Rupert Goold on True Story
Often when a film states that it’s based on a true story, that’s only half the story. The movie True Story is fact based and takes its title from the book by Michael Finkel, True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa.
James Franco plays Christian Longo and Jonah Hill plays Finkel, with Felicity Jones as Finkel’s wife. Director Rupert Goold explains the set-up in a phone interview with Free Press Houston. “Finkel interviewed a number of kids about how they had suffered at the hands of reported slavers in Africa. The stories conflicted and there wasn’t any evidence regarding whether they had been abused or not. He suspected that they were being paid so the charities could get the stories published in papers,” says Goold. “There’s a whole movie in that. He then made a composite character claiming there was this boy who all these things had happened to, which was not true.”
This led to Finkel being fired from the New York Times. Shortly afterwards Longo, on the run from murder charges in Oregon, turns up in Mexico posing as Finkel. Eventually Longo is captured by police and extradited to face charges of killing his wife and three children. When Finkel learns about the case he travels to Oregon for a series of interviews with Longo.
“One of the great challenges of this film, because it’s based on a true story, is we don’t want to fabricate elements of the narrative,” explains Goold. “Whatever the truth is about Longo, he was incarcerated. In a normal thriller, maybe there’s another killer outside, or more plot tensions that have to be replaced with psychological and moral distress. There’s almost an erotic tension between them. It’s intense.”
At a mid-point in the film Jones, who works as a musicologist, goes to visit Longo. In perhaps the film’s most moving sequence she tells Longo the history of Carlo Gesualdo (1566 – 1613). “Gesualdo’s famous for a series of madrigals he wrote in the 17th century,” says Goold. Jones explains to Longo how Gesualdo killed his wife and infant child, after he caught her having an affair and then wrote a song, “Se la mia morte brami” (To die in my arms.).
“It had quite a long gestation that scene, the character that is able to see with moral clarity past the kind of spider’s web that Finkel is unable to,” says Goold. “It’s a courtroom drama. But rather than have the verdict be given by jurors maybe it’s interesting if the verdict comes morally from a different point. Another woman who has compassion for the woman who’s been murdered.
“It’s a classic film noir situation but the film fatale is metaphorically James Franco. So there is this couple but then this relationship that develops, almost an obsession, between the two men that ostracizes the wife figure,” continues Goold. “I felt this scene was like the encounter between a wife and a mistress. That was the structural thing of the story. Felicity is a great actress. In the early draft of that scene, before I even arrived, she gave that speech to Finkel. It was a powerful scene but it felt like she was a function to the story. So I felt why doesn’t she say this to Longo – isn’t it great to look the devil in the eye. By the time we shot I knew that’s where I wanted the scene to be.”
Goold a longtime stage director in England makes his American debut with True Story.
Among Goold’s previous films include Macbeth starring Patrick Stewart, which came to Broadway in 2009. Goold’s wife Kate Fleetwood played Lady Macbeth. “We made a movie of that for BBC and PBS. It was shot on location and in 15 days. I’m actually really proud of it,” says Goold.
True Story opens this weekend in Houston.
— Michael Bergeron