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June 2007
A MIGHTY HEART: An Interview with Dan Futterman

A MIGHTY HEART: An Interview with Dan Futterman
Krista Vitola

June 18, 2007

In the last few years, Dan Futterman has a seen a drastic change in his acting and film career. Not that long ago, he was just the brother of Amy Brennenman’s character in TV’s Judging Amy, and then he decided to write. With his good friend Philip Seymour Hoffman as his star, Futterman wrote the screenplay for “Capote”, which got Hoffman the Oscar for Best Actor and Futterman a nomination as well. For his next project, Futterman will be acting in his biggest role to date. He will be playing the murdered reporter Daniel Pearl opposite Angelina Jolie in “A Mighty Heart”. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Futterman talks about playing the life of Pearl, meeting Marianne and working opposite Jolie.

So were there moments where you would have liked to have done some writing on this or you felt that the experience of the improvisation of this was enough?…what came out worked…

Dan Futterman: Yea, no when I met with Michael (Winterbottom) initially I had read John Orlock’s script and I thought it was fantastic. He talked about a couple of things that he was going to work on, I didn’t see much of a need for it but that was in his mind to do. I had very little to say about changing the script, I thought it was terrific. And yea we did improvise, that’s right but you’re working with this terrific foundation that assimilates so much information about that part of the world, that particular situation they were in as well as this relationship, this love affair that Danny and Marianne had so you feel extremely well supported in that and you always turn to the script, you use a lot of it anyway.

What drew you to this role, which is different from most of the comedic roles you’ve played?

Dan Futterman: I was moved by this story enormously from reading Marianne’s book and also from the screenplay and also I was thrilled to work with Michael Winterbottom in particular and certainly, what I think is this incredible cast of actors, among one the great actors in the world; I felt really honored to be a part of it.

Obviously we are going to ask about Angelina, what was it like working with that actress in particular, and so intimately?

Dan Futterman: That actress is one, well I truly think, one of my generation’s, truly great actors. I had a chance to see my friend, Phil Hoffman perform up close a couple of years ago and you think, “ok I’ve had that experience I can write that one down and tell it to my kids.” And two years later I am acting with someone who is giving that sort of utterly transformational, beautifully emotional performance who’s incredibly smart and finely tuned. I was completely knocked out by her. She’s also it seems with her that’s it’s the easiest thing in the world and she’s improvising, and it’s in an accent that’s not her own, and she’s comfortable you can not dare her to do anything that she’s not willing to do and it was completely a pleasure to work with her, I really loved it. And having said that, we were, like what you were saying, we were in a bit of a different movie from what everybody was doing, I mean she was in both movies, but there was that three week desperate search for him, that’s the bulk of the movie, and then everything I shot, just about, was predated Danny’s abduction and they had a true love affair and deeply connected. They were expecting a kid, which completely thrilled them, they were doing work that fascinated them in a part of the world that at least he loved and we were trying to create that and it was as if we were in a completely different film.

And did you create that on the spot because one of the other actors was mentioning he didn’t meet her until he was thrown into the scene.

Dan Futterman: Yea, no, well, we had met in Los Angeles a couple of times; we have a friend in common. We have a friend in common. Jillian Minonte, who plays a role in the film, one of the girl F.B.I. investigators, she was in Girl Interrupted with Angie and then was in Judging Amy with me for a number of years so I would hear about her friend Angie oh this and that and oh you both have kids you should get together, but we never did that but then when we met we felt like we knew people in common and it made things a little bit easier.

And did you get together with your kids when you finally did meet?

Dan Futterman: No, we have yet to because I have one kid whose a terrible sleeper so I very loathe to bring her out of her time zone because I’m afraid of what it will do for her days and my wife’s. But they travel everywhere together so we have yet to be in the same place at the same time.

But you did pick up on the thing that I was leading to. So how do you play, because she’s improvising this one character in this one set of circumstances and there you are building the romance so how did you guys do this? They said the film was shot in sequence so how did that interpret…

Dan Futterman: That was not shot in sequence

…so that we get a whole separate…

Dan Futterman: It was a whole separate thing but honestly, it must have been slightly skitzo for her, because all of that was in sequence but what we shot we had to shoot in all of the specific locations so she would come out of the scene she was working on that morning and we’d spend all afternoon doing flashback stuff because we had to shoot that stuff in Poona or in Bombay and so it was much more confusing then for her, well certainly than for anybody. For me it was just a lot of coming back and forth a lot because it was dispersed within the other shoots.

How was it meeting Marianne Pearl?

Dan Futterman: I was incredibly nervous about meeting her. Presuming to portray her beloved husband, I was terrified of that and she was instantly reassuring and instantly took it upon herself to make me feel comfortable with the situation and that speaks to her as a person.

How did you get involved in the film? Were you approached by the producers? Directors? or did you approach them?

Dan Futterman: It’s boring…I got sent the script by my agent who said that they’re coming to town and to read it and read the book and so I did and then I sat down with Michael and I don’t know, and you get the feeling that Michael doesn’t meet with a ton of people, he’s done some kind of winnowing of whatever list he has for each part and so we talked about this script about his movies about Capote, which he had seen. And I think that he liked the fact that I was a writer also, and had particularly written about journalism and that felt comfortable for this part.

When you speak about working with Angelina Jolie and you speak about her qualities as an actor and her ability to play with actors, I almost hear you describing your relationship in character with her as though you’re an observer of her while you’re in character. Is that, is there sort of a split in concentration that goes on?

Dan Futterman: Maybe, (laughs) that’s my failing as actor. But there were times when, just as a human being, you’re deeply involved in a scene and some part of you steps back for a second and just watches the person that you’re playing with and it’s an arresting this to realize sometimes what incredible work your partner is doing and the scene that you…maybe other actors are better in concentrating that I am (laughs)

Do you need to shut that out in order to proceed?

Dan Futterman: No, well in some ways, and then in some ways it can feed the scene, I mean I think that, it’s interesting that you say that, because in so many ways I think Danny admired Marianna: as a woman, as a journalist, as an intelligent person, his traveling partner. And so it can kind of feed a way into the scene too…maybe it just helped.

I just wanted to ask you, you’re in the position of these horrific...you have to sort of have to pose in these horrific iconic photographs that we’ve all seen and I just wondered If personally, how it felt to be in them. They have stayed with me since the screening.

Dan Futterman: Yes, I mean many people have those pictures in their heads from back in 2002 and I certainly did I remember seeing them and watching reports of this story play out. You know, I think we felt a great responsibility, they were extremely painful documents for people who knew and loved him and for people who cared about him who might not have known him and so we tried to do it as simply as possible as with no editorializing. So that day we were just quiet and let’s just do this and get done with it and move on to something else because it was something necessary for the film but very painful to do.

Was there a lot of pressure playing him and what characteristics did he have that you think you have too?

Dan Futterman: In terms of the first part of your question, I was really conscious playing him that he has this beautiful five year old son now who is never going to be able to meet his father and he’s only going to be able to learn about him from other people: from his mom, from Danny’s family and friends and maybe a little bit, maybe at some point, he will be able to see this film and hopefully this captures something of his father, something I admire about Danny sometimes he was someone who really delighted in meeting new people, compulsively social… not…congenially socially which I suppose is more of what I mean, he would strike up a conversation with anybody he possibly could which was part of his work but part of what he loved about life. And I have that sometimes when I am in a good mood.

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