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State of Play was to star Brad Pitt and Ed Norton Ė but fate intervened and instead, itís Ben Affleck and Russell Crowe Ė who surprised director Kevin Macdonald with the lengths to which he went in creating his character, as Macdonald explains in this Q&A.

This film went through different cast changes. How did you navigate through the changes?
I got involved in this through Brad Pittís company. We started developing the script but I wanted to make a film that was different from what he wanted. He ended pulling out really close to us shooting. Edward Norton was going to co star but because we had to push the dates, he had another movie scheduled. Also Ed was a foil for Brad and once Brad was gone, Ed didnít make sense. You have this glossy, beautifully dressed politician who the journalist has to admire and feel he is not as successful as his friend, and that was always difficult with Brad, because who isnít more successful than Brad? So I think things happen for a reason and in this case I ended up with a cast much better suited to the material.

What was it like to work with Russell Crowe?
He had to play this loser, schlumpy guy who has never had a successful relationship and no girl would want to go in that apartment of his. He has let himself go to seed mentally and physically and he grasped that and further than I would ever had imagined. His genius is creating a character. There are so many little details. I remember he turned up the day before shooting and said he wanted to wear a pink arm band for breast cancer awareness, and I said, ďWhy?Ē He explained that his characterís mother died of breast cancer and he was very close to her and thatís why he canít have a good relationship with women and she died when he was young. He expands the character in ways you wouldnít imagine and thatís the way he works.

What was it like to direct your first Hollywood film?
A lot of the adventure was to come to Hollywood and make a movie with big stars and I was given a lot of freedom from the studio. The docos I made and The Last King of Scotland were rooted in reality and took you to a place most people are not familiar with, but this one was Washington DC and politics and journalism, so the challenge was how to make the very familiar not so familiar. I wanted to make the kind of film I wanted to see, one that is entertaining but also makes you think and is smart.

Was All the Presidentís Men an inspiration?
It was one of the greatest journalistic films ever made. The journalists were very heroic and today everyone despises journalists for the most part. After Watergate they were considered to be heroes and essential in the running of a democratic society, and the set of the Washington Post was a beautiful modernist work almost Kubrick like - very clean and crisp and it represented the future and optimism Ė rationality as opposed to irrationality. I started to think to make this movie it would be like imagining the set of All the Presidents Men has been left to rot for 30 years. I went to Washington Post and ceiling tiles are hanging down and the computers are twenty years old. Itís a great metaphor to what is happening to journalism and the perception of journalists in society. That was the thing that excited me to make a film about journalism at a time with journalism is in crisis. Itís like a conspiracy thriller but itís all true.

How did the movie change from the original miniseries on the BBC?

Itís a movie and it has to exist on its own. We took the basic plot of the journalist and the politician but essentially the characters are all different, what theyíre like and their relationships are different. People always accuse Hollywood movies of dumbing things down but I think we anti dumbed it down. The series was great entertainment but it doesnít really take place in the world of journalism. I think we are about journalism and the friction between print and the internet. The series was more generic and less topical.

How accessible is Washington D.C as a film location?
They donít like you filming there. You can negotiate and then they can change their minds at the last minute. Being from a background of documentaries I wanted to film the whole thing in DC but we ended up constructing a huge newspaper office in LA. Then we went to DC for five weeks to shoot there.

Published September 24, 2009

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Kevin Macdonald


Directed by Kevin Macdonald

Handsome, unflappable U.S. Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck) is the future of his political party, serving as the chairman of a committee overseeing defense spending . . . until his research assistant mistress is brutally murdered and secrets come tumbling out. Washington Globe reporter Cal McCaffrey (Russell Crowe) has and old friendship with Collins and his tough editor, Cameron (Helen Mirren), assigns him to investigate, along with Globe blogger, Della (Rachel McAdams). As they try to uncover the killerís identity, McCaffrey steps into a cover-up that threatens to shake the nationís power structures.
Australian DVD release: September 24, 2009

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