The morning after Cate Blanchett won her second Academy Award for her performance in Blue Jasmine, she received a script on her doorstep. It was a narrative based on true events, to be directed by James Vanderbilt, a man who had never directed a feature film before. But Vanderbilt, whose credits were limited, was attempting to secure a two-time Oscar-winning actress for the lead in his film, Truth . "I was like 'Oh, we're screwed, there's no way.' You don't win your second Oscar and then go, 'You know what I'd really like to do? Work with a first time director.' There's no chance," Vanderbilt says. "But God bless her, she read it, and she really responded to it, and we got on the phone, had a conversation, and she committed to it."
Truth surrounds the true story of the Killian documents controversy which took place during the days leading up to the 2004 presidential election. CBS News and the team at 60 Minutes, lead by Mary Mapes and newcaster Dan Rather, ran a story accusing then President George W. Bursh of avoiding being drafted into Vietnam by using his father's political advantages. The repercussions of the story were horrendous for the journalists involved, and Truth aims to tell their side of the story.
With Cate on board, Vanderbilt's second casting challenge would be finding his Dan Rather. "I knew I wanted Robert Redford to play the part. I sent him the script. He called me up — and he called me up by the way — it wasn't an agent," the Amazing Spider-Man screenwriter says. "My phone rang with a blocked number and I clicked it over, and there was a guy that said, 'Jamie, it's Bob Redford!' And he said he wanted to do the film."
But before Vanderbilt had two A-listers attached to his project, he had to write the damn thing. Inspired by a Vanity Fair excerpt of Mary Mapes' novel, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power, the screenwriter-turned-director realized there was so much more to the controversy than he realized. So with this realization in mind, he set out to write a script based on Mapes' book that presented not one, not two, but a multitude of sides to a single story. "The film is not trying to prove a point," he says. "What I love is a married couple who will come out of seeing it and one goes, 'Absolutely, she should have been fired!' And the other is going 'What? Are you crazy?' The goal for me, first and foremost, was to tell a really interesting story about this woman. If audiences can go on that journey, and then maybe they also think a little bit about media and where we are on right now, that would be gravy."
But the film's simple title, which is intended to invoke a sense of irony, could be misconstrued as a label falsely indicating that what the film is presenting is, well, the truth. "Why we call the movie Truth... It's the thing that everybody is trying to get to. And it's not always the easiest thing to find. It's incredibly illusive and sometimes dangerous to go after. You can crash upon the rocks trying to get to it," he says. "People are gonna have opinions about it, and argue and disagree. I don't think that's a bad thing. Conversation and disagreement are things that make our country great."
Truth hits theaters October 16.
Images: Sony Pictures Classics; Getty