When Charlize Theron — the driving force as producer and star of Bombshell — sought a director to capture the plight that ambitious women faced in a sexist Fox News culture fostered by creator Roger Ailes, the easy choice would have been a woman. Instead, she chose Jay Roach, helmer of the Austin Powers and Meet the Parents franchises who veered into political dramas like Game Change, Recount and Trumbo. Considering the script was by another man, Oscar-winning The Big Short co-writer Charles Randolph, it was a bold choice. Guided by the sensibilities of Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie and a coterie of women, Roach and Randolph explain how their eyes were opened to the hardships women routinely face in being objectified by men, and how Theron’s instinct to make the telling of an important female sexual harassment story a co-ed affair might make it more understandable to male viewers, who will be shocked by Bombshell‘s scenes of unchecked sexual harassment.
DEADLINE: You’ll know this movie is registering as an awards-race threat when you see the outraged stories asking how could a movie about the degradation and sexual harassment of women at Fox News be written by a white man, and directed by another white man. Why wait?
JAY ROACH: It’s not being defensive to say we had these job titles, but we made this film as a group with some really incredible women. Half of our producers are women. Charlize was our fearless leader for a lot of this movie, especially when it was in jeopardy by the way.
DEADLINE: When Megan Ellison’s Annapurna dropped out as financier…
ROACH: Charlize got BRON to step in. She helped us put it all back together. She called her reps and said, “You’ve got to save this movie.” She was a monster in terms of just the fierceness and tenacity…
DEADLINE: She won an Oscar the last time that word was used to describe her…
ROACH: She was just in the best sense, the monster you would want for your movie… monster is probably not a good word. She said to us when we started, “We will kill for each other. We’re going to save this movie. It’s not going to go away. We have this amazing script, cast, they can’t stop us.” And we rallied around her.
DEADLINE: The daily Megyn Kelly makeover?
RANDOLPH: We sat there with her, putting these pieces together.
ROACH: She was also the one who put us together. She sent me this script and said, “Hey, as a friend, will you take a look at this?” I didn’t even know I was up to direct it. She’s the one who had the sense. When she was reluctant to play Megyn, I told her, “That’s why you should play it. Your reluctance is what this is about. That’s what’s going to make it not an easy thing. You’re a master at playing the complicated characters.” The women who teamed up with us, all the women who we spoke to who had been there, the women we screened it for many times…we would say, “Please just help us not get this wrong, because we’re likely to, we’re men. We will get this wrong unless you tell us what’s screwed up about the way we’re coming at it.”
DEADLINE: Some specific creative course corrections they provided?
RANDOLPH: Oh, so many. How much time you got?
ROACH: My wife was on me the whole time to get it right. Everyone was on us, “Get this right. Do not screw this up. You have a responsibility to the women who told you their stories. To the actors you are asking to risk their reputations to do this.” We felt that the entire time. But I will tell you one specific thing that happened in the screening process. The studio had a natural desire, even more than what was in the original script, to somehow have a sense of hope and triumph at the end. A number of really smart women said, “You got to be careful with that. Because this is not fixed. This is not, mission accomplished. This is not ‘Hey look what these women did and they…”
DEADLINE: Cured the disease?
ROACH: This was one of the waves, but this is a massive problem that continues and the film had to have a balance at the end. Something good happened, but there’s a lot that wasn’t good about how it went down. You see Megyn and Gretchen look at each other, through the glass. They were pitted against each other, all of them. Women helped us find the balance by just setting us straight.
RANDOLPH: Also, there were also moments where we were unsure. A good example is the scene with Kayla and Roger in that room.
DEADLINE: Margot Robbie plays Kayla, an amalgamation of several women who were harassed by Ailes, who made it clear that their upward trajectory would be made easier if they entered into a sexual relationship with him. This is laid bare in her meeting with Ailes in his office, where he talks about the importance of loyalty as he prods her to hike her short dress up, for his perverse pleasure.
RANDOLPH: You see that camera going up her body, exposing her. In some screenings, people said, “Oh that’s making me awfully uncomfortable.” And Jay and I were like, “Oh, should we?…” And women were like, “Don’t you dare cut a frame of that scene.” It had to be repugnant.
ROACH: Some people even said, “Do you really want him breathing that loud?”
DEADLINE: He sits there watching, like a bloated, hungry reptile eyeing prey…
ROACH: You can hear him, and you can tell from that he’s caught up in the moment. They said, “He’s so monstrous.” I said, “Of course he is.” You need that. He’s a predator. He smells blood, he’s ready to pounce. I want you to feel that this is just one step in what he would get people to do. Just go a little past the line, knowing the next time they came in, now they had this secret. He’s a predator looking at the victim he’s groomed and primed for the next amount of predation. You don’t want him to breathe too roughly? I want him to sound a little monstrous; he’s the dragon, right there. It was women who gave us encouragement; they said, “No. Don’t [pull back], you’re on track. That’s how that feels, and you should stick with it. Don’t let other people try to water it down for you.”
DEADLINE: Jay, you mentioned your wife, who is Susanna Hoffs, the lead singer of The Bangles. She lent her voice to that intriguing scene in the elevator to Ailes’ floor when you show Megyn Kelly, Margot Robbie and Gretchen Carlson going up there for entirely different reasons. Kelly the rising star, Carlson about to be fired, and Kayla the young ambitious on-air personality about to make a Faustian bargain for a career. That scene shows the competitive nature Ailes fostered that helped keep predation secret; women were pitted against each other as rivals, and did not share experiences. Explain how Susanna’s voice got in there.
ROACH: Our composer Theodore Shapiro has done most of my films. We talked about what this scene should sound like. I had been inspired by Petra Haden, who has performed with Sue a bunch of times and done whole albums of movie scores with only voices as the instruments. The idea of somehow connecting to the spirit and soul of what women were going through by just using women’s voices…it could have been hokey. But Teddy got my wife Sue and Petra and another amazing woman, Caroline Shaw, to sing sections of that piece. He sampled some of them and played it like a keyboard. Their voices are so beautiful, haunting, tribal, primitive and powerful. That was all Teddy’s instinct. It meant something special to me. My wife is so strong, such a force, a brilliant creator, but also she’s so devoted to quality of life and lifestyle issues. I just know that my world is so much better when she’s in charge. I’m been lucky to be around women like that my life.
DEADLINE: She is also this beautiful woman pioneer in a male-dominated rock music industry at a time few female bands existed. I imagine an industry full of heavy breathing dragons. Along the way, was she filling your ear…
ROACH: Constantly. She has some stories and friends who have them. She’s really good friends with Rosanna Arquette, who watched our film, and just came out of the screening room crying. It was so f*cking devastating, experiencing it with Rosanna Arquette, and I didn’t even know all the stuff until recently when I read the books by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, and Ronan Farrow. Sue knows tons of people. She’s had some interesting experiences. My wife, whenever she’s alone in a city, she just runs from point A to point B. She’s 5 feet tall. She just knows…just picture her, living in that world, where she has to run. You know, it’s just a world that…
DEADLINE: You mean, stay in constant motion because…?
ROACH: Constant motion because she just is fearful of male predators. Women in their workplace have to live in that. It’s just unacceptable. About halfway through every screening of this, and we’ve had hundreds of them, she starts weeping. And I know, OK, I’ve reached something… Especially during Kayla’s scenes. Not just the scene with Roger, but the call when she confesses [what Ailes did to her]. My wife is always a puddle when that’s going on. So she has helped me have that point of view. And has always been a touchstone of like, “Is this authentic? Does this feel real to you?” She has been an amazing partner with me through that. Charles’ wife is the same.
DEADLINE: The stage actress Mili Avital…
RANDOLPH: It is much the same thing. And so for us, there’s just nothing more rewarding than women coming up after screenings and saying, “This resonated with me.” If you’ve ever had a friendship with a woman, you’ve heard one of these stories. Women have had to endure it for centuries. That feedback is rewarding because we want women in general, and the women we love in particular, to feel heard. That we get it, that this is a time to change. And we can help hopefully move that ball down the field a little bit, because this requires 100% of society to buy into it, for every guy and woman to get with the program. It takes only one unchecked bozo in some office somewhere to make a woman’s life miserable.
DEADLINE: Many men read these accusatory stories with skepticism. Because there is an accusation, no due process, with a vehement denial from the alleged transgressor. Can I tell you that as a man who has behaved myself and always valued strong women, the scene between Margot Robbie and John Lithgow made me reconsider any skepticism I have felt. It crystallized the obscenity, seeing the wonderful, natural ambition of a young woman who happens to be beautiful, get twisted by the perverse desire of a powerful predatory man. You almost have to turn away as you watch this young woman realize, here’s who he sees me as, no matter what I do or how good I am. And then, do I want this career badly enough to degrade myself?
RANDOLPH: What you just said might sort of make me cry here [he does]. That is so moving to us because our goal was always put men in that f*cking room. If you could put men in that room and in her head and her heart, that’s the best we can do as men. Put other guys in that room. I’m so pleased that it hit you that way.
Clearly, once Ailes was capable of creating a network were his values, his desires were in the DNA of the place, it was a ripe environment for that kind of abuse, because he’s already thinking, “OK, how can I objectify these women? How can I sell them? How can I reduce them to their sexuality?” Because that’s the best way to commodify them, right? What’s so interesting about these environments is the women who took it onto themselves to enforce this culture. There was one they called the “Skirt Nazi,” a woman who’s doing that voluntarily. She has chosen to enforce those values, and impose them on other women, because she starts to think, that’s what matters. And that was what’s so crazy about the environment. People start to think, “Well, that’s super important. That’s what you got to do. Got to keep those ratings. I’ve got to show that leg.” That kind of thing. You can understand that how once the culture is framed this way, and women are reduced and perceived that way, it is a short step between that and, “Hey, let’s go get a hotel room.”
ROACH: The psychology of [Ailes] is fascinating, and how that starts to become an addiction to the power and loyalty. The people coming and paying tribute and extending some kind of affirmation to what he’s doing, to the extent where he starts to feel like he deserves it. And he’s doing this hierarchical controlling. He’s taught that what he’s doing is so valuable and so important, that he is super special. It is the classic narcissistic personality disorder. I’m special. I’m the center of the universe, there starts to be a sense of invincibility, and everybody else is the problem. It’s like a paranoid thing. So, I’ve got to conform everybody, force them into these tight rules. It’s like a spell that… It’s a little too simplistic to say cult; it is culture, but it is also cult, because it is a spell that a person at the center weaves on everybody, and they start to feel like they have to align with the gravitational poles of it or they get ousted. Or, worse, their character is assassinated and their careers ruined, which happened with a number of the women who dared to go against the cult rules.
Rudi Bakhtiar, who you see in the film turn down an offer by a powerful executive, never worked in broadcasting again. She is the woman in the movie whose thoughts you hear. She had a meteoric rising career, the next Christiane Amanpour, a really smart, capable Iranian woman who was going into war zones and just delivering incredible stuff. She gets a three-year new contract at Fox, and six months in, this guy tries to pick her up. And she doesn’t even complain. She tells a friend, who complains, and then, she’s not just out of that job. She is out of that career. She was an immigrant. Went to UCLA. Got her great break at CNN, then…it’s the most tragic kind of story. And that kind of cult enforcement…people stay in line.
DEADLINE: A couple of times these women in decision-making moments looked at their young daughters. Viewers like myself might well have the same image of our own daughters…
ROACH: There is that scene where Megyn looks back at her daughter, but Charles wanted to add it at the beginning where Nicole as Gretchen also did that. These are mothers, thinking about their daughters. We made sure we got that other beat in it. It is, what you just said it is, the obscenity part. An ambitious man after a newscaster job, who walked in gung-ho, would not have to wonder, is he going to have me stand up and spin around, ask me to lift my skirt and somehow show him that he deserves this kind of favor, the sexual attention…
RANDOLPH: Prove your loyalty…
ROACH: And if you deny him, that he’s going to somehow fire you and ruin your career. It was eye opening for me and I am glad it might be for other men too. That is the life-changing experience of making a film like this. I thought I knew some of that, that I was a sensitive man. Until I started hearing these stories from the women directly and then through Charles’ script and those performances, I realized I didn’t know sh*t. I didn’t anything. Not nearly enough about what this must have been like.
DEADLINE: Jay, you said you were a beneficiary of a male-dominated system. I might be mis-remembering, but wasn’t it your wife who got you in the Austin Powers director’s chair by talking you up to Mike Myers?
ROACH: Sure, it was. She got me on that job. Charlize offered me this job. I’ve always been happy to follow the lead of the amazing women in my life. I was trying to be a DP and I was a professor and she said, “You really should direct.” I didn’t know I was even up for the job, when Charlize sent me this. I got the first job because Sue said to Mike Myers, “You should think about him as a director.” And by the time I went to Mike, thinking I was helping him find other directors, he said, “No, we put you up for the job. Your wife suggested you.” And then Charlize said the same, she’s sent this to me as a friend. Without her championship of me, and of Charles’ script, we wouldn’t be here doing this.
RANDOLPH: It was a courageous choice on Charlize’s part. She knew she would get some pushback. At the time we were thinking, we’re going to have a woman. It’s obvious, right? And then she shows up. “You know? Jay Roach. And here’s why.” And she lays out a case and it’s a perfect case.
DEADLINE: What was the most compelling part of her case?
RANDOLPH: That Jay’s the best director any of us know of, for being collaborative, in the way that he can take hundreds of relationships and make them work for the film. You can see this in his history. Any great performer, and when it comes time for a collaborative partner, Jay Roach, right? And the mix of comedy and drama. There’s also his political sensitivity as well that was important. It was a hard moment. It was a moment where women [directors] were getting jobs, working, so there was an issue of who’s available. But the most important thing Charlize said was, “He gets it, he gets me, he gives me the courage to do this. It’s hard for me to express why.” That mattered so much.
ROACH: So it wasn’t my gender as much as the relationship I had with her. For her to transcend the gender issue to hire me, that was a big deal.
DEADLINE: Speaking of men, what did John Lithgow bring as Ailes, especially in that scene with Kayla that showed how he groomed these women?
ROACH: We had to convey women in crisis. John was the crisis. His ability and willingness to be that antagonist makes the jeopardy appear so powerful. He’s so likable and then he shows this other side. Every scene he’s in with all of them, they’re as good as they can be because he represents that dark force, misogyny and narcissism. And John is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet.
DEADLINE: How do you get that scene, Lithgow as Ailes becomes the wolf on Red Riding Hood’s doorstep, and Robbie’s Kayla goes from ambition to shock, shame and resignation.
ROACH: It was disturbing, one of the most unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had. I was in the room. I don’t usually operate cameras very much, but there was something about that day. Barry [Ackroyd] always shoots with an oppositional camera, which means everybody’s always on camera. So every moment you’re on the set, it’s like in a play. There’s no off-camera weird-paced mismatch with people saving it for when they’re on. Everybody’s on and it’s intense.
That day, he’s shooting both at Margot and at John at the same time. But I also wanted that distance that you see when she’s a little close to him, when she’s interviewing and charming him. Then she sits down, she’s further away. I said, “Can I just have one more camera? I know you don’t have an operator, I’ll happily operate.” Barry knew I used to operate years ago. My one job was just to hold the composition. It was so intense and upsetting. I was worried that I might lose track of the camera and blow the shot. I knew I didn’t want to make them do it again and again for that third camera. We had to have a bunch of cameras so they could do it and then get out of it. We didn’t do that many takes. The way Barry shoots, you can go quickly, until the actors feel like they’ve got it, and I feel like we’ve got it, and then you’re done. When you see [the result], when she’s finally fully humiliated… you think you know how humiliating it might be, and then you come up to her face and you just go, “Oh my God, she’s in pure hell, and she knows she partly created this hell by putting herself in this position.” And then she walks back over and sits down and she’s trying to be polite.
RANDOLPH: John is the nicest man on the planet, but he was looking to always add emotional depth and layers. At the end he says, “You have a great body,” which was always written as this weird sort of adolescent thing to say, like the nerd who finally is on a date with a cheerleader. It had that vibe to it, like he doesn’t know what to say. His choice was to do it with absolute remorse. After this degrading experience, he’s feeling remorse…
ROACH: Like he couldn’t help himself.
RANDOLPH: As if he’s begging for her forgiveness. And then he takes that moment and immediately transcends into this predatory blackmail scenario. It captured the strange up and downs, emotional ins and outs of the character in this fantastic way. His delivery of that line…he’s just almost at an edge of naivete in this very harsh man.
DEADLINE: Margot bundles up so much in that expressive face of hers. Ambition, degradation, shame, resignation that she just sold her soul to leapfrog other women there and get on camera. What’s the challenge in getting her to that moment where viewers will feel horrified for her?
ROACH: She analyzes her scenes in such a nerdy way. Knows every mark she wants to hit, she’s an amazingly craft-oriented person, to go with the big heart, soul and incredible ability. Her script is marked and tabbed. So when you think of the shot of her realizing, “Oh, you want to see my legs,” and the first time he says, she goes, it’s like, “Huh, all right.” And then she just kind of does a little curtsy thing and you see, OK, she knows she’s in trouble, but she hasn’t crossed that line. It’s just ambition. “I’m supposed to present myself and be the attractive person you apparently need me to be to be on your network. I get that. OK, I guess I’ll do that.” Then he says, “No, higher. Higher.”
Now, she’s no longer thinking, “I’m going to have to make the deal with the devil.” She’s thinking, “I’ve already made the deal with the devil and I didn’t know I’d made the deal with the devil. Now I’m in a place I can’t get out of and I’m in pure hell, and I’m trying to hide that I’m in hell, but I’m there, and I’m over that line that he somehow apparently knew he was going to get me over. Now I don’t know what to do.”
That reveal, where she’s so confident, so in charge, at that key moment when you reveal her face, you realize, “Oh, my God,” she’s not in control of any of this anymore. He’s now put her into this place where she’s completely just meat, now, and she suddenly feels like meat, and he’s the predator about ready to eat her alive. Then he’s so crafty. Let’s her off the hook a little, like Charles said, and shows a tiny bit of remorse, and then he completely sets the hook and reels her in and says, “Now I’ve got you. You’ve crossed this line. We have a secret.”
RANDOLPH: The model was always the spy game, the way you recruit a spy is by getting them to do that first compromising thing, even if its just meeting you in a restaurant. You can then take that and leverage that against them. That’s exactly what Ailes does. He grooms her. She compromises herself a little bit. She goes into that room knowing he’s going to want to see her legs. She’s heard about the legs thing.
ROACH: The spin. Beware of the spin. That’s why we showed it innocently, earlier.
RANDOLPH: She says later to Megyn, “Someone should have warned us he was after more than legs.” She framed an expectation of what she thought was going to happen, and it just got a little worse and worse. And then she’s in. It’s the way that stuff happens.
DEADLINE: It sounds like you don’t have to do much for Robbie…
ROACH: Each actor is different. With Margot, you can say with the tiniest little thing, “can I have a little more of this, or less of that?” But that’s a risk. I didn’t want to say too much. Margot hears what you’re thinking, and almost before you finish the sentence, because of that preparation she’s done, she can suddenly adjust and go, “Oh, right. I can fold that back into everything else I was doing.” What I mostly remember on that day was just…staying out of the way. Of both of them. These are extraordinary actors. And that scene is the payoff, where you set the predicament, and the great script…well you saw the result. The direction went into the rehearsal phase, where she had a ton of great questions.
DEADLINE: What happens after you get your shot? I am imagining Lithgow apologizing or conflicted about whether to hug her…
ROACH: No, no. It is dangerous to let that happen, actually. I knew in this case the tension would be best in the early takes, because of that very thing. The best actors know not to do that. I used to try to make Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro remain afraid of each other, or at least make Ben afraid [in the Meet the Fockers films]. Ben would say, “Did Bob like that take?” He was so eager for him to. I’d say, “He said it was all right,” just to have him worry about it.
The real John is nice and encouraging. But when he found out he was doing the part for sure, he called every actor, every woman and said, “I’m going to play a monster, coming at you. And I just want you to know I love you, I respect you, I care about you. Just please help me by acknowledging that you get that. Because I’m going to try to really scare you.”
RANDOLPH: The emotional labor was always the women saying, “John. It’s OK. Come at me. It’s OK.”
DEADLINE: So when you were done, what did John do?
ROACH: Well, I definitely remember him hugging me. Charlize was there that day, watching and making sure Margot felt safe with all this. She was really great at just being there as a presence to all the actors. People were weeping at the monitors, reassuring each other with, “Wow, that was hard to watch, but amazing.” Charles was always at the monitors, giving me another perspective on how things are going. It’s such a fantastic thing to have a great writer not only deliver a great script but be there with you every second of the process. We would all freaking have to support each other.
It is such a soul-extinguishing thing to even imagine what a woman is going through, but we knew that was the whole point, to ask you to empathize with that. Something you thought you might understand, but you didn’t. And then to have to kind of go, we’re human, right? We’re people trying to be part of the hope side of this, by doing this. It’s painful.
RANDOLPH: It surprised us, how emotional it became. It’s that classic thing that men do, which is minimize or dismiss the female experience around sexuality. You hear in the abstract, you have to pull up your skirt and show your legs. So, what’s the big deal? But when you see in her emotions how utterly devastating it becomes for her. And how life-changing and career-ending it is. We and the crew felt the way you described feeling when you saw it, like for the first time.
DEADLINE: Jay, when you made the John McCain-Sarah Palin film Game Change, you had to defend the film against charges of bias against Republicans. Hollywood is viewed as a town full of lefties, and you are going to have to do this all over again, that Bombshell isn’t a partisan attack on the President’s favorite news source. It seemed some of the choices you made were done with that in mind. You could, for instance, have noted that even after Ailes was dismissed in disgrace, he remained an advisor until he died to Trump, who himself had that Billy Bush pussy-grabbing TV show outtake, Stormy Daniels and other scandals.
ROACH: It was in the script originally, and we thought about it. I think that a really important overlap between the Trump world and the Ailes world is related to this male-centric, at least somewhat misogynistic, view of gender and sex. But we tag it very strongly, as Megyn takes Trump on in the debate. People might think, oh, we thought this was about the bringing down of Roger Ailes. But they’re inseparable stories. Through that whole year, I was at the [2016 Republican] convention, doing research for the HBO film, when it was announced Roger Ailes was getting fired. It was the Trump convention and Megyn was there doing her stuff. I think I met her actually for the first time, but I didn’t get to know her at all. I had been aware of her since that year before when she’d taken him on in the primaries.
RANDOLPH: It’s all overlapped, but everything these days is so…Trump. I know women in my family would probably not tune into a movie about #MeToo issues, but they would tune into a movie about women who just said, “Women should be safe. We’re not taking this anymore. Let’s take this guy down.” Who are women they know, Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson. So we minimized the partisanship as much as we could while also for sure not shying away from the reality that Fox and Trump were so much a singularity. We just don’t have it in your face all the time. I hope conservative men too watch it, so they can have the reaction we so often do from men, “Holy hell, I just, I didn’t know what it felt like.”
ROACH: Also, because the Billy Bush thing happens after the events, it would have been at the end of the film or in a scroll or something.
RANDOLPH: Which we thought of. But we just wanted to stay with the women’s experience. Like once you’re in their experience and they’ve managed to navigate these waters and succeed in bringing him down, why go back and then say, “Oh, don’t forget …” We talked about using all that stuff in the scroll, a little shot at the end, which we shot and didn’t use, of the door coming down with a monitor in the background playing the Billy Bush tape. That’s actually in the script, if you were to read it. But Jay was right. We sat there and it was like, well, wait a minute. This is just not what the movie has become about. The movie has become about something else by that point. Why are you going back and re-articulating the problem when, though these women, we’ve told their story? Let’s leave it with them and their emotional experience.
DEADLINE: It could also marginalize the message if the movie is viewed as an attack on Fox News, or the Republicans or Trump…
RANDOLPH: It could close minds.
ROACH: The film is meant to try to open minds. Why end with a, oh, right, remember we’re divided…We were trying to keep the minds open.
RANDOLPH: We worked so hard to sell this idea that any woman, no matter what you think of her politics, even if everything you suspect about her is true, doesn’t deserve to be harassed. That’s what we wanted to get to. Fox News was an arena that let us communicate that. We worked so hard to get that up and we were wary of tainting it with more politics.
DEADLINE: It could have been anywhere, but it just happened to have happened at Fox News?
RANDOLPH: Yes and no. Most of that is correct. Yet, the more specific your story is, the more it becomes universal. The way Roger wove this web, and forced these women to reflect back what he wanted. That was a uniquely potent dangerous version of this kind of misogyny, toxic masculinity and coercion that was unique and very orchestrated. Down to the system that was designed to take on anybody who dared cross it. From all accounts that we’ve gotten to, he did have a Skunkworks, a sort of black ops group of publicity oriented people who could attack you from the site, not just about stuff you would think of. It might be about did you take good care of your dog? Were you a good mom? They would attack your character in a way that was very insidious. That felt unique to Fox. It was a corporate policy that automatically in a systematic way smears the accusers. Most places, you might question them and put them through an investigation or something, but you don’t suddenly character assassinate them just because they dare to speak up. That seemed unique to Fox.
ROACH: Harvey Weinstein did that too [with the Black Cube operatives that Ronan Farrow described in detail]. It’s not unique to Ailes.
DEADLINE: Charles, you and Adam McKay clever found devices – like Margot Robbie in a bubble bath explaining sub-prime mortgages. Scorsese has his own way of explaining how mobsters make money…
RANDOLPH: Everything I know about the FBI I know from Scorsese.
DEADLINE: Ailes was a towering figure whose influence in conservative politics touched the Nixon and Bush presidencies, and Rudy Giuliani being elected mayor. He wrote a lot of the Republican campaign playbook. You don’t spend much time on that. Why?
ROACH: The women’s story was, for me, ultimately more interesting because the women gave us this thing that we normally don’t get in sexual harassment narratives. They weren’t these earnest passive victims. They were actually women who represented these really different takes on it. For example, a good example of this for me is Gretchen, whose harassment is not what’s called classically sexual harassment. It’s more a gender-based harassment. It’s not, I want to sleep with you. It’s more like, oh, too bad you’re not young and hot like you used to be. He’s putting her down for her gender. Now, granted there was sexual harassment in her past, but this also is a really insidious form of harassment, belittling her for being a woman. We had some more back story or Roger, and we kept a bit where they talk about his background.
DEADLINE: When we see a picture of Nixon?
RANDOLPH: Exactly. It felt like that was all we needed, because Ailes had ceased to be the story. It was the story of the women who took him on.
ROACH: The way it was written and the way we cast it…there’s no way to put a value on the huge amount of collaboration that our three lead women, and all the women actually who were in the film, had with us. We wisely let them take over a lot of the movie. Obviously, I’m directing, trying to make decisions, keeping it on schedule. But Charlize is a force. Nicole is a force. Margot is a force. Kate McKinnon, all of them. Allison Janney. They brought so much heart and soul and wisdom about how to tell the story. Once we realized the audience was going to connect to all that, it was like, we don’t want to be man-splaining that other stuff. Better to just watch what they go through and be with them as they’re going through it.
DEADLINE: Megyn Kelly was on top of the world when she challenged Trump. Huge memoir deal, multimillion-dollar deal to jump from Fox News to NBC. Downhill from there. Her failed Sunday night 60 Minutes challenger newsmagazine is best remembered for giving a platform to Sandy Hook denier and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, and her defense of blackface in Halloween costumes prompted NBC to pay her tens of millions of dollars to go away. This movie rehabilitates her image. Given the overall perception of her when you constructed the movie, did it give you pause to make her an important heroine?
ROACH: I think Gretchen [Carlson] is the real hero in the film.
DEADLINE: Her lawsuit started the scrutiny, but once she was fired, she spends most of the movie on the outside. Megyn was the most powerful female on-air personality at Fox News. Ailes was done only after she refused to rally behind him and said that she too was harassed.
ROACH: That was the final blow. Along with the reveal that [Gretchen] recorded the calls, as we show.
RANDOLPH: I don’t know if [Kelly] is a hero or not. What I do know is, the film offers you a more complicated understanding of her. And that is our job. We’re here to make you think about it. That response of, “Oh. Why did you make me identify with Megan Kelly in this film?” That’s the point. The point is to make us rethink this, because that’s the only way that we know how to communicate. This issue transcends partisanship. It transcends our easy answers. It transcends our instincts on Twitter. It transcends all that stuff. You know what I mean? And so if we can make you rethink Megan Kelly, in this specific way, great. We’re not saying she’s a saint, or making a comment on anything else that she’s said. We are saying, in this situation, this woman stood up, and did a remarkable thing.
DEADLINE: What has to happen to make these reforms permanent?
RANDOLPH: Secret, binding arbitration, is a problem.
ROACH: It’s one of Gretchen’s big causes now. She’s lobbying Congress about that all the time.
RANDOLPH: Certainly in New York State, that’s the first thing that has to be addressed. If we can find a way to get around secret binding arbitration for sexual misconduct in the workplace.
ROACH: It’s all tied together. All contracts we sign has a binding arbitration thing and an NDA. They are onerous. If there was some way to carve out something for women who face harassment, because it just prevents them from warning each other. This can change. We saw it happen when Rachel Maddow went on television and said NBC is going to release any woman who is accusing men of sexual harassment from their NDAs, that’s a step that just happened. This problem is not fixed.
It is better in Hollywood. I’ve been parts of lots of meetings at the DGA, at the Directors Branch of the Academy, I’m active in three film schools, the USC film school, I’m on the board at AFI, and we’re trying to get a screenwriting program at Stanford. All those schools are fighting so hard for diversity. That’s where it will really start, encouraging women from the earliest years. The percentage of male directors in the DGA is something like 89% or 90%. That is crazy. The idea of empowering women generally to rise up through the ranks, those percentages prevent it from happening, in terms of studio’s attitudes, of producers’ attitudes. And I’m quite aware of saying that as a man who just directed a female empowerment movie, that I’m part of the problem. I’m a lucky beneficiary of this quite discriminatory system. There’s collective guilt we all share. We got to make this better, and talk a lot more about it. I don’t think Hollywood is all that much better. Maybe more sensitive to harassment and the forced arbitration and NDA process, but there has to be a much more active encouragement to dropping the barriers of admission for women.