EXCLUSIVE: A stellar cast has been locked for Felt, a political thriller that tells the story made famous in All the President’s Men, from the vantage point of the top FBI official the Washington Post called Deep Throat. Writer-director Peter Landesman, who previously landed Liam Neeson to play No. 2 FBI man Mark Felt and Diane Lane to play his wife Audrey, has just about set the complete cast, minus the actor who’ll play the pivotal role of Bob Woodward.
Here are the new additions to the cast: Scandal’s Tony Goldwyn will play FBI intel chief Ed Miller, and Kate Walsh will play his wife Pat; Josh Lucas plays FBI No. 3 Charlie Bates; Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall will play John Dean, architect of the Watergate cover-up who was desperate to plug the Washington Post leaks; Marton Csokas and Tom Sizemore play Felt’s FBI rivals Pat Gray and Bill Sullivan; Wendi McLendon-Covey plays Felt secretary Carol Tschudy; Ike Barinholtz plays Angelo Lano, who headed the FBI investigation into the leak; Bruce Greenwood plays Time magazine reporter Sandy Smith, to whom Felt also leaked Watergate intel; Spotlight’s Brian D’Arcy James plays FBI special agent Robert Kunkel; Noah Wyle plays Stan Pottinger, who prosecuted Felt and other FBI officials for ordering break-ins to search homes of suspected domestic terrorist radicals, without warrants; and Maika Monroe plays Felt’s daughter Joan. Colm Meaney and Ray Donovan’s Eddie Marsan are closing up deals to play CIA men.
Ridley and Giannina Scott head the list of producers on a project Landesman wrote and has been trying to get made for eight years. Marc Butan’s MadRiver Pictures will finance and produce alongside Scott Free Productions, Playtone and Cara Films. Landesman and the Scotts produce with Gary Goetzman, Tom Hanks, Butan, Jay Roach and Anthony Katagas, with Steven Shareshian and Michael Schaefer exec producing with Nik Bower, Deepak Nayar, Peter Guber and Peter Strauss. Endurance Media’s Steve Richards also joined the project as a financier and producer, along with Torridon Films and Riverstone Pictures. Production starts May 2.
Landesman, who most recently teamed with Ridley and Giannina Scott on Concussion, said the movie will “change the accepted history of Watergate and the dissembling of the presidency and modern American politics.” He also said there is an untold parallel tale: while Felt was guiding reporters to revelations that would bring down the Nixon White House, he was also in a desperate search to find his estranged daughter, who had embraced a counterculture lifestyle and whom, they feared, had become part of the web of suspected domestic terrorist groups like the Weather Underground that had become such a high priority to the FBI. Felt’s over-aggressiveness in that area was his undoing and led to his resignation and conviction (he was pardoned by Ronald Reagan).
“While the reporters were chasing and Nixon was covering up, there was this humming engine of secrecy and intrigue unfolding within the walls of the FBI,” Landesman said. “It was all driven by this one man, Felt, who had been No. 2 in the FBI behind J Edgar Hoover, and whose motivation for doing what he did was most importantly to protect the institution he loved, against an assault by a corrupt president who wanted to turn the bureau into his version of the KGB.
“Right or wrong, he felt what he did was the last defense of the American ideal. Watergate happened around the time Hoover died and Nixon was going to use the opportunity to take over the FBI and turn it into his own mechanism for control,” Landesman said. “Felt saw this coming and made a decision to betray the FBI secrecy code, in order to protect the FBI. At the same time, there was this Shakespearean drama going on in his home, after his daughter vanished and entered the same counterculture groups that the FBI was trying to take down. So while Watergate was unfolding, he was hunting for his missing daughter he was afraid had vanished into the arms of his enemy. And nobody knew his motivation was his missing daughter.”
Landesman spent years researching, and dismisses the criticism that Felt’s motivation was at least partly sour grapes for being passed over by Nixon for the top FBI job he coveted.
Said Landesman: “Did he feel he deserved the job? Absolutely. But he betrayed the FBI to save the FBI and made the ultimate sacrifice because the FBI was everything to him. His last play was to counsel acting FBI director Pat Gray, in his Senate confirmation hearing, to confess that Nixon and John Dean destroyed classified Watergate files. He built this house of cards, and that last play brought them all down. The story has the components of a suspenseful spy thriller, but there are huge reveals about his motivations.”
Landesman said he was grateful to Neeson and Lane for committing early and hanging in while the project got pieced together with indie financing, which is how movies like this get made nowadays. He said that after Felt languished, the project regained momentum after he asked the Scotts to come aboard while they worked in the NFL film Concussion.
“Ridley and I are delighted to have such a strong cast for our latest project with Peter,” said Giannina Scott. “These are some of the finest actors working today and we can’t wait to get underway with them to tell the fascinating story of Mark Felt.”