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TRUE STORY

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 Finkel's life.

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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