[IMG:L]While his designated screen time in A Mighty Heart occupies but a fraction of the story's telling, Dan Futterman’s portrayal of Daniel Pearl brings to light one of the most powerful and iconic figures of a now Al Queda-aware post 9/11 age, grappling with the lines where Middle Eastern ideology, culture and politics overlap and divide with the Western world.
South Asia bureau chief and Wall Street Journal reporter Pearl--who 'vanished' one day in Pakistan--became the object of his journalist wife’s, Mariane Pearl’s search, upon his abduction while investigating a lead about terror suspect Richard Reid, the detained Paris-to-Miami flight shoe bomber. Angelina Jolie adeptly portrays Mariane, brought to the brink of the edge before the world’s eyes, while spearheading an ill-fated rescue effort that would ultimately lead to the discovery of her husband’s murder.
[IMG:R]In a tragic tale that one wishes were fiction, a spellbinding search unfolds and a shocking assassination--that was boldly broadcast for the world--is reenacted; all events courageously re-treaded with nuance and respect by Futterman, Jolie and their talented ensemble, given the honored burden of bringing back to life a frozen and devastating news moment from recent headlines.
The result of director Michael Winterbottom's searing and realistically telegraphed work--based on Mariane's account--manages to bring Futterman's Danny, albeit his spirit, to life for just a while longer. Precisely what Mariane hoped to accomplish with her memoir: Danny Pearl is freed to speak again about humanity, terrorism and love. And Dan Futterman elegantly channels his voracious spirit.
Hollywood.com: You being a writer, how do you feel about this screenplay with respect to Mariane’s meaty book?
Dan Futterman: When I met with Michael [Winterbottom] initially and I had read the script, I thought it was fantastic. He talked about a couple of things he was going to work on but I didn’t see much of a need for it. I had very little to say about changing the script. I thought it was terrific.
HW: There’s such a naturalistic quality to the film, was there a bit of improvisation?
DF: We did improvise, but you are working with this terrific foundation. It’s a script that assimilates so much information about that part of the world--that particular situation they were in--as well as, this relationship, this love affair, that Danny and Mariane had. So you feel extremely well-supported in that improvisation and you always return to the script.
HW: What struck you most when you first read the memoir?
DF: I was moved by this story, enormously, from reading Mariane’s book and also from the screenplay. I was thrilled to work with Michael Winterbottom in particular, and this incredible international cast of actors--that I’m [now] among the great actors of the world? I was very honored to be a part of it.
HW: What was it like working with Angelina?
DF: That actress is truly one of my generation’s great, great actors. I had a chance to see my friend Phil [Seymour] Hoffman perform up close a couple years ago. You think, “OK, I’ve had that experience, I can write that one down and tell it to my kids.” Then two years later I’m acting with somebody who’s giving that same sort of utterly transformational, beautifully emotional performance: incredibly smart; fine-tuned. I was completely knocked out by her.
[IMG:R]HW: Angelina feels so organic as Mariane, was it that way on set?
DF: With her, it seems like the easiest thing in the world. She’s improvising, it’s an accent that’s not her own, and she’s comfortable. You cannot dare her to do anything that she’s not willing to do. It’s completely a pleasure to work with her. I really loved it. Having said that, we were in a bit of a 'different movie' from everybody. There’s that three-week desperate search for him [Danny] which is the bulk of the movie.
HW: So both you and Angelina were on a different part of the timeline?
DF: Everything I shot, just about, was pre-dated to Danny’s abduction. They [Danny and Mariane] had a true love affair. They were deeply connected and expecting a child, which thrilled them! They were doing work that fascinated them in a part of the world that, at least, he loved. We [Angelina and I] were trying to create that; and it was as if we were in a different film.
HW: The film was not shot in sequence and you’re playing roles in different times. You’re building a love affair, and she’s searching for her missing husband. How was that handled?
DF: Honestly, it must have been slightly schizoid for her [Angelina] because all of that [search] was [shot] in sequence. But what we shot had to be shot in each of the locations. So, she would come out of the scene she was working on that morning and we’d spend all afternoon working on flashback stuff. It was much more confusing, I think, for her. And for me it was simply a matter of traveling back and forth a lot.
[IMG:R]HW: Did you create that ‘deep connection’ on the spot?
DF: We had met in Los Angeles a couple of times. We had a friend in common, Jillian Armenante who plays a part in the film, one of the FBI investigators. She was in Girl, Interrupted with Angie; then was in Judging Amy with me for a number of years. I would hear about her friend, "Angie--oh this and that..." When we [Angelina and I] met we felt like we had things in common, and things were a little easier.
HW: How was it meeting the real-life Mariane Pearl?
DF: I was incredibly nervous about meeting her. You know, presuming to portray her beloved husband. I was terrified of that. She was instantly reassuring and took it upon herself to make me feel comfortable with the situation which speaks to her as a person.
HW: You have to pose in these achingly horrific and iconic photos that we’ve all seen. How did it feel to have to reenact those images?
DF: I think many people have those pictures in their head from back in 2002. I certainly did, and remembered seeing them and watching reports of this as it played out. I think we had a great responsibility [taking that on]. They’re extremely painful documents for people who knew and loved him--and for people who may have cared about it him and may not have known him. We tried to do it as simply as possible with no editorializing. That day we were just kind of quiet and 'let’s just do this and move on, and do something else.' It was something that was necessary for the film [pauses], but painful to do.
[IMG:R]HW: What did you think of Daniel Pearl? Is he a hero? Is he a martyr?
DF: I think people have turned him into a lot of things. And as you’ve said he’s become a kind of iconic figure for certain groups of people. I think that in certain everyday ways he was … I don’t know if “hero” is the right word, but I suppose--particularly in today’s world--his genuine interest that he had in learning about other cultures and immersing himself in other cultures is a bit of information that Mariane talked about: his joy and delight--the genuine interest he brought to traveling and learning about other cultures; his writing about that and showing it to an American audience, that can be very closed-off to that sort of thing. I suppose in a small and important way that’s “heroic.”
HW: Do you see yourself in Danny at all?
DF: I was really conscious playing him that he has this beautiful five-year-old son now, who is never going to be able to meet his father. He’s only going to learn about him from other people--from his mom and Danny’s family and friends. At some point, maybe he’ll see this film. Hopefully this captures something of his father. Something I admire in Danny, I think I have sometimes: he was someone who really delighted in meeting new people. He was compulsively social and would strike up a conversation with anybody he possibly could. That was part of his work and what he loved about life. I have that sometimes when I’m in a good mood!
HW: At what point did you meet Mariane Pearl?
DF: We met in a kind of tentative way--one was a long lunch in Los Angeles. She was bringing Adam to see his grandparents. That was the first one. We had a number of e-mail exchanges and she also came down from Paris to Marseille where we were going to shoot the wedding. She was there for a couple of days before that ... I met her [Mariane] by myself but then we were all in France together.
[IMG:R]HW: Mariane must’ve also spent a bit of quality time with Angelina?
DF: Angelina and Mariane are quite good friends. Brad [Pitt] had been on this project for years. He personally approached Mariane to get the rights for the book. She trusted him to shepherd it through this process. He had been with it throughout the entire development, throughout the script. Then, Angie came to it and Mariane, quite quickly, became connected with her. They're quite friendly.
HW: Daniel fought courageously against his captors. Being immersed in this chapter of his life story, do you think you might’ve done the same were in the same situation?
DF: Umm. I think it’s impossible to know how one would behave. You’d like to think that you’d behave in a dignified, heroic way, if that’s that word for it--but who knows? I don’t pretend to be anything but an actor and a writer.
HW: Was A Mighty Heart a closed-set?
DF: No, Mariane chose not to be there. She came down as I said, to Marseille; it was before Angelina had started shooting on the film at all. I had been in Pakistan before that. Mariane came down to wish us well, to talk to us, to get together a little bit. Then she said, “We’d like you to feel good about what you’re doing…and I’m going to let you leave and do your work.” I also think that it would have been painful for her to watch. I think there was a large part of it being a writer herself, a creative person, that she realized that [her presence] was the last thing anyone needed to feel beholden--and she probably didn’t want to put anyone in that position.
HW: What was your experience like being in Puna, Bombay and then Pakistan--and touching a bit of what Danny Pearl did in his life?
DF: Because we were shooting this sensitive subject, it was a plot that would have inflamed anybody--Michael shoots in a very under-the-radar kind of way--there wasn’t a tremendous awareness of us being there. But, there was a little more sensitivity to keeping a low-profile and doing the work--which I regret too, because I love to explore, but not under these circumstances.
[IMG:L]HW: Angelina Jolie is so regarded as an icon, what do you think of her as a person?
DF: Through all of the distractions and craziness that can happen for a woman in her position, she is a very devoted mom and cares deeply about protecting her children from all that. She’s also someone who spends an enormous amount of time raising awareness for issues she cares about, particularly the welfare of children and underprivileged circumstances.
HW: How has this film changed you?
DF: I am so aware of the fact of being a father--and that Danny never got to meet his son, and his son is growing up without the benefit of this really genuinely good man who was his dad ... [Pauses] I don’t know if it changed me but it certainly reinforces the gratitude I have to have healthy children, and that I am able to go home, pick them up--and watch them grow up.
A Mighty Heart is now available on DVD