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Doug Liman and Valerie Plame on Why the World Needs a ‘Fair Game’ Director’s Cut Now More Than Ever

Written by on November 1, 2018 


Eight years ago, Fair Game came and went with little fanfare, despite a pair of stellar lead performances and sharp direction from Doug Liman. Based on the book of the same name, Naomi Watts plays Valerie Plame, a real-life CIA agent whose identity was exposed in 2003 after her husband Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) wrote an Op-Ed in The New York Times contradicting the Bush White House’s claims that Iraq was building nuclear weapons. The new cut, though only a few minutes longer, feels improved, necessary and refreshing for the current moment. Watts has rarely been better, and Liman does well in keeping the focus on a marriage in turmoil as much as it’s on a political crisis. The Film Stage got the chance to speak with both Liman and Plame, reflecting on the first cut of the movie many years back, the need for a fresh take on the material, and everything in between.

Why now for a director’s cut?

Doug Liman: You know, the world’s changed both in terms of the politics of what’s happening there but also, with the advent of streaming, the idea of a movie being finished doesn’t mean what it meant before. It used to mean when you finished a movie there was a photographic process you went through and the thing was really cemented. It was done. But honestly with today’s technology there’s no reason why a movie being done really means it’s done. And that happened to coincide with the fact that I felt the film wasn’t done creatively.


DL: There was a better movie there and as a filmmaker you’re faced with two choices when you’re looking back and going ‘I could’ve done a better job:’ In the case of Jumper, I went and re-did it as a TV series called “Impulse.”


DL: In the case of Fair Game, I said, “I have the footage to make the better movie, I’m going to go back and re-cut it.” And I’m not sure that’s allowed. No one even knew I was doing this. I just did it on my own…

Valerie Plame: That’s how you always work!

DL: Yeah, I’m more of an ‘act first and ask permission later’ kind of person. And it just sort of coincided with Netflix, who can put it out and…

VP: …and the moment, the political moment.

DL: And then separately, while this all happened, Trump pardoned Scooter Libby. So suddenly I realized actually the story wasn’t done. The story wasn’t done eight years ago. The story actually finished this past spring. So I went back in and tweaked [the movie] one more time to reflect that and now the film really is done and I promise the audience, you know, at least this Doug Liman in 2018 feels the film is done. But, you know…


VP: It will change again.

DL: And I changed as a human being in the making of the movie so I think part of why the film wasn’t done the first time is because the experience of making the movie had a profound impact on me. Because I went to Baghdad and filmed, and I don’t think I really processed being in that war zone for a few years. Long after the film was done I think I finally processed what that war meant and what it means to declare war. I know what [Operation] Shock and Awe looked like on TV with all of those bombs falling. It’s a very different thing when you’re there on the ground. And bombs were still falling when I was there. I think I needed time, emotionally, to make the best possible film that I could. So I’ve done that.


Valerie, the film is based on your book of the same name, which is about everything that happened to you and your husband [Joe Wilson] in 2002 and 2003. How was the collaborative process then, nearly a decade ago, working with Doug and making the movie? And now, as a creative person yourself and author of a couple of novels, how is it revisiting everything especially with the Libby pardon this year as well?

VP: Well, I feel so fortunate that Doug invited me in. Joe and I spent, at different times, quite a bit of time on the set. And we were apprehensive because you never know how your life is going to be treated. I think the original movie absolutely captured the essential truth of what happened and I was proud of it. But I saw the director’s cut–Doug’s newest version–this summer and I hadn’t seen it in eight years and it had a deep impact on me. First of all, it’s a better film. And he draws out some themes that were just beginning to be teased a little bit [in the original film]. It just hangs together better, which is amazing to me knowing that it’s only six minutes longer. But it makes a huge difference.

Yes, it does.

VP: As Doug pointed out, we’ve all had some time and distance to process everything that happened and the political environment and where we are today. Seeing Dr. [Christine Blasey] Ford testify in the Kavanaugh nomination hearing really resonated because it’s the theme of speaking truth to power and the consequences thereof.

And as you said, with this current political climate the time of the cut is very powerful. From a creative standpoint, rewatching the original film and then watching the director’s cut, one thing that jumped out at me that I felt got lost or not given enough credit in the general reaction eight years ago was that, despite the espionage and action elements within the story, this is a story about a marriage trying to survive.

VP: I have to say this takes me back. When it first came out in 2010, Joe and I and Doug and the others involved in this project spent a lot of time beating back the narrative put forward by the Bush Administration. You know, fighting that fight all over again. And now, that’s not what it’s about. It’s the themes that drew Doug to tell the story in the first place are allowed to come out upon release, of speaking truth to power. The importance of holding your government to account. The reckoning of the Iraq War. And, as you point out, the personal aspect.

DL: Yeah, the personal aspect is actually the reason I’m shocked that Valerie and I are sitting here side by side doing an interview!


DL: No one can really know what’s happening inside someone else’s marriage but we really took a critical eye to this relationship. As much as I was interested in the international events, what I thought was so powerful about this story and [screenwriter] Jez Butterworth, who really finds amazing characters in history and tells amazing stories. You have a husband and wife who are at the center of the White House’s deception behind the War in Iraq. A husband and wife who are armed with the knowledge that the President is lying to the American people and one of theme chooses to speak out. And the havoc it wreaks on their relationship is such an amazing story in and of itself. Even if you made it up, and it happens to be true. Joe Wilson, played by Sean Penn, is such a…

VP: Intense.

DL: Intense and amazing character, who’s not necessarily the hero of my story. Even though he’s a hero to me as an American because we wouldn’t know the truth about the War in Iraq if it weren’t for Joe Wilson. Nobody else spoke up. There was one person who spoke up and said, “The President is lying. He knew there were no weapons of mass destruction. There we no nuclear weapons in Iraq. And he’s lying to the American people.” There’s one person who told us that and then everything came unraveled and now we just know there were no weapons–

VP: But we didn’t know it then.

DL: We didn’t know it then and it all started with Joe Wilson. So as an American Joe Wilson is my hero, but as a filmmaker Joe Wilson is a far more complex anti-hero than he is hero.

What’s next for both of you?

VP: I’m putting together a spy seminar called “Spies, Lies & Nukes: Inside International Espionage” with some of my summer colleagues. These are highly-decorated officers and this will be coming up in a couple of weeks and I’m really excited. This is unique as far as I know. Nothing quite like this has been put together. If it goes well I want to partner with some academic institutions and take it around and try to explain to people: ‘how did we get here?’ That’s what I’m doing.

DL: My stuff sounds pretty petty in comparison. I’ve got a couple of TV shows and movies that I’m working on.

Fair Game: Director’s Cut is now on Blu-ray/DVD/VOD and hits Netflix on Friday.

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