Here is fantastic interview with Reese and the cast mates of Rendition Press Conference from Movies.About.com. Although spoiler phoebes be warned! It does contain quite a few things you may not wish to know just yet! There is a cut off point, so if you’re wanting to remain spoiler free do not read past it, or heck just wait until you’ve seen the film and come back for this one, it will be here. 😉
The term ‘extraordinary rendition’ refers to the U S government’s policy of secretly abducting foreign nationals who are viewed as national security threats and placing them in overseas prisons in order to ‘interrogate’ them. The film Rendition follows an Egyptian-American businessman who’s placed into custody upon arriving back in the US from a business trip and taken to North Africa to be questioned – and tortured. Director Gavin Hood and the film’s stars Reese Witherspoon, Jake Gyllenhaal, Peter Sarsgaard, Igal Naor, and Omar Metwally took part in a press conference in Los Angeles to discuss their involvement in the dramatic movie.
Reese and Jake, why do you think people would want to see a movie about this policy?
Reese Witherspoon: “Why wouldn’t they?”
Why would they?
Gavin Hood: “I think your answer was good: why wouldn’t they?”
Reese Witherspoon: “I think it’s a film that has a lot of different, wonderful elements to it. There is definitely a romance to it. There are thriller aspects. It’s sort of not just a film about a message where you sit there for two hours. And, you know, I think it’s a movie that makes a lot of questions and it really makes you think about a lot of the practices that are going on nowadays, and whether or not they are legal or ethical or even constitutional.”
Gavin, this is your first studio film. Can you talk about the experience coming from Tsotsi and the upgrade?
Gavin Hood: “The upgrade…Windows, Version 70. No, it’s a fair question. To be honest, when I initially started on this movie I was somewhat intimidated by many of these illustrious actors, but they very quickly put me at ease. I remember the first day with Reese, paparazzi everywhere, down the street.”
Reese Witherspoon: “I don’t remember any of this, by the way.”
Gavin Hood: “And that’s what’s so amazing, she really doesn’t remember. On the first day we shot you playing soccer with your little son…”
Reese Witherspoon: “Oh, right, right, right, right. Now, I remember.”
Gavin Hood: “You really don’t remember, because she really is the pro that goes, ‘Let’s just do the work.’ But I had never been exposed to this level of kind of paparazzi scrutiny and I really [found] it quite intimidating for a moment. And you don’t remember saying to me, ‘Gavin, let’s just ignore them and do the work.’ You really don’t remember that do you?”
Reese Witherspoon: “No.”
What city was it?
Gavin Hood: “We were in Pasadena shooting. As some journalist pointed out, ‘Well, it’s clearly not Chicago!’ Well, that’s true. There is a thing called a budget. So we shot the only scene that was in Chicago in a house that closely resembled a house in Chicago, as if that really matters in the context of the themes and ideas of the story. And so, we were in Pasadena, and there were a lot of paparazzi trying to climb over the barricades that our assistant directors had put up, shooting on long lenses. I thought, ‘My god, what does this mean?’ And Reese literally said to me, ‘Don’t worry about it. Let’s just do the work.’ And as much as it affected her, I found after a couple of days that it no longer affected me either. It was a little baptism by fire. And then these guys made me feel very at home. I think the great thing about these actors is they are actors first and foremost. They focus on the work, and that’s what we did.”
So it sounds like you didn’t enjoy the paparazzi.
Gavin Hood: “No, seriously, I think that I was looking for a film after Tsotsi that I felt would be something good to follow with. And Kelly’s script came across my desk. I started reading, and I didn’t know much about rendition, frankly. I read Rendition on the cover and it could have been Beethoven’s 9th, I don’t know. ‘Maybe it’s a rendition of a song?’ You open the script and I started reading and I just found that I was captivated. I kept turning the pages and I wanted to know what happened next.
I thought that he had drawn an incredible, incredible diverse number of characters that were all emotionally rooted and real. And when I got to the end of the script, I also had a lot of questions. And I thought, ‘If I have been emotionally engaged and wanted to know what happened next and, in addition, the script has raised questions and I want to talk to somebody about these questions, then maybe an audiences will feel the same way.’ But, of course, when you’ve read a script, there is no one to talk to. So I Googled ‘rendition’ and I found out a lot I didn’t know about. Then we engaged over a period of months in discussions with Kelly and further research met with CIA agents — spoke to them, discussed the pros and cons of this current policy. And said, ‘You know what? This is something I feel we should talk about.’
And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it briefly now, I grew up in a country where we didn’t have a constitution. We had detention without trial in the ‘80s. I was a young law student there and we looked at the American Constitution as a document that we felt our country desperately needed. And to feel that that great document and The Geneva Conventions, which America was largely behind writing after the horrors of the second World War, to see that these great principles were potentially being chipped away, it was quite a shock. And now that I have American kids, although be it very recently, I feel even more strongly about it, because I believe in the founding principals of this nation. I felt that this film would perhaps, in some way, contribute to a discussion that I feel is important if we are going to chip away at those principals in any way.”
Reese, what was the most challenging of the scenes for you to do?
Reese Witherspoon: “Certainly, I think the challenge of doing an ensemble piece is that your storyline is so short that every scene you are doing is sort of a pivotal moment in that character’s journey, so everything was sort of heightened and very dramatic. The challenge…I definitely was nervous the day I had to work with Meryl [Streep]. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. Definitely that ride to work that day was nerve wracking. But, she was wonderful. She’s completely intimidating, completely professional, had a thousand ideas. Don’t you think she had a lot of great ideas?”
Gavin Hood: “She contributed enormously to that scene. In terms of some of the dialogue we used, yeah.”
Reese Witherspoon: “Yeah, definitely. She had a lot of interesting ideas and immediately helped the scene – elevated itself. And really, she’s definitely worth every minute of screen time. She definitely makes the film…I don’t know, what am I trying to say, Peter?”
Peter Sarsgaard: “She makes the film better (laughing).”
Reese, your character had to deal with the relationship between an American and a foreigner, and how their relationship is viewed by others. Did you talk to anyone about this?
Reese Witherspoon: “I think that is what really drew me to the part. I was excited about sort of imagining a life that is very much like my own. She’s a mother with two children. She’s fallen in love with a Muslim man and married him, and as someone who has lived a life without having religious intolerance or racial profiling ever touch her world, suddenly experiencing an extreme of one of those circumstances. I guess all you can do as an actor is imagine it. But I think that was one of the more interesting parts of the character that drew me to the script.”
Jake, in dealing with your character being a conflicted CIA man, did you get to meet anyone who has done this in the past? How did you go about researching the role?
Jake Gyllenhaal: “Not in person, no, over the phone. I never talked to anybody who I don’t think would admit or say they were involved in any sort of extraordinary rendition situation. But, I only talked to CIA officers for fact checking. I think I found that when you talk to someone who has a job like that, it’s very technical and the questions you want as an actor are a little bit more emotional. But I think that’s a real key into a character anyway. And so, a lot of it was actually watching movies of people who played CIA agents and officers. And then a couple of movies of a couple of people who have played alcoholics.”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, which is a merging of the alcoholic and the spy, literally, in the movie. And then also The Good Shepherd, actually. Which I think, just a little shout out to Matt Damon, that’s a pretty incredible performance. More about the less he does, then the more he does and that’s the kind of performance that I look up to. So, I just tried to copy it (laughing).”
Why call it North Africa versus Egypt or whatever country it’s supposed to be?
Gavin Hood: “I’m happy to talk about the country question. Kelly’s script originally did set the film in Egypt. We were going to shoot in Egypt and then we were not able to go there, because we simply could not get the cast insured to go there. And so we had to look for somewhere else. But, we found that there was a tremendous amount of fury on the Internet about Egypt and about how dare we make Egypt look bad. Then we went to Morocco. Now, let’s clear this up once and for all, we know that rendition and renditions have happened to Syria, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Guantanamo Bay and…”
Gavin Hood: “Germany, but these others… So there are black sites in a number of countries. Well, we very quickly realized that our crew and cast, many of our cast and many of our crew come from countries which do not enjoy the kind of liberties and civil liberties that Americans enjoy. And that any country we named would potentially cause some backlash to our cast and crew.
So, the use of the word ‘North Africa,’ country again to a smart aleck journalist — and you’ll forgive me for being frustrated on that particular point — you say, ‘They can’t even define the country.’ Do me a favor, I come from Africa, it’s not a country as the President thinks. It’s a continent, and there are many countries in Africa. I’m very aware of that and one of them is not ‘North Africa’. But in the interests of the safety of our cast and crew, and, by the way, in keeping with the notion that nobody knows where anybody is when they are rendered, we chose to just say ‘North Africa’. Because Reese has no idea where her husband has gone. He has no idea where he is, which you find from many of the people who have been rendered. ‘I think I might have been at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. I was then flown somewhere else with a butt up my butt and a nappy on…’”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “What?”
Gavin Hood: “Yes, they put a butt plug up these guys.”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “Wait, are you talking about yourself? I was just confused, I think…”
Gavin Hood: “The point is, just once and for all, is that people are flown to destinations and they are not sure where they are, and the fact that you don’t know where they are is okay by me. And thank you for asking that question. It’s important that we know we are talking about things that happen to real people and there are greater risks for some of our cast and crew, in terms of the realities of the possibilities of detention and torture.”
Igal, how did you view your character?
Igal Naor: “There were two sides to this man. On one side there was a normal family man with needs and pains. And the second part was his job, which was a dirty job. Not pleasant for him, but he has to do it. And I didn’t see any clash between those two. A normal person who is doing his job and living his life. There is no need to explain anything. I am a family man. Two times in war. I’m not ashamed to say it. It’s very sad, but this is life, this is the truth. “
Do you think what he finds out will change how he feels about his job at all?
Igal Naor: “No, of course, as a human being whatever happens to you will affect your life and belief.
I think he might commit suicide and in another way, as another man – he might leave his job and do something else. I wouldn’t condemn him for doing what he’s doing. This is human. No man doesn’t think about himself. He believes in what he does.”
Omar and Igal, how hard was it to shoot the torture scenes?
Omar Metwally: “Well, the first thing I have to say is that I was acting and I would never want to compare what I was doing to what that experience must be. I think there is no way really knowing, so you do as much research and read and talk as much as you can. Then you kind of just have to rely on your imagination and empathy and try to convey, if you can, just one small part of what that horror must be. I was fortunate enough to have such great actors and a great director to work with. It was definitely a group effort.”
Igal Naor: “It was a pleasure to torture him (laughing).”
With the stories being so separate, where there separate units shooting different part of the film?
Gavin Hood: “No. We shot pretty much single camera through the movie. We started in the States and started with Reese and Peter’s story. Then we went to Morocco and we shot Jake and Omar. But we were pretty much moving between shooting their story and Zineb and Moa’s story.
But, in a way, it was like shooting different short films and weaving them together. In a way, I think it’s a credit to the actors that they were absolutely immersed in their own stories. Some of them have said to me it was a bit of a shock to see all the stories come together Igal’s sort of …because they were focused, as they should be, on their story. But it was great fun to work with these actors who are all very talented in very different ways, and then weave the stories together.
I liked the fact there was a Romeo and Juliet story as a love story, about two young people where the world is acting upon them. Then there is the other story, in a way, about these young men and Reese sort of being in between, and the world with young people sort of approaching 30 are being forced to make decisions that define who they are. Then another generation of stories, which is Alan Arkin and Meryl Streep, who have decided who they are and are acting out on their already formed beliefs. So, I like the three generations. That’s a credit to Kelly’s writing, because that was there. I felt it would be great to tackle those different stories and weave them together.”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “And then there is my story about the guy who is approaching 40 who is struggling with all the things a guy who is approaching 40 struggles with (laughing).”
It’s interesting that all these political films are coming out now.
Jake Gyllenhaal: “I think we’re pretty nearsighted when we think about time. Five years is not that long. Most of the movies that are political that we’re talking about have appeared in a time that — any film from the ’70s or movie about a war was made five or six years after that war either ended or began. I think it takes people, particularly artists, and everyone, journalists, always, if someone said to you, ‘Okay, right now, write it now.’ You need perspective. You need time for opinions to come up or a point of view, and I think this is actually very quick. I think that’s always really important because I think we just get very nearsighted.”
How do we get past the Us versus Them attitude?
Gavin Hood: “Look at this table. There are people at this table from Israel, from Morocco, from Algeria, from France, from the United States, from South Africa. I’ve always believed, and I hope it’s at the core of my work, that we have far more in common with each other than we don’t and that is the common, human need, as Igal so eloquently expressed it, for family connection, for friends. The only way we can go to war with each other is if we deny that those absolutely universally human needs actually exist in some other group. I think Igal put it better than I can. As long as we see each other as profoundly human, we might be able to get past the Us versus Them. And that applies to all sides. I would like to make it very clear as Moa [Khouas) pointed out, none of us in any way condone suicide bombing. It seems to me a tremendous manipulation of a young person to push them into such a space. “
LAST WARNING! SPOILER ALERT – The following questions and answers not only won’t make much sense unless you’ve seen the film, but also contain heavy spoilers.
Is this a hopeful film?
Jake Gyllenhaal: “Want me to take it?”
Gavin Hood: “I would love you to take it, but I like the question. Thank you very much.”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “Okay, the distinction in this movie I think everybody has talked about, in terms of the choice that he made in the end, I think, to put it frankly, I think that hope is dangerous. I think that practicality gets things done, which leads you to a good place. The character asks himself the question not if it’s the right thing or the wrong thing, but does this work or does it not work? And it’s very simple.
I think if he weren’t an analyst, I think the decision would be very different. But it comes to, ‘This doesn’t work. This particular situation, it doesn’t work.’
It’s nice to think that someone would be able to see through all of those complications and all that ego and make the decision about — we always say, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,’ but we never say, ‘If it’s broken, don’t use it.’ Or, ‘If it doesn’t work, don’t use it.’ I think that’s kind of the decision he makes. It was always very important, Gavin and I always talked about it, and I think Gavin’s intention was that and they can talk about it, but that this wasn’t a heroic move. This was a very practical move. If there can be more characters who make more practical decisions, I think that’s, hopefully, the way modern cinema can work.”
Gavin Hood: “It’s a very interesting response, and I think it’s interesting the way Jake phrases it because I absolutely agree with him in terms of where his character is coming from. Jake was very clear that he never wanted a heroic moment where he goes, ‘I am going to do the right thing.’ From my perspective, speaking from where I think that there’s an upwelling in a human being that they’re not even aware of, I believe in some sort of sense of justice that exists within 99.9% of us. Maybe that’s naïve, but I do.
People actually do have within them a deep sense of what is right and wrong. It gets confused and it gets full of debates and arguments, but what I like about what happens to Jake’s character is he doesn’t really know why he’s doing it but it’s welling up from some place. On the one hand, it’s because it’s not working but if it’s just not working, he doesn’t need to let this guy out and risk his career and walk away from the CIA. I know we debated this a lot. We just, from my perspective, I just wanted that one moment where you feel it’s kind of crept up on him, and Jake gave it beautifully at the end. He’s done something, and he doesn’t quite realize what he’s done or does he? But he’s done the right thing, not because he was being heroic but because it just snuck up on him that this is just not right. ‘It’s not working. It makes me feel like I need to stop it.’ Am I putting words in your mouth?”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “I just want to say real quickly that I don’t mean to say at the beginning that the reason why I think that hope is a dangerous thing is because I think it takes you out of the present. I think this character makes a decision very much in the present moment. I think that as a culture, I think that the hope in watching this character, that there can be people who can make these decisions, I think it takes you out of the present of what is actually going on. I think there is a lot more muck than we think that there is. I think hope is the wrong message right now. I think really working at it is the right message. I don’t know how successfully that was portrayed. I don’t know if we did. That’s an audience’s decision to make that decision, but I just wanted to say that.“
Gavin Hood: “And this is, you can see a process because I think it’s essential that Jake and I absolutely 100% agree with this point, that there’s a danger of being numbed and saying, ‘Okay, well, it’ll all work out fine in the end.’ And indeed there was much debate about whether the character should even arrive at home.
As one of the lawyers who represented five, I believe, and he’s sitting at the back there, ‘Hi Ben…’ He represents five victims of rendition. So that we just take this from the abstract to the reality, represents five people who have been rendered and who are attempting to obtain compensation from the United States, or at least an acknowledgement of what has happened. Some of them have been acknowledged. As you know, Maher Arar in Canada, Khaled El-Masri who was mistaken for Khaled al-Masri who was a terrorist, is a terrorist and spent, what was it, five months, Ben? Being tortured and disappeared. This is real, guys.
I think that do I have a certain hope. Ben commented that, ‘Was the ending too hopeful?’ I think Jake makes the same point. I would like to think that at the ending, the reason that these two characters don’t rush together, and we talked about this, Omar and Reese and I, about what does it mean? These people have an enormous amount of healing to do, if they ever can heal. So some people have said, ‘Oh, it’s so crazy. He stands there and she stands there and why don’t they rush together?’ Hold on a minute. If you watch, and it will be on the DVD, the documentary of Khaled El-Masri, go watch it online. He doesn’t know how to move. That’s what struck me, and that’s where Omar and I got this moment in the car when he just sits for a moment.
So I hope the movie’s, on one level, hopeful that we will rise to some [above]. We put it out in the world to say, ‘Look at all these different people and look at their common humanity,’ and to that extent I believe in humanity. But at the same time, let’s not kid ourselves, as Jake points out, that this isn’t real and that there’s a certain in the moment reality that we need to deal with that isn’t just going to go away tomorrow morning because we made a movie.”
One of you is a fellow who gives up his career for what’s right and the other fellow decides not to. Did you ever consider playing each other’s parts or were you happy with the roles you had?
Peter Sarsgaard: “Doesn’t work like that (laughing).”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “I would much rather be the guy who makes the really good choice. I’d hate to be Peter’s character. Peter sucks (laughing).”
Peter Sarsgaard: “And I was very happy staying close to home, you know.”
Jake Gyllenhaal: “The irony is that most likely in reality we would both make the opposite decisions, I think.
I would make the bad choice and he would make the right one. I’m just trying to help you along Peter (laughing).”
Peter Sarsgaard: “I don’t know. I don’t have any defense there. I think the decision my character is faced with is…as the audience you see all the torture, you see all of that stuff, you are the eye in the sky. I mean, if my character had to do what Jake’s character does and watch the torture and watch her husband being tortured, I don’t know if he’d make the same decision he made. But, that’s the way it is. That’s the tricky part of human nature. They don’t pass out tapes to every American and make us all watch torture before we agree on doing rendition. “
Jake Gyllenhaal: “And also, I don’t think if you were to ask the character whether he does the right or the wrong thing, I don’t think that’s what he’d say. I think he’s pretty practical. It’s between what works and doesn’t work.”
Peter Sarsgaard: “He’s the senior aide to a Senator. He’s already…I mean, he’s gone pretty damn far. He’s done a lot. He gives her a good card for a guy who can help her and be on your way.”
The issue of Omar Metwally’s phone call is never explained. Was that deliberate?
Gavin Hood: “It is deliberately because the real issue, and it is not whether this man is guilty or innocent… The movie starts out and you feel he’s innocent. Then you feel he’s guilty. Then you feel maybe he’s innocent but there’s the possibility of his guilt. Which means the real question for you to analyze in my mind is whether the process of Extraordinary Rendition is good, regardless of guilt or innocence. That’s why it was so important for us to [leave a doubt], even a small one, he might possibly be guilty.
We based that on things that Ben will tell you about people who have been rendered, based on a phone call from phones handed to people who’ve handed to people who’ve handed to people. So we drew that out of reality, which is we’ve got all this sophisticated monitoring equipment tracking one call except you don’t necessarily monitor whose hand it’s in at the time of the call. Because these guys do hand phones off and hands phone off, so the ultimate question that you’re left with I hope is, ‘Let’s assume he’s guilty.’
Some people were mad at us because, one guy was very mad at me in a screening because he was so pleased when the guy was guilty. He wanted the movie to end with him being guilty so that you would have to confront the question of torture, even if the guy is guilty. That’s why we left it open. I’m not explaining that really well, but the question, it’s easy to discuss it if he’s totally innocent. Well, what if he’s not? Now how do you feel about torture?”
We’re not sure that he wasn’t guilty.
Gavin Hood: “Good. I’m delighted. Then you’re left to ask the question: Do I still think the rendition program and the absence of judicial oversight and the act of right of access to a lawyer is a good thing? Is it? We give murderers lawyers. We give potential rapists, we give child abusers lawyers. What’s with this notion the guy who might be a terrorist, that we just suddenly strip everything away and we end up with thousands of people in Guantanamo who we now don’t know what to do with because we’ve stripped them? It’s just we’re in a judicial mess and we’ve got to sort out that judicial mess. Whatever our point of view about torture is, we can’t become a lawless society.”