everyone involved?
Look, it was great knowing that Sean and I would get to be on a set together again, and it was great that we could create the family history or chemistry that this movie needed. In a very short amount of time, we kind of all came together and the project was underway very quickly; there wasn't a lot of rehearsal time, prep time. So it was great for that reason. In terms of what the story's about, I mean I was drawn to this in the same way I'm drawn to any character I take on. It's the essence of who that woman is and how she changes, how she evolves, what she goes through, and she went through extraordinary things, and that's what drew me. I didn't take it because of my political beliefs.
'Fair Game' takes a very public story and shows the private side of it -- specifically Valerie Plame's marriage. I know there were a lot of difficulties researching the CIA aspect of the role. Was it difficult to research that with her emotionally?
She has a clause that she still has to honor in protecting any secrets -- that's part of her work and relationship with the CIA, and you know, it was pointless asking questions because you knew the answer that you'd get, which was she's not at liberty. So really there was a great deal of information in her book, although there was a lot redacted, and then the facts from the Libby trial and we focused around that. The rest to me, that I really wanted to focus on, was her and who she was as a woman, as a wife, as a professional, as a mother, and how she dealt with all those things while facing the biggest battle of her life.
Was she as private about her marriage as she had to be about her work in the CIA?
Yeah, she's not someone that wears her heart on her sleeve. She doesn't sort of tell you -- you know, certain people walk into the room and they're just easy to read, and she's not that. She takes time, and whether that's who she was and then she trained, or if it happened the other way around, I don't know. But I'm a bit like that too, so I can relate to that. So the first couple of our meetings were kind of careful and very much watching each other and trying to absorb and trying to figure each other out. But then when it came close to shooting time, or maybe we'd already shot one day or something, I took her out to dinner and we had a bottle of wine and I just got into the nitty gritty. And like I said, the personal questions -- quite confronting questions -- and she was pretty forthcoming about them by then.
There are some very intense marital scenes. What was the dynamic between Plame and Wilson?
When I heard her speak about her relationship, it was, for the two of them, it was pretty much love at first sight. She knew who he was ... Any time she goes anywhere, she's always got the information on who's there in the room, what they do, what they've done, and that was the case with the two of them when they came together. And they just kind of fell into each other. They're very different people, but they complement each other very well. She's, like I said, careful and sort of harder to read, and Joe wears his heart on his sleeve. He's very gregarious, he's outgoing, and she's soft-spoken.
Did you have any interesting or extraordinary experiences filming in the movie's disparate locations?
Oh yeah, I remember filming in Cairo -- and the way Doug films, it's kind of organized chaos, and when we were going to different countries, not very organized [laughs]. He'd always have the camera on, no matter what, so you better not turn up to set with a roller in your hair or something. He just loves to shoot from any angle -- it's kind of how he is. He's spontaneous and reckless, and he gets great stuff because of it. I just remember in Cairo, he was like, "Okay, I just want to get you walking around the street," and usually when you do that in America, you've got somebody operating the traffic and you've got ADs; you've got people -- it's all very controlled. We're always thinking of what could go wrong and the consequences. But in Cairo, it was like, we were losing light; let's just cross the street! And I know this may sound funny, but crossing the street in Cairo, it's so busy and people were driving in such a crazy way, it was literally life threatening.
What's the difficulty of playing a real person but also making a role your own, as you did?
It is a hard thing to juggle with. This is not a documentary, and so you have to take creative license and make the drama interesting, and you know, it's not a history lesson. At the heart of the story was their marriage and how they dealt with that and all the blows that were thrown at them. But yeah, it's extra pressure when you're playing someone that's alive and very much around. And she was involved in the project; she was a consultant, and because of her, the nature of her story, what happened to her, the level of betrayal and injustice was so monumental that you want to serve her in the best possible way and get the story across and tell it truthfully.