Genesis of True Story
Following his New York Times dismissal, Michael Finkel planned to hide out
from the world in his home base just outside of Bozeman, Montana. But Christian
Longo's capture under Finkel's name opened an utterly unexpected chapter in
What followed became the basis for Finkel's memoir True Story, which was
published by HarperCollins to rave reviews in 2005. Booklist called it
"absolutely riveting, as much for Finkel's own painful self-examination as for
the evasions of an accused murderer." Publishers Weekly, in its starred review,
said it was "astute and hypnotically absorbing...there's a burning sincerity and
beautifully modulated writing on every page."
Plan B producers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gardner read True Story when it was
published and were immediately struck by it, seeing in it the potential for a
gripping film. "We found the story to be extremely disturbing. It is obviously a
tragedy - and the way that Michael Finkel's personal journey intersects with
that tragedy conjured bigger themes about the nature of evil, ambition, and the
price of success and failure," they say.
Screenwriter David Kajganich worked on the script for years. Rupert Goold
then became interested in the project - and working from Kajanich's script -
Goold shaped and molded it further. "Rupert's instincts about the material were
phenomenal," says Kleiner. "Maybe it's because he's not American, and sees this
from a different perspective. He saw that there was something about ambition,
the fear of failure, and what happens to people psychologically when they feel
like a failure. Plus he was especially clear from the very beginning that the
material had to be highly visual. And if you watch his filmed theatrical
performances of Macbeth or Richard II, then you know he brings enormous visual
flair to the material."
When Plan B heads Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner sent Jonah Hill
the True Story book and script to read, asking him to consider playing Mike
Finkel, Hill was instantly intrigued by the material. "I found the story to be
incredibly shocking-and really, really sad," he says. "It was interesting to see
how these two people dealt with each other in the face of all this-the bad
things they did, and how they relate to each other. They are two very flawed
guys who are trying to both resurrect themselves and play each other. It's a
story that happened in the U.S., but I think people everywhere are going to
understand and relate to it."
The relationship between Mike Finkel and Christian Longo is tentative at
first - strangely, they are similar in many ways: two people in search of
notoriety, brought together by choice and circumstance.
According to Goold, there is an additional layer to the relationship between
Finkel and Longo. "At heart," he says, "I think I was also interested in the
idea of a nemesis, that all of us in our lives, particularly at that point,
particularly men--young men--tend to find somebody. They often seek out
somebody, who becomes their great rival, or the kind of person by whom they
measure themselves in competition.
Felicity Jones agrees. "I think it's very much like a romantic relationship.
Mike and Longo do almost fall in love with each other, in a strange way. One
moment Mike thinks he can trust Longo, and then Longo will do something that
changes it all. Longo is a challenge for him. As for Jill, at first she just
doesn't want to even know about it; it feels alien to her that her partner would
want to become so involved with a man who's murdered his wife and children. But
she is flawed in her own way, just as Mike is. She permits it to happen, and she
becomes fascinated with Longo and has her own projections onto him, and you
become aware that they're both intoxicated by him."
Longo, who remains in Oregon on Death Row, did not participate in the film as
the filmmakers never solicited his involvement.
Although the prison interviews between Mike Finkel and Christian Longo are major
scenes, they were not part of the rehearsal process beyond the first initial
table read. According to Hill, "James and I both felt we wanted to go into the
room together for the first time and do the scenes for the first time on film
because they're supposed to feel authentic. We shot them in continuity order, so
you really feel the initial awkwardness and then you see the relationship
progress from there." For two actors who already knew each other well as
colleagues and friends, it was an effective method of sweeping away the
familiarity and the comfort level that they had reached over the years.
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