Director Michael Winterbottom has a wide variety of genres under his belt, but lately it’s been the war in the Middle East that has captured his attention. First, he directed “The Road to Guantanamo” which was part documentary, part drama. And now he has directed the adaptation, written by Mariane Pearl, “A Mighty Heart: The Brave Life and Death of my Husband, Danny Pearl.” This is the real-life story of The Wall Street Journal reporter, Danny Pearl, who was working in Pakistan, and goes missing. The book and now film chronicle the ordeal Mariane (played by Angelina Jolie) went through as Danny went missing, the effort to find him and his eventual murder. This isn’t a typical, light summer movie that is heavy on special effects. It is an intense drama, which pulls you through an extraordinary trauma.
Winterbottom sat down to talk about “A Mighty Heart,” how he was brought into the project by Brad Pitt and Jolie, and what it must be like for Jolie to live in the public eye.
Winterbottom on getting the job of directing “A Mighty Heart” … Most of the films we’ve done in the past are things we’ve originated. I’ve worked with Andrew Eaton (producer) before, and most of the (time) we have two or three ideas going and we just make one of them. On this one we were offered the film. Brad (Pitt) had persuaded Mariane to give him the rights to the book. About last April, Brad called up and asked if we wanted to do it.
Winterbottom on insisting with meeting with everyone who was there during the time Danny Pearl was kidnapped … We’re telling Mariane’s story, and Mariane’s point of view to a large extent, but the other people are real people as well. I wanted to get their version. They all had a lot of things to say that weren’t in her book and perhaps some things she didn’t know. Her book was her point of view; she hadn’t really gone around and talked to other people. Also, I wanted the actors to meet them.
Winterbottom on Angelina Jolie’s involvement … When I was offered the part, she was always going to be the lead. I met Mariane briefly in Paris; that was probably letting Mariane meet me as much as the other way around. And then we all (the producers, Mariane, Pitt and Jolie) met for about three days just talking about the possible film, the book, Mariane’s experience. Mariane and Angelina already knew each other; they were already friends. The first time I met Mariane, she was with Angelina.
Winterbottom on the almost documentary-style he used while shooting “A Mighty Heart” … They let us go away and make it the way we normally would. (Pitt) has seen “The Road to Guantanamo” and he thought that was a great starting point to how he wanted the film to be. Given that he was picking our most scruffy, low-budget effort, we knew right from the beginning they would let us make a movie the way we normally would.
Winterbottom on Danny Futterman (playing Danny Pearl) and how he became involved … We say a bunch of (actors) in New York and Los Angeles, but really as soon as I met Danny I thought he was the right person. I had seen bits of his acting before like, “Shooting Fish,” but it was really just meeting and talking to him. We just chatted for about a half hour and I just thought he had the right attitude, intelligence and personality. Something that predisposed me to him was that he’s a writer. I really admired the script he’d written (“Capote”).
Winterbottom on the challenge of telling a story where the audience already knows the ending … It didn’t strike me as much of a problem. The idea that you can’t be interested in a story that you know the end didn’t worry me. Lots of films deliberately tell you the end and then show you how they got there as a way of making the storytelling more interesting. The story is really more about Mariane and her reaction to the kidnapping.
Winterbottom on his last name and the potential of being teased … No good stories (from childhood). Where I come from in England it’s quite common because bottom just means valley, so you get lots of versions of bottom. It still didn’t stop people from teasing me.
Winterbottom on the fame and attention Angelina Jolie receives … Working with her on the film I just kept thinking, it must be horrific.