The last time Jonah Hill and James Franco appeared on screen together, it was for the hilarious This is the End, directed by R-rated comedy superstars Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Their latest film together is a very different animal, True Story, a true crime drama based on the experience of former New York Times writer Mike Finkel (Hill) when he learns that Christian Longo (Franco), a man accused of killing his wife and three kids, has been using his name while in hiding. Curious, Mike meets with Christian in jail and starts collaborating with him while trying to figure out if he’s telling the truth that he’s innocent. It also stars recent Oscar nominee Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) as Mike Finkel’s wife Jill, who mainly has to view the effect Chris is having on Mike from a distance.
A few weeks back, ComingSoon.net had a chance to talk with Ms. Jones about taking on the role of Jill and how she met the woman on which her character is based, similar as she did with Jane Hawking for The Theory of Everything. We also spoke to her about joining the cast of the Tom Hanks-Ron Howard adaptation of Dan Brown’s Inferno and we even tried (and failed) to get her to talk about Rogue One, the Star Wars spin-off on which she’s signed as the lead. You can see how that all turned out in the video player below.
Afterwards, we had a chance to sit down with director Rupert Goold, a noted British theater director, to talk about making his feature film debut with True Story.
ComingSoon.net: I know you shot this a while back, but did you read the book and shepherd it along or develop it or was there already a screenplay and then you came on board?
Rupert Goold: Yeah, it was more that. I think actually it had been with Kevin Macdonald, maybe, I can’t remember, somebody, then it had not cohered for whatever reason, like films do. You know, so I came on – I can’t remember what it was – 2010, I think, a long time ago, but I had a bunch of meetings and met Plan B and they asked me to look at it, and I really liked the script. Initially, I was a bit worried about it, and then I said, “Look, I think it needs this to change.” A year later, there was still rewriting and we were pretty much there with it, so yeah, it was something that I was drawn to and I had a take on, but was an existing property.
CS: Had you been looking for something to direct as a feature for a while? I know you’d done Shakespeare for television, but had you been looking for something to do as a feature?
Goold: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I’d been approached a lot about stuff, but I really just hadn’t had the time or hadn’t found the right thing. Then I did these two Shakespeare films, both of which went pretty well, and so often in life, you just have to conquer what you may or may not be scared of, and I think I was apprehensive about the camera. It wasn’t something I was comfortable with. Then, there were different budget scales, but I still spent the best part of 12 weeks behind a camera with those two films, I guess, and that was really invaluable. I thought, “Well, I can do this now. I want to find something.” I guess probably in my heart I expected that–I don’t know, because it was such a long time ago–but I thought maybe it was going to be some independent British movie or something. I didn’t expect it to be an American film, necessarily. But yeah, it’s funny actually. Making movies, getting money for movies is on the one hand, nearly impossible, and yet on the other hand, if you can get the cast together and you have a piece of material that the actors can respond to and a director that they’re going to take seriously, then actually, it can come together quite quickly. It didn’t fall in my lap, I mean, geez, I did a lot of work on it, but I didn’t think my first movie would be one over here, put it that way.
CS: You can’t lounge your way through a movie. When you decide to make a movie, you’re kind of all in for however long.
Goold: My God. Yes, yes. (laughs)
CS: If you say, “I’m going to go make a movie,” and then you go sit in your trailer, it doesn’t happen that way.
Goold: No. It’s like a huge commitment. I admire anyone who makes a movie. [Laughs]
CS: Brad Pitt’s one of the producers with Plan B, so at any point, was he going to play one of the roles, like Longo? Or did he always want to find other actors?
Goold: No, Plan B is him and then these two incredible people, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner are the two lead producers. It’s insane. I mean, so they did World War Z, 12 Years a Slave, my movie and Selma all I think in a 12-month period, practically. So, they have a lot of properties that are not attached to Brad, but that Brad is facilitating or likes himself. He was great, Brad, but he’s too old to be the two lead guys.
CS: I was curious about that. I think in theory, he could be Longo, although, he’s older.
Goold: Yeah, no, he was always going to be the producer.
CS: Jonah obviously has a connection to Brad from “Moneyball,” but how about getting James to play Longo?
Goold: James had a connection to Plan B, actually, through Eat, Pray, Love, which they’d made, so he’d known about the book before he came on board. He’d seen I think the film on “Macbeth” that I made, so was sort of on board with me as a filmmaker. That was actually very quick. He was on first. Jonah came later.
CS: How did you approach developing this as opposed to when you were approaching a play that you’re directing?
Goold: Yeah, it’s all storytelling in the end. I mean, you’re trying to tell the most engaging story you can. I suppose there’s a little bit of Trojan horse in the film because there is a multiple murder, there is an investigator, there is a criminal who may or may not be guilty, there is a courtroom drama. You know, it has certain genre tropes, which are good and give it muscle. On the other hand, there’s not some guy on the outside, their jeopardy isn’t sort of real life stakes. Of course, the thing that I think is interesting about it is it sort of what it’s got to say about men and society and the media. So, to a certain extent, you’re trying to play with a very familiar genre and the certain tropes of it, and yet, also, smuggle in your slightly kind of more innovative kind of subject matter, I guess. I was interested in that, and then I’m also very interested in the idea of parables in our sort of atomized, anecdotal world now. I think in the digital age, parables are very powerful. The story of people whose lives are defined by one act, and then we kind of dwell on it. They’re like new biblical parables. That interested me more than a sort of social realism about why a certain kind of American poverty leads to crime.
CS: The movie’s coming out at a very fortuitous time, because there’s such an interest in this kind of thing between “Serial” and “The Jinx.” stuff now. You mentioned you shot part of it a few years ago, and then the rest later. Was that to get certain weather conditions?
Goold: Yeah, so we shot it in ’13, I think, and then cut it through that summer. Was it ’13? Yeah, it must be that. Then, decided to do a couple of days of reshoots, but James Franco is the busiest man in the world. As was Jonah, actually. He was doing “Jump Street.” So literally, we had to wait nearly 11 months to get the two guys free again to come back out here and shoot for three days or whatever it was, which we did last year. Is that right? Yeah. So we recut that in the summer, and then by the time you’ve scored and done with post-production, it’s sort of here we are now.
CS: One of the things about this movie that may be different from some of the plays you did is that all of the actual people it’s about are still alive. Do you actually approach them to talk to them?
Goold: No. Well, I spoke to Finkel and his wife. They were on the set, actually, but no, not to Longo. I mean, it’s funny, actually. I’ve done quite a few plays about real people. I did a play called “Enron” and I’ve done another couple of plays in London as well, including just one recently about the Royal Family. I never want to meet any of the subjects, because it destroys the mystery, you know? I always think we’re not making a documentary. This is a fiction and a movie. Yet, despite that, it would be sort of gross to kind of start going, “Oh, who is the real Longo? Let’s hear his side of it.” I think it would sort of…
CS: Well, that’s kind of what Mike was doing.
Goold: Exactly, exactly. We can’t be guilty of what Finkel’s trying to do. We have to just present them as the story we’re telling.
CS: Even if he’s not guilty of it, I think anyone who had a chance to talk to any of these people for any length of time would want to, if they’re crazy, at least try to find out their mindset.
Goold: It’s tricky, though, because the sister in the film says, “You had a chance to tell so many stories and you chose this one.” By implication, why didn’t you tell the story of the victims? I think the truth is that we are, as a society, ghoulishly kind of preoccupied with the criminals more than the victims, aren’t we? That’s the nature of crime. You know, so the film is sort of digging into that and acknowledging it, but also questioning it. Yeah, that’s complicated.
CS: I think actors in general are more interested in those roles in some ways, too, because they are a lot more layered. James is great in this. He’s playing a different role than we really see him do very often. It’s a very subdued performance.
Goold: Yes, it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant.
CS: It’s funny, because I spoke to Felicity and she actually was interested in meeting Jill.
Goold: Yes, she’s like that.
CS: I guess as a director, you don’t have to worry about that so much as an actor might.
Goold: No, I did. I mean, she was very interested, and the boys weren’t so much at all. She’s an English actress playing an American, so that’s the sort of projection, so she wanted to go Stanislavsky and kind of build everything up. I totally respect that, although the film works a bit more around archetypes, I think. James is not a contextualized character. He’s a sort of version of the devil in a way, I think. She is a sort of mythic kind of goodness. It’s a different way of approaching character, almost.
CS: This is kind of two-hander with Felicity being the third hand in some ways, but did you generally try to shoot the interviews between the two guys in order or did you not worry about that?
Goold: Well, we shot all those scenes between them, when we were in the last week of shooting, which was interesting. We shot them in sequence pretty much. I mean, it was funny. For me, that felt incredibly familiar. You’re in a room for a week with two actors, and quite long text-driven sort of psychological scenes, but I think for them it was quite unusual. It’s not a conventional way of making a movie, so that was probably a bit – I suppose I felt not comfortable, but most experienced. But, yeah, it was a very intimate experience in many ways, and I wanted it to be that way, just the three of us for a long time.
CS: I didn’t have a chance to talk to them today, but I’ve talked to them both before, actually on the set of “This is the End.” Was it strange to go from that to doing this? They’re both pretty serious actors.
Goold: I think they’re very different challenges. Jonah is a brilliant. For me, it’s not about whether he’s doing comedy or straight stuff, I’m not sure he’s ever done a movie which he has been the lead, that he has carried the film and been in 90 percent of the scenes, so I think the stamina and just the mental… It’s so different to be a character actor in that way. So that was the challenge for him, not so much the not comedy. I think for James, James was in a really like Zen point when we first shot this. We talked very efficiently and very economically. It’s funny. Even when we did the reshoots, he’s naturally much more garrulous and sort of full of ideas, but it was almost like he put himself in the freezer a bit for the character, which was very effective, actually. So, for him, it was maybe just almost dampening down his incredible intellectual energy. That was what the job was.
CS: Where do you go from here? I mean, obviously, you have your first feature in your belt, so you don’t have to worry about your directorial debut anymore. Do you have other things?
Goold: Yeah, I do have a couple of films I’m developing. I can’t really say what they are, but they’re again things that I’m writing. I think that’s what I really enjoyed, was that sort of that writer/director kind of role. I mean, not exclusively being the writer.
CS: But from your own original ideas?
Goold: Yeah, one’s an original idea. I mean, again, it’s based on true events. They’re both original ideas. Then, keeping doing some of the theater as well to pay the bills.
True Story opens nationwide (in roughly 500+ theaters) on Friday, April 17.