The film “Truth” is based on a book by the former CBS News producer Mary Mapes. It looks back at a scandal that developed around a “60 Minutes II” segment she produced in 2004 that suggested President George W. Bush’s had received preferential treatment for his service in the National Guard. The film dramatizes the work to produce that segment and its aftermath. James Vanderbilt directed and adapted Ms. Mapes’s book. This scene is a conversation between Dan Rather (played by Robert Redford) and Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) in which he tells her he plans to apologize on the air for the segment. In an interview, Mr. Vanderbilt discussed the scene and answered questions about the film. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Q. What appealed to you about Mary Mapes’s book?
A. I’ve always loved stories about journalism and it’s always been the road not taken. If I hadnn’t gone into movies, I would have taken a run at journalism. So when I started looking around for something to direct, it was around the same time this had happened. I read an excerpt of Mary’s book in Vanity Fair. Then I bought the book and read it. My takeaway was, I was amazed at how much I didn’t know about a subject I thought I knew a lot about. I ended up spending some time with Mary and then with Dan Rather and through that started to research the whole thing and realized it could make an interesting film.
How did you go about casting Dan Rather?
I had written the part for Robert Redford in my head. I didn’t tell him. But I loved the idea of an icon playing an icon. Both Dan and Bob, even though they don’t resemble each other, they both occupy the same place in Americana, up in the firmament a little bit. They both have that trusted voice. Bob and I talked about it and I told him, “I think that if you play Dan as an impression, it’s a trap. Because people will look and ask, how close did he get with the voice or prosthetics?” I said, “I don’t want to put you behind a lot of makeup. I’d like to gray the hair and for you to do a little vocal intonation. And other than that, just play the character.”
What do you see as the key component of the movie?
The emotional core of the film is this relationship between Mary and Dan. In interviewing them and spending time with them, I got to observe this almost father-daughter quality to them, in terms of how they look out for each other and take care of each other.
What was your approach to adapting the material?
Mary’s book is a memoir, so it covers more than 20 years of her professional career. I knew really early we were going to have to jettison all of the lead-up. The film was going to be about putting the story together and watching it come apart. The thing about screenwriting and filmmaking is you only have so much real estate.
Also, I wanted to spend time with as many people as I could who were involved in the story before making judgments of what do I include or what do I not include. I tried to stay loose structurally until I had done a bunch of interviews. What came out of that was Mary as a character, Dan as a character, the rest of the team as characters and how they all interacted.
Did you spend some time in a television newsroom before making this?
I wasn’t able to visit “60 Minutes” or CBS, but I did spend some time in a TV newsroom and with people who were working on a weekly show. I also spoke to former CBS employees who were around during the time, a bunch of people who were involved, both on and off the record.