The True Story Behind 'Bombshell's Fictional Character

Lionsgate Movies

Bombshell, which opens nationwide on Dec. 20, tells the true story of a major lawsuit that managed to change the face of Fox News. In it, Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) accuses the network's then-CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow) of sexual harassment. Following that, other women come forward with their own stories, including Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron) and later, Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie). Of those major players, Carlson, Ailes, and Kelly are all based on real-life people, while Pospisil is a composite of many other women's accounts. It's there, in Pospisil that the accurate, true life stories behind Bombshell can be found.

In 2016, Carlson, who had been an anchor at Fox News since first joining in 2005, filed a lawsuit against Ailes. At the time, Ailes was CEO and chairman of the media network, and was accused of allegedly sexually harassing Carlson. Per USA Today, Carlson's complaint read, in part: "Ailes has unlawfully retaliated against Carlson and sabotaged her career because she refused his sexual advances and complained about severe and pervasive sexual harassment." (Prior to his death in 2017, Ailes denied all accusations against him.)

Carlson was the only woman to file a lawsuit against Ailes, but after news of it broke and began to spread, over 20 women came forward with their own stories, corroborating her experiences and acting as witnesses. This includes Kelly, another anchor at Fox News, who accused Ailes of alleged similar conduct, saying that he allegedly sexually harassed her when she was a first year reporter.

Many of the other women who provided their stories also spoke with the filmmakers as they were conducting their research while building the story. According to IndieWire, director Jay Roach commented on their involvement at an early screening for Bombshell. He said, "We had an obligation to really capture it authentically. One of the things I have done in my other contemporary history films is go deep into actually interviewing real people, not just for authenticity … but also in details you get." The amalgamation of those interviews formed the basis for Robbie's character, Pospisil, who serves as a stand-in for the unnamed women who came forward to corroborate Carlson's accounts of alleged harassment. In a chat with Variety, Robbie detailed her reaction to her first reading the script, and how she honed in on the story. She said, "I hadn’t, for once, thought of the character first. I thought of the content and the messaging before kind of aligning myself with the character."

While many of those women were only able to speak to the filmmakers because they were promised anonymity (they're currently under non-disclosure agreements, barring them from speaking about their experiences in public), by virtue of Carlson's lawsuit, Carlson was unable to participate in the filmmaking process. Commenting on her feelings regarding the project, Carlson told Entertainment Weekly, "It’s a strange and frustrating reality that I can’t partake in any of these projects based on my settlement." She went on to comment on the film's accuracy, saying, "I don’t think that any real-life story is ever 100 percent accurate. So for me, I have to look at the big picture and the big picture for me is to continue the dialogue and it’s going to help other people."

As for Carlson's 2016 lawsuit? Two weeks after it was filed, and after more and more women came forward with their own stories of alleged harassment, Ailes was forced to resign from his position at Fox News. He died a year later in 2017. Carlson also then settled outside of court with 21st Century Fox, and was awarded $20 million. The media conglomerate issued an apology, which read, in part: "We sincerely regret and apologize for the fact that Gretchen was not treated with the respect and dignity that she and all of our colleagues deserve."