Have you ever imagined what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows might be like if Harry Potter had gone undercover with the Death Eaters? Sadly, we'll never get to see that, but Imperium might be the next best thing. In the new movie, Harry himself, Daniel Radcliffe, stars as Nate Foster, an FBI agent who goes undercover with white supremacists — basically American Death Eaters. Imperium is definitely not Harry Potter, however. For one thing, there's no magic, and for another, the movie takes place in the modern day real world, and unlike J.K. Rowling's very fictional works, it'd seem likely that Imperium is based on a true story — although in actuality, it's not.
Imperium isn't based on a specific FBI investigation or bust, but it is based on a very real set of circumstances. The film is framed by the real terrorist acts of white supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Dylan Roof — both of whom are shown briefly in the film. Writer-director Daniel Ragussis worked with former FBI agent Michael German, who has a story credit on the film, and based the movie on his book, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former Undercover Agent. German's experiences undercover might not mirror those of the fictional Nate Foster, but they do resemble them. As an undercover agent, German spent roughly 14 years going on various undercover assignments focusing on domestic terrorism, including with neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And German hopes that Imperium will bring public awareness to the slow, unglamorous work of undercover agents trying to stop homegrown terrorism. "In these cases, the FBI doesn't impose an enormous amount of public fear, and they're able to prevent incidents through effective use of undercover agents," German told LA Weekly .
One thing Imperium makes very clear is how the FBI has prioritized foreign terrorists in this post-9/11 world, and some people feel that this is to the detriment of investigations into domestic terrorism. It's one of the reasons German publicly resigned from the FBI in 2005; at the time, he wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post expressing his problems with government anti-terrorism procedures he believed were letting some threats fall through the cracks. "If our number one priority is to prevent acts of terrorism, we have to pay attention to these needle factories, because that's what they're producing these lone extremist terrorists. And it's not just random violence that occurs once in a while, it's an organized pattern of activity," German said in a 2005 interview with Democracy Now.
German's influence is felt throughout the Imperium script, and in addition to working on the story with Ragussis, German also spent time with Radcliffe to help get him into character. "To be able to hear his real experiences being undercover in this world is a real, kind of, once in a lifetime thing," the actor said during a recent stop at AOL Build in New York. In that same interview, Radcliffe also said that what he didn't learn from German, he learned from white supremacist websites online. (His browser history must have been very thankful.)
Imperium isn't based on a true story, but it could be, and that's what makes it so frightening.
Images: Lionsgate Premiere