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The Downfall Of Fox News' Roger Ailes Comes To The Big Screen

Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, left), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, center), and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, right) in "Bombshell." (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle)
Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron, left), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman, center), and Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie, right) in "Bombshell." (Photo by Hilary Bronwyn Gayle)

The new film “Bombshell” tells the story of the sexual harassment scandal that brought down Roger Ailes, the late chairman and CEO of Fox News.

The star-studded movie includes Nicole Kidman as former Fox News anchor and one of the women involved, Gretchen Carlson. Charlize Theron portrays former news anchor Megyn Kelly, with Margot Robbie playing fictional character Kayla Pospisil.

Producer and screenwriter Charles Randolph, known for co-writing the Academy-Award winning screenplay for “The Big Short,” says he wrote the film prior to the MeToo movement exploding, at a time when he thought the issue “was not getting enough attention.”

His focus for “Bombshell” wasn’t necessarily to shine a spotlight on Fox News, but more to expose the reality of sexual harassment in the workplace. The conservative news network acts as the story’s backdrop, he says, and “Bombshell” aims to “show how this issue transcends our sort of partisan biases.”

Robbie’s character, Randolph says, is based on his own experiences coming from an evangelical family whose strictly loyal to Fox News.

“She’s a composite,” he says. “So her background is based on, as I say, my world and people I’ve known over the years.”

Watch on YouTube.

Interview Highlights

On Showtime’s “The Loudest Voice” and whether it influenced “Bombshell”

“It only influenced me in the sort of negative sense. I know Jason Blum, the producer, and had met with him right when they were starting. So I knew kind of the outlines of the sort of things they were going to cover, the history of Fox, the sort of politics of Fox. And I was much more interested in telling the story of sexual harassment in the workplace. So it allowed me to sort of comfortably let go of some of the more strident political components of the world. So that was very helpful in that sense. It allowed me sort of focus on these particular women.”

On Kayla’s character and relationship with Ailes

“Her sexual relationship with Roger [Ailes] … is based on three women that we talked to who either experienced what it was like to be in his office in the last decade or one woman who had experiences prior to the last decade.”

On reaching out and talking with women who experienced sexual assault at the hands of Roger Ailes

“Obviously, some people have agents and lawyers. You sort of try and contact them first through that. I, generally speaking, don’t want to talk to anyone unless I know I’m going to use their story. But once the sort of film is up and running and it’s getting a lot of press and movie stars get involved, I will reach out to primary people and try and say, ‘Hey, let’s sit down and I want to hear what you have to say and check some things and make sure we’ve gotten this right.’ Most of the people involved had fairly extensive press coverage and/or had written books.”

On Charlize Theron’s performance as Megyn Kelly

“She does a phenomenal job. Charlize, she really does. … I wanted a portrait of someone inside Fox who comes to realize they are complicit to some degree in the culture and that their silence has empowered Ailes to continue to prey on women. And Megyn felt like the best choice for that because it felt like an arc that she must have gone through at a certain point. And also, she’s someone who we all know something about. The audience brings a certain amount of baggage to viewing the film, at least the American audiences do. And then I can play with that. I can work with that. I can work off that. And so, you know, I know in a way it was just finding a character who could kind of be our narrative center. She’s not the emotional center of the film. That would be Kayla. And she’s not the moral center of the film, that would be Gretchen. She’s our Dante. She’s the person who sort of takes us through that world. And she had the qualities, particularly a strong, compelling internal conflict that made her a good choice for that.”

On naming the movie “Bombshell”

“Oh, man, we went through so many titles. We even had a pool on set for the various cast and crew members suggesting titles. We probably had 500 options at the end of the day. But what we liked about it was the primary meaning of the word in terms of a news story that sort of explodes an arena and garners a lot of attention. But there’s that secondary residence of the less legitimate use of the word as a word for an attractive woman. So we both like the fact that had a primary driver, but also sort of retooling or reworking that secondary use.”

On “The Big Short” compared to “Bombshell”

“The films offered different forms of complexity, right. I mean, “The Big Short” was about a thematic complexity, a subject it’s hard to understand, an important one to understand. This is different in the sense that it’s an issue that I think a lot of men don’t quite grasp. I think a lot of us have a kind of minimizing urge to these stories. Our first instinct is to say, yeah, well, but she went in that office voluntarily. You know, that kind of thing. And so it was very important for Charlize, [director] Jay [Roach], and I to try and create something where we could put men in those offices. We could put men in Kayla’s heart and head as she walks into Roger’s office so that they can know that these experiences can be extremely complicated and utterly life-changing.”

On male viewers’ investment in the film’s message

“For me, of course, you always hope that it resonates with women. You want women to say, ‘Yes, there’s authenticity here. First and foremost, that of course matters. But for me, this is a film written for men, written for people like myself, to sort of understand just how this works and to understand how pervasive it is and again, to understand the effects these moments can have. A lot of the women we interviewed would talk about how the minute you’re harassed, it undermines everything you’ve achieved in that organization, everything you’ve learned in the organization, everything you’ve given to that organization. And that’s a moment I think very few men appreciate.”

On working with legendary filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg

“You know, it’s funny that every director sort of has their own superhero quality. And certainly for Marty [Martin Scorsese], there’s just this absolute passion for a world that he understands and he’s obsessed with. That’s obviously ‘The Irishman’ now. And it’s beautiful to watch that arc of how he’s both grown into the subject and wants to continue sort of to explore it. Spielberg’s more of a guy who just has this ability to really appreciate the film going experience for an audience perspective that a lot of filmmakers just don’t have. It’s a muscle they just don’t have. He has the ability to sit down and listen to an idea or watch a scene and really think it through on the level of what it must be like to walk into a theater somewhere in Idaho and sit down and watch the thing, and that’s a remarkable skill to have.”

On whether he goes to the theater to watch his films

“We do so much testing now. So you’re going around the country showing it to test audiences and the process of doing the editing and marketing. But I do often when I show my family, my show my parents or whatnot, I’ll go and we’ll sit in a commercial theater somewhere and watch it. I haven’t done that yet with this one, but that’s coming up. My parents are coming for Christmas songs. I’ll take them to my local theater and we’ll watch it with everybody else.”

Emiko Tamagawa produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaSerena McMahon adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.