On and off the Trumbo red carpet

We chat to Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Niki Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo and producer Kevin Kelly Brown.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Bryan Cranston is Jay Roach's Dalton Trumbo
Bryan Cranston is Jay Roach's Dalton Trumbo Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Trumbo producer Kevin Kelly Brown confided that they were surprised at Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper's ferociousness and actually had to tone her down, while Helen Mirren at the after party mentioned that she wasn't surprised at all by the gossip queen's viciousness. Bryan Cranston captured Dalton Trumbo's physicality, his real-life daughters Niki Trumbo and Mitzi Trumbo confirmed to me, as they waved to Ring Lardner Jr.'s daughter Kate Lardner, author of Shut Up He Explained: The Memoir Of A Blacklisted Kid.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston)
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston)

Anne-Katrin Titze: Did you re-watch Roman Holiday and Spartacus?

Bryan Cranston: Yeah! You know, it's wonderful. I watched a lot of his [Trumbo's] films again - Roman Holiday, Spartacus, The Brave One. Even, like, 30 Seconds Over Tokyo and Kitty Foyle and I re-read his Johnny Got A Gun novel that he wrote in1939 as an anti-war novel. He was a pacifist. This was a man who didn't want war. And when war was declared, because we were attacked in Pearl Harbor, he joined. So again, when he fought the blacklist, he didn't want that fight either. But when it came to him, he fought back and succeeded.

On the red carpet, Cranston tells us about what matters to him when playing a non-fictional character. Trumbo, the blacklisted screenwriter with the help of a number of pseudonyms, one of them the name of a cockatiel, given to him by Kirk Douglas for Spartacus, subverted his ban and ultimately exposed the absurdity.

Bryan Cranston: When you play a non-fictional character, there is more responsibility than if you were playing a fictional character because that person lived and you do want to pay respect to that. In this case, it was recent history. There are still people alive who remember him well. His daughters are alive, his daughter-in-law, some of his colleagues. So, you know, I wanted to get close to the essence of this big personality.

Trumbo director Jay Roach, Niki Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo and producer Michael London
Trumbo director Jay Roach, Niki Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo and producer Michael London Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

I didn't want to do an impersonation of him. And fortunately, with a non-fictional character you usually have source material, audiotapes, videotapes, biographies and such… I try to make it like a funnel, to just keep taking information in and it'll find its place. It'll settle in and distill inside me.

Niki and Mitzi Trumbo on Bryan getting their father right.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Is there a specific detail you gave to Bryan Cranston to make him your father? Is there something small I can look out for while watching the film tonight?

Niki Trumbo: For me, it's the stoop of his shoulders while being bent over the typewriter that he caught so perfectly that I would do a double take when I would see him.

AKT: And for you [to Mitzi], was there something also?

Mitzi Trumbo: Yes. The holding of the cigarette. The dropping of the ashes without him flicking it. All those mannerisms, he just got it. He just really got the feel of how our father was. Sometimes, he'd have two cigarettes going at once. And not be aware of the other one. I think Bryan captured that whole spirit.

AKT: Have you been in touch with the children of the other blacklisted?

Trumbo producer Kevin Kelly Brown on Hedda Hopper:
Trumbo producer Kevin Kelly Brown on Hedda Hopper: "She reveled in her ability to destroy and make careers." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Niki Trumbo: Yeah. We were just waving at one.

Mitzi Trumbo: We grew up with some of them.

Niki Trumbo: Katie Lardner is here, who is Ring Lardner's daughter. Ring was in Danbury, Connecticut for a year in prison and one of the Hollywood Ten.

AKT: There is a famous photograph with Bertolt Brecht sitting behind your father. Was he somebody who came to your house? Did you know him?

Niki Trumbo: No. Bertolt Brecht? He left. He didn't come to the house. He left the country very quickly, sensing that trouble was brewing.

Mitzi Trumbo: I'd never met him.

AKT: What are you hoping for audiences in 2015 to get out of this film?

Niki Trumbo: I hope they get some understanding about how fragile democracy really is and then people learn to become vigilant in the face of things when they don't go quite right.

Anne-Katrin Titze: What was it about the story of Trumbo that interested you? How did you get involved?

Kevin Kelly Brown: It's the story. Because it tells the story of the Hollywood blacklist which no one had really ever done before, at least not as a true story. And his story of all the stories of the people that were affected by the blacklist, his story is the most remarkable because he fought against it and ultimately broke it. So our working motto for the movie was - it's the only story of the Hollywood blacklist with a happy ending.

AKT: And you wanted that happy ending?

KKB: It had a happy ending, we didn't have to make it up.

Helen Mirren is Hedda Hopper with Dalton Trumbo (Cranston)
Helen Mirren is Hedda Hopper with Dalton Trumbo (Cranston) Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Was there anything while making the movie that you had been completely unaware of before - about the blacklist?

KKB: I would say, not too much about the blacklist, but we were stunned at the level of ferocity and power of Hedda Hopper. We had no idea that she was so powerful and that she was so vitriolic. And that she reveled in her ability to destroy and make careers. She's a really nasty piece of work. We actually toned her down for the movie.

AKT: I just knew her as a famous Hollywood columnist.

KKB: As the gossip columnist.

AKT: Yes, and her rivalry with Louella Parsons.

At the Villagio after party, I caught up with Helen Mirren and again, Bryan Cranston.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You were given beautiful lines to speak as Trumbo.

Bryan Cranston: He had a very interesting way of presenting himself.

AKT: I very much liked your interactions with the cockatiel [named Sam Jackson, the credited screenwriter for Spartacus]. You two seemed to really hit it off.

Helen Mirren draws a laugh from Bryan Cranston
Helen Mirren draws a laugh from Bryan Cranston Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Bryan Cranston: I loved that bird!

Helen Mirren plays Hedda Hopper in all her self-righteous glory. Costume designer Daniel Orlandi puts her in Hopper's trademark idiosyncratic hats to confront the men in all the expressive patterns of shirts and high-waisted slacks and suits the late Forties and Fifties held in store.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You made her look really attractive - externally that is.

Helen Mirren: I don't know about that.

AKT: The suits and hats and jewelry look very good on you. Did you know Hopper was so vicious?

Helen Mirren: Yes, I did.

Read what Diane Lane and Michael Stuhlbarg had to say at the New York Trumbo premiere after party and coming up, a conversation with Trumbo director Jay Roach.

Trumbo opens today, November 6 in the US, had a Gala premiere at the London Film Festival last month and will open in the UK on February 5, 2016.

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