Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) wrote and directed one of the most buzzed-about miniseries of 2020, “The Comey Rule,” which premiered on Showtime in September. The series broke ratings records for the network, receiving 23 percent more viewers than its previous best, “Escape From Dannemora,” in 2018. In a recent Q&A with Oscar winner Laura Dern, Ray explained his inspiration for adapting former FBI director James Comey‘s book “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies and Leadership” for the screen and the complicated casting of Jeff Daniels and Brendan Gleeson as Comey and former President Donald Trump, respectively.
“I didn’t walk through 2016, I crawled through 2016,” Ray confessed. “That election completely flattened me. It took me back to a place where I was a kid and couldn’t go away to sleepaway camp. It was that level of anxiety. I was so scared of what was coming for my country. And it turns out I was right. As horrible as 9/11 was, I was more afraid for my country the morning after Donald Trump’s election than I was the morning after 9/11. Because the morning after 9/11, I knew our country was going to come together. And the morning after Trump’s election I knew our country was going to come apart.
“I believe that in the same way that Germany is still making movies about the Holocaust, we are going to be unpacking the meaning of the Trump years for decades to come,” Ray continued. “I wanted to be a part of that conversation. So I was looking for the right way in and I actually began to believe that the right way in was to tell the story of James Comey.”
Ray was asked if he would like to adapt Comey’s book the day before it was published and he was immediately interested. He called the first 172 pages of the book “useless” to him as a filmmaker, but from that point on it was a “love story between a man and an institution.”
Casting the miniseries proved to be complicated. Ray knew he wanted Daniels to play Comey, but the actor was starring in “To Kill a Mockingbird” on Broadway. It looked as if they would have to find a new leading man, but it took so much time for them to find the right actor to play Trump, suddenly Daniels became a realistic option. “I begged him to play James Comey,” Ray revealed. “Jeff, being Jeff, asked if [there was] enough money to surround him with great actors. He wasn’t asking what he was going to get paid. He wanted to know that he would have great actors around him.”
The most important great actor Ray needed to find was one who would play Trump, and casting Gleeson was no easy task. “He turned it down the first time we offered it to him,” Ray disclosed. “We all panicked. There were about two months where we were scrambling to find other people.” Eventually, Gleeson accepted the tremendous responsibility of portraying Trump in a dramatic role for the first time ever. “He is spectacular in that part!” Ray exclaimed.
“The Comey Rule” currently ranks 10th in our overall odds to earn a Golden Globe nomination for Best TV Movie/Limited Series. Daniels sits in seventh place for Best TV Movie/Limited Series Actor and Gleeson has the best shot at a nomination ranking second in the TV supporting actor race.
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