When a 2005 Vanity Fair article titled “I’m the guy they called Deep Throat” came out, former journalist turned director Peter Landsman was intrigued. Mark Felt, an FBI Special Agent revealed himself to Vanity Fair as the source and leak at the center of Nixon’s Watergate Scandal. Felt came clean as the leak to the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and became the man who “brought down the White House.”
When Landsman first heard the story of Mark Felt he knew right away that it would translate into an excellent screenplay. “His name was the answer to a 35-year-old mystery,” says Landsman. He added: “‘Deep Throat’ was a myth, a living mythology and when I heard what the answer was, I had no idea who he was, but I knew it was a great story. I knew the fact that he was small and anonymous made it more interesting.”
Landsman sought out Liam Nesson as the lead to portray Mark Felt. Nesson was the only actor he had in mind to play the role and who he felt best embodied Felt. The one hour 43 minute movie has a star-studded cast which includes Diane Lane portraying Audrey, Felt’s wife. Tony Goldwyn, Josh Lucas, Brian d’Arcy James, Ike Barinholtz, Michael C. Hall, and Tom Sizemore all act alongside Neeson as FBI special agents.
Julian Morris (Pretty Little Liars) plays Bob Woodward, the journalist who Felt leaked Nixon’s confidential and controversial information to.
We were at the New York premiere and talked with Peter Landsman, Julian Morris, and Bryan d’Arcy James about their thoughts on the movie.
Bryan d’Arcy James
Q: Can you start off by telling me about the character you’re playing?
A: I play Robert Kunkel. He was the FBI field agent who was the head of the field office in DC at the time of the Watergate break in.
Q: How is this role different from other roles you’ve played?
A: Well I’ve never played anyone quite like this in the law enforcement world, especially with such a significant job, historically speaking–as he tried to unfold the mystery of the watergate cover up. This character was fascinating for me because I knew the story generally like most people but I certainly didn’t know how all of the cogs turned in a larger sense, and how the FBI worked in solving such a crime.
Q: What attracted you to this role? Why did you decide to take it on? How did you prepare for it.
I was lucky enough to meet Peter Landsman who had such a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the story, and I was familiar with him as a filmmaker, and his past as an investigative reporter. I thought It was really intriguing to me in terms of this–he is the right guy to kind of crack this code if you will, so just being apart of that kind of storytelling and knowing how historically potent it is, particularly in these political times now, that was a very big plus for me.
Q: What do you want people to take away from this movie? Do you think there’s some stuff that the public might be surprised to know about?
A: I do and there’s two answers to that. They’ll definitely learn about Mark Felt and that he was a man that had a life with his family, his wife and his daughter, that plays into like all of us our home life affects what we do in our work life and vice versa, so that’s interesting and new. What do I hope they’ll learn? I think that history repeats itself and we should try to learn from the things that have occurred in our past, from our country, and move forward.
Q: How did all start? What made you decide you wanted to direct a movie, write a movie about Mark Felt?
A: His name was the answer to a 35-year-old mystery and as a former journalist, “Deep Throat” was a myth, a living mythology, and when I heard what the answer was, I had no idea who he was, but I knew it was a great story. I knew the fact that he was small and anonymous made it more interesting.
Q: What do you want people and viewers to take away from the movie, Mark Felt, and that era?
A: I think the price of sacrifice. I think it’s the dilemma of needing to betray the thing you love to save the thing you love. I think these are parts of the human condition that are often left out of storytelling narrative.
Q: Did you know you wanted Liam Neeson to play the part of Mark Felt from the beginning?
A: Oh yeah. From the very beginning. He’s the only person I went to. His grace, his integrity as an artist. Professional he looks a little like Felt, but more than that he really embodied Felt in my eyes.
Q: What made you decide to take on the role of Bob Woodward?
A: I jumped at the idea of playing him. It was a project I had to be apart of with Liam attached, Peter directing, producers, it was really exciting project. What was really exciting to me and fascinating was the take it had on the Watergate story in terms of it looking at the angle of Mark Felt…it was the idea of playing Bob Woodward, as exciting of a character as that was and as relevant and important as this project if for us now today.
Q: I’m hoping you went to Bob for advice, what surprised you about him, what did you learn, did he give you any advice?
A: No, actually I was banned from approaching Bob and here’s why: if you’re quite a powerful person and there’s someone playing you, you’re going to do your spin and spiel so that they play you in a certain way. And of course what I wanted to do was play the truth of what it would be like for a young man to go after someone so powerful to extract information that would bring down a government, bring down a president without the varnish of anyone’s idea of how I should play them, much less the person themselves.
Q: What do you hope viewers take away from the film?
A: I hope that they enjoy it. I think it’s a really thrilling, exciting political movie. I think it has great relevance to what’s happening today. I think it’s important for people to see. On one level people leave with a sense of enjoyment and fun, but on another level are challenged intellectually and made to think about not just what happened then but what’s happening now.