Actor Reese Witherspoon thinks Toronto is the perfect place to launch Rendition, a lacerating political thriller about the disappearance and torture of a man who is victimized by the CIA.
“It’s pretty exciting,” Witherspoon told Sun Media yesterday before Rendition – a possible Oscar contender this year – made its world premiere as a Gala at the 32nd Toronto International Film Festival.
“I think the Toronto film festival is always great for films that are filmmaker-driven and have a real idea behind them,” she said, suppressing a nagging cough but never complaining. “There are so many great tastemakers here, people who really enjoy film, people who really appreciate what we are trying to get out, what we are trying to reveal.”
In 2005, Toronto also launched Walk the Line, the Johnny Cash biopic that generated a best actress Oscar for her.
Now a seasoned veteran of Hollywood at 31, Witherspoon also knows how to keep on topic and maintain her privacy. She deftly demonstrated that yesterday when one question bumped into persistent rumours that she and co-star Jake Gyllenhaal became romantically involved on the film (she is now a single mom who is divorcing husband Ryan Phillippe).
Witherspooon went stone silent. “We’re not going to talk about it,” her publicist said. An awkward pause followed. Yet Witherspoon was quick to respond to the next question, a query on how excessive “celebrity journalism” can obscure serious messages, including those in director Gavin Hood’s film.
“I don’t think there is anything you can do about the current fixation on celebrity whereabouts and what’s going on,”Witherspoon said.
“You can’t pay attention to a lot of it.
“It’s pretty silly.”
As for the potential affect on Rendition, she said: “I think the people who are really seeking content are going to see the film. I think that’s what it’s about.”
Kelley Sane’s screenplay for Rendition was influenced by several real-life cases, including that of Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar. “I think there was a lot of that studied when the film was written,” Witherspoon said.
In the film, she plays a pregnant American woman whose Egyptian-born, American husband is secretly seized by the CIA when returning home from a visit to South Africa. Under orders from a high-ranking government official played by Meryl Streep, he is sent to Egypt for interrogation and torture with no legal recourse and no notification to his family.
Witherspoon said the film is meant to be political. It exposes abuses to the democratic process due to national security paranoia.
“Meryl Streep’s character is making huge decisions about public policy without any sort of counsel or caucus. The fallout on a human level is so severe and it reverberates throughout so many communities and aspects of life. We’re all just a hair’s breadth away from something really tragic.”
Witherspoon believes it is important to have serious dramatic films to make sense of real-life news.
“I think that’s what really drew me to the part and the script,” she said. “You see so much stuff on the news and you just don’t connect to it anymore.”
A film such as Rendition “humanizes” the news by making it more personal and by illuminating the issues involved, she said.
Director Hood, a South African famed for his Oscar-winning apartheid drama Tsotsi, was instrumental in making Rendition work so well, Witherspoon said.
“I think he brought a great perspective to this film because he is a South African living in America. He has a real ‘stranger in a strange land’ perspective and he really encouraged me in my part. He wanted her not to be self-pitying, not be vulnerable.
“He had very personal experiences in his own country regarding friends who had disappeared. He was in a very similar place to where my character was.
“So his direction was invaluable. He really helped me understand.”
Source: London Free Press