“I knew there was a cinematic way to bring you intimately into Johnson’s anxiety dream,” reveals director/producer Jay Roach as we chat via webcam (watch above) about the depiction of president Lyndon B. Johnson in the HBO’s telefilm “All the Way.” He candidly discusses this adaptation of Robert Schenkkan‘s Tony-winning play about the first years of LBJ’s presidency. “He was famous for coming right up close to you and being right in your face, leaning over you, flattering you and charming you, but then bullying you and twisting your arm.”
The play was a smash hit on Broadway in 2014, winning Tony Awards for Best Play and Best Actor in a Play for Bryan Cranston. Roach found himself working with Cranston for the first time on two different projects in a row. First, they filmed the feature “Trumbo”with Cranston’s portrayal of blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo earning him a Best Actor Oscar bid last year. They then tackled the play adaptation, which aired in late May on the premium channel.
Of making the transition from stage to screen, Roach recalls, “The trick was once I saw the play was OK how are we going to do something beyond what you’ve already accomplished, because they accomplished so much in that three-hour play. The thing that really convinced me we were on to something good was when we went to the LBJ library and I got to hear all the phone calls that Johnson recorded because he secretly recorded everything.”
The production also stars Anthony Mackie (as Martin Luther King, Jr.), Melissa Leo (Lady Bird Johnson), Bradley Whitford (Hubert Humphrey), Stephen Root (J. Edgar Hoover), and Frank Langella (Sen. Richard Russell). It is now on the Emmy Awards ballot in the TV movie categories, and that’s a familiar arena for Roach. He has never lost at the Emmys before, prevailing with all four of his bids for producing and directing the telefilms “Recount” (2008) and “Game Change” (2012).
Regarding that success and the fact he keeps releasing politically-charged movies in presidential years, he proclaims, “We’re like the locusts that come out every few years!” and then adds that “the campaign season is very compelling to me. There’s something so important to me about the questions that come up about how should our civilization run when these clashes of political philosophy of what makes a political system legitimate and effective or not effective. Those matter to me.”
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