Trumbo stars Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje share their thoughts on Hollywood politics and the power of the press.
Trumbo tells the story of Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, one of the most prominent artists who were blacklisted during the American communism scare of the ’40s and ’50s.
Bryan Cranston plays Trumbo, a prolific and talented screenwriter, who was cast out by an industry terrified of hidden communist agendas. He even served time in prison as a result of his refusal to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).
As one of the “Hollywood Ten,” Trumbo actively worked against the blacklist, continuing to write screenplays under pseudonyms and undermining his enemies by sheer brilliance alone — Trumbo’s Roman Holiday and The Brave One both won Academy Awards while he was blacklisted.
Promoting Trumbo ahead of its European premiere this Thursday, Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, John Goodman and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje spoke to the press about the lingering effects of the blacklisting in Hollywood, and how their own political persuasions affect their creative decisions.
“They were very prolific writers, wordsmiths, and Dalton certainly was one of the top. He enjoyed the flamboyancy and flair, that dramatic nature that he had,” Cranston said of his character, whom he described as “heroic” for his sacrifices.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, whose character Dalton Trumbo meets in prison, had a similar admiration for the legendary writer.
“I’m a huge fan of him, not simply because of the historic impact he’s had on our industry, but just as a man. The themes that come from this film just resonate throughout the ages,” he said. “He’s a man who stood for what he believed, sacrificed everything, lay it all on the line. Just really, how incredible he was as an individual inspired me.”
John Goodman explained how the script by John McNamara, “just came off the page.” Added Goodman, “I’m always been attracted to great storytellers, it’s something I lack in myself and I’m always baffled to how it works.”
‘Hollywood has always been very political’
Moving on to discuss the political statements of the film, Cranston allowed that the underlying theme of governments working to repress individuals still resonates today. “As a cautionary tale, hopefully it’ll resonate internationally,” he said of the film.
“It’s about how a small section of the government exploited fear and propagated paranoia… it is a cautionary tale,” Goodman agreed. “It’s happening now!”
“Hollywood has always been very political,” Cranston said. “Hollywood is fascinated with politics, and vice versa.” When asked if blacklisting is still happening today, he mused, “I think there’s some self-imposed blacklisting in Hollywood.”
He pointed to Mel Gibson as an example of actors who “blacklist themselves” through their behavior, and shared a story about being hired to work on an O.J. Simpson film, and watching the project fall apart as actors refused to associate themselves with such a notorious figure.
“I hope there aren’t any political blacklists, I hope there aren’t any sexual orientation blacklists,” Cranston added, perhaps inspired by Matt Damon’s recent comments about sexuality in Hollywood. “I think we’re moving out of that, as a society, and that’s a great thing.”
On whether they’d be able to distance themselves from political ideologies of the filmmakers when picking projects to work on, Dame Helen Mirren said, “I wouldn’t do a script that perpetuated ideas of philosophies that I absolutely didn’t agree with.”
Goodman believed he would be “doing a disservice to the filmmakers” if he agreed to do a movie with a message he couldn’t get behind.
“I would for the money,” Cranston joked. He did add that as far as playing antagonists, “it’s actually fun to get behind a character like that. But if it strikes something very personal, then no, you don’t wanna propagate that.”
Mirren, whose Trumbo character is quite the antagonist herself, agreed. “You can play a character whose lifestyle, whose attitude or actions you can profoundly disagree with. The difficulty is always to find your personal sympathy with that character, which is always what we have to do to make them human.”
The ‘dangerous power’ of the press
Helen Mirren took the opportunity to address her mixed feelings about the press, as an institution with “fearful, dangerous powers,” that can “play to the fear and paranoia of the public.”
Taking on celebrity journalist Hedda Hopper in Trumbo was extra challenging for Mirren, as she herself has, “never been a great fan of celebrity journalism.”
“Present company excluded,” Cranston assured us.
Mirren continued, “Even when I wanted to be an actress, I didn’t dream about it through reading fan, fan-y, those sorts of things. I find it kinda boring, I’m afraid to say.”
She admitted that if she’d ever met her character, “she would have scared the shit out of me […] there are a lot of journalists who scare the shit out of me, quite honestly. In our business we have to be open to the press, and I think we all feel it’s part of our job, but at the same time you’re always about to fall off the wire, hit the row of snarling snakes.”
“Present company excluded,” Cranston interjected again.
“But it’s an essential part of the job, and we’re very grateful for you guys for turning up,” Mirren diplomatically concluded.
A bonus treat for ‘Breaking Bad’ fans
One brave reporter asked Bryan Cranston whether he’d be interested in appearing on Better Call Saul. Here’s his (grainy) response:
While Cranston doesn’t believe a cameo is in the works, “I would do it if Vince Gilligan wanted me to.” So… pick up the phone, Vince!
Trumbo is directed by Jay Roach, with a script by John McNamara. It also stars Diane Lane, Elle Fanning, Louis C.K., and Alan Tudyk.