David Strathairn interview
Oscar Nominated David Strathairn is probably best known for his work with John Sayles (Eight Men Out, Matewan, Passion Fish …). In Good Night, and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney, he puts in a bravura performance as journalist Edward R Murrow.
He talked to LOVEFiLM about the joy of having such rousing words put in his mouth.
LOVEFiLM: Was the prospect of playing Murrow ever a daunting one?
David Strathairn: Apart from stark fear, I was taken aback quite a bit. It was a huge responsibility to try and depict such a great man – such a great American.
LF: What convinced you to give it a go?
DS: In this film George presents issues that are important, essential and vital, whoever you are, about constitutional rights and the bedrock of a democracy. I am drawn to those kinds of stories because they inspire me – they are responsible to a populace and responsible to man.
LF: And this is directed by Dr Ross himself, George Clooney?
DS: It may surprise people that someone with as much celebrity and renown has some issues upon which he is incredibly passionate, and that he’s intelligent and outspoken about all of them. And in addition to that, he’s an artist – he made this beautiful film.
LF: How surprised were you that in the US, many people not only didn’t recognise that the film used archive footage of Joseph McCarthy, but hadn’t heard of McCarthy at all?
DS: Where has our public education fallen down? If people are asking who the actor is playing Joseph R McCarthy and they don’t even know who Joseph R McCarthy is, how are we not going to repeat? Are we going to have to learn it all over again? Well, at times that’s the plight of mankind. One step forward, two steps back.
LF: We only ever see Murrow at work and find out very little about him as a person, which is very unusual for a biopic.
DS: I find that very deft. It’s a brave and very smart move, I think, because you never get derailed from the true issues in the film – these very public issues. It doesn’t become a story about Edward R Murrow and how he ties his shoes.
LF: Did you still feel the need to research his life thoroughly yourself?
DS: I read a lot – I did go into as much grist as I could find. His biographies, what he was like as a little boy, how he grew up, his time in London through this period right up to his death. I had all of that to feed on, as well as hundreds of pictures of him to get an idea of how he presented himself in front of the camera.
LF: He certainly could write a speech.
DS: He was a poet – he would create these beautiful images: describing bomb raids over Italy, he would say it looked like “puffs of rice on black velvet”. It was beautiful to read and wonderful to speak, once you got into his cadence and rhythm. It was very engaging and seductive.
LF: And his predictions have all come true.
DS: Yes. He saw the writing on the wall very early on and in a way he was chastising himself as well as the industry and saying “watch out”. And the things that he said in his broadcast ring so true even today: “You must not confuse dissent with disloyalty”; “investigation is not persecution”; “you have a right to face your accusers”; “accusation is not proof”.
These are very serious and time-honoured values. There are people that believe all of that and some who will say it out loud. But how many of them are prepared to make a stand the way he did?
Interview by Fiona Morrow