Interview: Director Peter Landesman on Investigative Journalism and “Mark Felt – The Man Who Brought Down The White House”

Who was Mark Felt? What was the name of the President of the United states he brought down? Why his appearance in history won’t be questioned but rather be considered as a true hero? A brave man who stood for what was right and went against what he felt was wrong? Mark Felt is a historic figure whose name should always be remembered as someone who was able to do the unthinkable. Do we have someone like him now to bring, perhaps, another president down? To uncover the dirt and help, whoever that will be, to be impeached? Yes, and no.

But what matters is Peter Landesman, his vision being as an investigative journalist, being in conflict zones, he brings a new conflict onto our screen, bur more fascinating and breathtaking. It`s a political drama lead by a stellar cast, including Liam Neeson, Diane Lane, Tony Goldwyn, Michael C. Hall and others.

But I guess, as you may already know about Mark Felt, it’s Peter Landesman, a writer and director of “MARK FELT” as another figure I was interested about to tell you, my dear reader,

This is why having a chance to meet Peter Landesman during the Toronto International Film Festival, I could not resist from not asking the questions that will eventually help you understand why he decided to tell the story of Mark Felt in a feature movie. 

MOVIEMOVESME: As an investigative journalist, war correspondent having contributed to New York Times and having your own way accepting the reality of politics, is that what made you make a film about Mark Felt, known as Deep Throat?

Peter Landesman: It was the writers and artists which had one story to tell, like a single narrative, and they just dress it up differently. The story of whistleblower’s “Concussion” was the first of all or kind of narrative. As a lone wolf, single truth teller in the wild has always been attractive to me, the kind of reporter it was even when I was covering conflict zones. I would always shy away from the hotels in the group, so sort of wander off by myself. It cuts both ways. It’s more interesting to get stories that no one else knows. But it’s also lonely and dangerous and scary. And I think this kind of narrative journey I take as a filmmaker.

MOVIEMOVESME: It seems a terrible crisis in the United States right now. So when you say United States is there anything more transparent for us. Maybe what’s going on over there right now?

Peter Landesman: There’s no time to create a narrative. Right now it’s like you’re having an enormous amount of data flooding at you like drinking from a fire hose but no one’s telling you the story, you’re just getting information in the past. Things will be slower so you have time. People would have time to tell the story of what was happening to you. I think there’s a long term narrative that’s not dissimilar from the narrative in this movie and that I think it will result in a very similar if not identical way.

MOVIEMOVESME: What kind of movie you tried to make as the man we saw was a question of integrity?

Peter Landesman: The movie I wanted to make was that. it was of a portrait of a man whose motivation was a wide tapestry with many threats. Nobody does anything for one reason. And Howard constructed his creatures. He mostly wanted to protect the FBI from what he saw as a corrupt influence of someone who was going to turn this institution into a weapon. And he’s right about that. And you know the issue going on with his family, his domestic life, his displeasure at the Nixon administration and the men who made it up, because they were corrupt gray liars. Yeah he hated it all but mostly, it was about protecting the thing that was built to run.

MOVIEMOVESME: What kind of research you made beside the book, to ensure everything you have in the film is accurate or close to it?

Peter Landesman: Look, here’s the filmmaker in me and me and the journalists. To me, one protects the other. And I knew that the film would be held up to scrutiny. So I wanted to make sure the journalism behind the movie was really correct. Mark’s book didn’t reveal himself as Deep Throat. And he kept that quiet and was scared to take it to his grave. So a lot of my information about this man and what happened really came from two sources outside the book. One was an FBI agent that Tony Goldwyn played; gold guys who probably knew everything. And when I walked into his home the very first thing. Ed Miller looked at him but the very first thing he said when he walked inside his kitchen table is “that Watergate is a love story.” He understood that. I mean he understood that Mark Felt was driven as much by what was happening with his wife and his daughter, by the next administration. And he alone knew that. And then the other person was a family friend who became Felt’s lover after Audrey Felt committed suicide. They were very close family friends and she was inside that family forever.

MOVIEMOVESME: What is that made you to become a filmmaker?

Peter Landesman: You know, I am a painter. So I’m always a visualist, and becoming a filmmaker was the next revolution for me after. So that if I had the other kind of storytelling. So as a novelist and a painter and then journalists and the screenwriter and director, to me it’s to bring it all together in all the lives.

MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk a bit about casting?

Peter Landesman: What’s not to see. Liam Neeson as a man and as an actor, he embodies integrity. Period. His physicality is also kind of perfect for film. Felt also was totally graceful. Great dancer and Liam’s integrity as an actor, we see in what he represents is you know unimpeachable. It was so organic. I mean, it was an easy conversation. I went to New York to show him my script and previous films. We sat down in the Four Seasons and it was a done deal in no time.

MOVIEMOVESME: Did you know much about Mark Felt?

Peter Landesman: No, nothing. I mean what’s interesting about the story is that the Egnor people think that the revelation of Deep Throat as Mark Felt is of anti-climax but they don’t understand that that’s actually what makes it the most interesting if Deep Throat where someone really famous like Al Haig or Kissinger, or some of the people that were being thrown around. It would have been just more soap opera and more mess but the fact that the throw was someone so anonymous and in the context of history small, means that actually the story is unbelievable. How does this nobody take down the President of the United States? How does Lee Harvey Oswald make it that nobody shoots the President of United States? I mean, those disparities is what makes this story fascinating

MOVIEMOVESME: It is also not easy to have the actors cast for a true political drama.

Peter Landesman: One of the reasons to cast people of that magnitude, even, in a small role is those characters often transmit by reaction not dialogue. And you need someone that good to be able to tell a story without words. Michael C. Hall is a great example. You know he’s a remarkable actor. He’ll be a lead in almost everything he does. And the other thing I try hard not to do is, I’m not interested in impersonation so I don’t cast look alikes. I’d like you to lose yourself in you know who you’re watching. I don’t want you to think of them as like aping somebody else or trying to reflect somebody.

MOVIEMOVESME: And then there’s one particular scene that in the film I love and that’s the way some of the four little kids one minute and 20 seconds into the scene when the camera slowly approaches catches me and I see everyone in the beginning to talk about it because that was representing Michael Phelps kind of. When did you realize it.

Peter Landesman: I wanted the first scene of the movie to tell everybody, to transmit who Felt was. What the FBI wasn’t. What that relationship was. That was actually a shorter version of an original scene. A year before all this happened. The Nixon administration actually had asked Felt to lie and claim that something was a forgery. It’s a very complicated story but Felt like James Comey just saw it and said ‘f–k off’. You know we’re the FBI you can’t touch us.’ And they pushed back and said in fact you know we’re going to get rid of Hoover. We’d like you to play ball so keep the job. And that’s when Mark Felt steps for two months. And to me was just setting the tone and setting the stage of the confrontation to which is something you just mentioned.

MOVIEMOVESME: As a journalist you see what you feed to you are free fictions?

Peter Landesman: Fiction assure them journals, because in journalism you’re constrained by factchecking and double-checking sources and not be able to print anything you absolutely know that you don’t, didn’t know that and it was actually said. And there’s a lot I knew to be true that I can say. Because of the good standards of journalism. You know when you’re writing and making films and you’re writing novels, you’re able to create a kind of spiritual truth that’s truer than factual accuracy like information of ones and zeroes right data, but has no narrative. That’s our job as journalists. When you use to be my job to create the narrative in the film you deal with narrative first and you use information to serve the narrative. It was the other way around. What you’re left with a nonfiction film is mythology. And mythology at the end of the day last longer than journey.

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