As Spielberg unleashes the story of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, the director and his female collaborators sit down with THR to discuss the current political climate, their own media diets (Streep reads the Times and Drudge) and the urgency of the Pentagon Papers story at a time when women and the press are under attack: “This was the only year to make this film.”
“We are on the way to something better,” says Meryl Streep of the recent “earthquake” of harassment claims and female empowerment that has upended Hollywood, which many view as a direct response to the Trump administration. Certainly, the regime loomed large for Steven Spielberg when he first read The Post. “I realized this was the only year to make this film,” says the director, who tapped Streep to star as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham despite the fact that he had only collaborated with her once before — for a single day of voice work on 2000’s A.I. Artificial Intelligence. “Most of the time we talked about how his property was haunted and did I know anybody who did exorcisms?” recalls Streep. “And of course, I did. I got him a priest.”
The $50 million-plus Post tells the story of how Graham gave the green light to her editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) to report on the Pentagon Papers in 1971. (The New York Times had broken the story on the report, which revealed that America was losing the Vietnam War, but a court had ruled it couldn’t publish more about the top-secret documents.) Graham now faced a terrible dilemma: Go ahead with the Post‘s article and risk imprisonment or withhold and silence the truth. Nearly half a century after she made her momentous choice, Graham’s tale is at last told (she was infamously excluded from the 1976 Watergate drama All the President’s Men).
On Nov. 28, THR gathered Spielberg, 70, and some of the key women who worked on the film (first-time screenwriter Liz Hannah, 31; producer and former Sony chief Amy Pascal, 59; Streep, 62; and the director’s longtime producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, 47) in his offices on the Universal lot for a wide-ranging discussion about the Fox picture (which opens Dec. 22) and the issues it raises. “This is why she was different,” says Pascal of Graham. “She owned [The Post]. The world changes when women own things, not when they work for men.”
This film came together on very short notice. Why?
STEVEN SPIELBERG I read the script without any intention of telling the story myself or of committing to a production while in the middle of [another one,] Ready Player One, which was only half sane. But I was really curious about the subject matter. Ben Bradlee was my neighbor for years in East Hampton. He and his wife, Sally [Quinn], and Nora Ephron and [her husband] Nick Pileggi would come over and we would have these soirees. When I finished Liz’s script, I thought this was an idea that felt more like 2017 than 1971 — I could not believe the similarities between today and what happened with the Nixon administration against their avowed enemies The New York Times and The Washington Post. I realized this was the only year to make this film.
KRISTIE MACOSKO KRIEGER He said, “If I can’t make it this year, I’m not making it.”
SPIELBERG My first reaction [reading it] was I got scared — which is good for me because fear is my fuel. The more frightened I become of something, the more I have to work through it. This was a topic that was scaring everybody I know on my side of the [political] street — and quite rightly.
What are they scared of?
SPIELBERG That we’ve lost the majority of good listeners, that our conversations have turned into skirmishes. We live in an area where we don’t know a lot of red-state voters. Well, I know a lot because I have friends and family in other parts of this country, and so at dinner-table conversations outside of California, I’m completely mute or I get into these huge rows. The gray and the blue have become the blue and the red. And it is as vast a chasm as our nation faced before the Civil War. I’ve never seen anything like it.
MERYL STREEP We don’’ know where north is. People disagree on what actual facts are. Whether this table is really a table.
LIZ HANNAH We need to see each other. We need to look each other in the eye and know you’re not a villain,…
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