James Vanderbilt Q&A: ‘Truth’ director/writer
"I wanted it to not be a homework movie. We've seen those where you feel like you're going to be lectured at for two hours," admits writer/director James Vanderbilt about his new film "Truth," which delves into the news story that brought down veteran anchorman Dan Rather. He says that a writing professor once told him, "If you want to write a message, call Western Union. Your job is to write movies."
In our recent interview, he adds, "First and foremost I wanted it to be something that is exciting and pulls you through emotionally. And then if there's stuff on top that makes you think about journalism and where we are, that's great but that's all gravy."
Two-time Oscar champ Cate Blanchett plays Mary Mapes, a producer for "60 Minutes Wednesday" (aka "60 Minutes 2"), who works with the legendary newsman (portrayed by screen legend Robert Redford). In the middle of the 2004 election, they air a story about President George W. Bush and the preferential treatment that allowed him to avoid Vietnam by serving in the Texas Air National Guard. However, the evidence used came under attack and CBS ultimately apologized. Mapes, who wrote the book upon which this film is based, was fired, and Rather was forced to resign a few months later.
Vanderbilt, who spent nine years working on the film, says, "When I read Mary's book, there was all this other stuff about that story that I had no idea about. I love process stories and process movies. There's something so fun about being able to live inside someone and find out how that profession really works. If I hadn't gone into my silly business, I would have gone into journalism."
Of his many scripting credits, one of his most critically-acclaimed was another one about journalism. "Zodiac" (2007) told the true story of a serial killer terrorizing the San Francisco area in the 1970s and the newspaper cartoonist (Jake Gyllenhaal) turned amateur detective who pursued him. He received a nomination from the Writers Guild of America. Others on his resume include "The Amazing Spider-Man" and its sequel, "The Losers," "White House Down," and the upcoming "Independence Day 3."
While his writing career has been impressive, this is his first time helming a film. That could be intimidating with Oscar-winning director Redford ("Ordinary People") on the set, but as Vanderbilt reveals he put the rookie at ease. "He is amazing because he's very aware of who he is and what effect he has on people. He's been Robert Redford for so long that he knows that can intimidate people. He said, 'I'm here as an actor. I'm not going to look at the monitor and not going to second guess you. My job is to play this character for you the director and the film'."