When it came to transferring Robert Schenkkan’s All The Way about President Lyndon B. Johnson, executive producer Steven Spielberg gave the writer and director Jay Roach one big note when adapting the play to the small screen: “Commit to the quiet moments,” remembered Roach.
The play, which earned Bryan Cranston a Tony award for his turn as LBJ, had the bulk of its action take place at center stage, with Cranston surrounded by the seats of Congress. Various characters in the play would take seats at certain points in the Congressional seats, with the lights down, as LBJ took meetings and exploded his monologues. Upon watching the first trailer today at TCA, it was quite obvious that the action has been widened for the screen.
“It’s a complete cinematic reinvention,” said Schenkkan whose father was friends with LBJ back in central Texas where the writer grew up. But going back to Spielberg’s big note, what Roach awoke to with the televised version was “how magnificent Johnson was in the intimate moments”.
“It was in the most desperate places with Johnson, where he would curl up in bed in the middle of the convention. It was those moments of personal meltdown where a camera could go,” added Roach. As such, Cranston’s makeup was built up for the HBO movie so that he even looks closer to LBJ than he did on stage. The mask provided more inspiration to the actor when it came to getting into the former president’s skin.
Schenkkan worked with Spielberg on HBO’s The Pacific. “He’s such a political animal. One of the other things he remarked on when it came to adapting the play to a movie was he said ‘There’s a lot of phone conversations in this script! How are we going to do this?’ So we worked hard to move around that. He said his overall gist was how do we get the camera moving around. Go further, deeper, take us more into the world of LBJ.”
For Roach, All The Way is his fifth political film. “I’ve found that political stories provide great drama. There’s the outside forces on top of these internal and local forces. But while you’re worrying about the state of the union, a character is trying to get along with his wife.” For the director the HBO films Recount and Game Change dealt with political situations that frustrated him: the voting recount in the Al Gore-George W. Bush election and the rise of VP candidate Sarah Palin.
The director’s last broad non-political comedy was six years ago, Dinner For Schmucks. Roach told the press that he promises to return to the broad comedy format one day.
Cranston was asked to juxtapose his latest award-nominated portrayal, Dalton Trumbo, and LBJ: “If you took a Venn Diagram of the two characters, you’d find a lot more in common between the two. They were ambitious, exceptional at what they did, selfish, self-righteous, talented.”
All The Way premieres this spring.