Before the committee

Diane Lane and Michael Stuhlbarg on Trumbo

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Diane Lane, Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren - New York Trumbo premiere
Diane Lane, Bryan Cranston and Helen Mirren - New York Trumbo premiere Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Bryan Cranston (Dalton Trumbo), Helen Mirren (Hedda Hopper), Diane Lane, Michael Stuhlbarg, Louis C.K., producers Michael London, Kevin Kelly Brown, Monica Levinson, Shivani Rawat, Nimitt Mankand, Bleecker Street CEO Andrew Karpen, Trumbo director Jay Roach and writer John McNamara were joined by Niki Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo, Taylor Hackford, Dana Delany, Chuck Scarborough, Elle MacPherson, Tony Bennett, Susan Crow, Julie Taymor, Robert Wuhl, Ruben Blades, Tim Daly, Jean Shafiroff and Kathleen Turner at the Museum of Modern Art.

Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane)
Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) Cleo Trumbo (Diane Lane)

Diane Lane, great in Amy Berg's Every Secret Thing, where she worked with Dakota Fanning, is teamed with Elle Fanning in Trumbo. Michael Stuhlbarg is Edward G. Robinson. Danny Boyle's Steve Jobs, starring Michael Fassbender, and Don Cheadle's Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, the Centerpiece and Closing Night Gala films at the New York Film Festival, respectively, make three films this year where Stuhlbarg is featured portraying a non-fictional character.

Diane Lane plays Cleo Trumbo, wife of screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston), one of the Hollywood Ten, blacklisted because he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He won two Oscars under pseudonyms for Roman Holiday and The Brave One before he could come out of the shadows. Jay Roach's Trumbo, based on the book by Bruce Cook, screenplay by John McNamara, shows us a family circling the wagons in order to survive and keep their dignity.

At the Villagio after party on Central Park South, I passed on Amy Berg's comment from her conversation with D.A. Pennebaker on Janis: Little Girl Blue last week to Diane Lane.

Anne-Katrin Titze: A few days ago, I was at a Writers Guild screening of Amy Berg's Janis Joplin documentary.

Diane Lane: Oh, I love Amy! You know that I love Amy.

Diane Lane on Dalton Trumbo: "I love the fact that he triumphed and beat the system …"
Diane Lane on Dalton Trumbo: "I love the fact that he triumphed and beat the system …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Somebody brought up that she was using the same Civil Rights footage that is in Trumbo, and Amy, immediately she said, "Oh, that's Diane's film", as she called it. You were great in Every Secret Thing.

DL: Thank you. There I got to work with Dakota [Fanning] and now I got to work with Elle [Fanning]. It's wonderful.

AKT: How did you prepare to play Dalton Trumbo's wife?

DL: I got to certainly read the book about him and there's a lot of footage that's available online to watch him. There wasn't very much on Cleo necessarily. But I gleaned a lot in terms of their courtship and the way it was explained in the book. It gave a great backstory because I got a sense that he really worked hard to woo her.

And I respect a man that trusts himself enough to go through a lot of rejection to get to the prize, you know? In terms of - he knows what he appreciates about a woman and he's willing to go through her levels of distrust to get to the point where he is trusted. He earns her trust.

AKT: You have a beautiful scene where you say to him something like "this isn't a conversation, this is a fight." Also how she knew that her life with the ex-husband was wrong. There is a lot covered in that scene.

DL: You see the history there, it's true.

Trumbo screening and party ticket
Trumbo screening and party ticket Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: And the strength it took comes across beautifully in your performance - what it means to be Mrs. Dalton Trumbo.

DL: Well, she kept the family together. I mean, there was him - and everyone else in the family. And that wasn't his ego, that was by necessity what he was forced into by responding to the attack he was under and recalibrating how to garner employment. I love the fact that he triumphed and beat the system of shaming and shunning.

The misuse of patriotism, not valuing the First Amendment and the fact that he managed to beat them at their own game and win two Oscars under another name. I'm only surprised it took this long to bring the story to the screen because it's a no brainer as far as you can hardly believe it's non-fiction.

AKT: It's about Hollywood…

DL: Well, they're careful and I'm glad they waited to get it right. And I'm very grateful and proud to be in a film that came together in a right way at the right time. Because it's a timely message as well. We're very responsive to how fear mongering can shut down the open mind of what it is to be an American.

We are constantly reinventing ourselves in terms of adapting and forming what the new world is. We can't have a closed mind to reality around us. We have to communicate and co-function with other versions of government, religions and ideologies.

Michael Stuhlbarg's Edward G. Robinson is the fascinating and complex portrayal of a man, who is able to sell his van Gogh, at one point, for the defense of those accused and, at another, name names.

Michael Stuhlbarg on Edward G. Robinson: "Getting to live within his life for a while, gave me a great sense of empathy …"
Michael Stuhlbarg on Edward G. Robinson: "Getting to live within his life for a while, gave me a great sense of empathy …" Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Anne-Katrin Titze: What did you know about Edward G. Robinson before this role? Did you like his films?

Michael Stuhlbarg: I knew very little. I had seen some of his films before. A few years back, I was on a television show called Boardwalk Empire and sort of in preparation for that, a lot of us watched films that Mr. Robinson happened to be in.

AKT: Which ones did you watch?

MS: Oh, Little Caesar, some of the earlier ones, the ones in the Twenties and the Thirties. Or at least set in the Twenties.

AKT: What did you think about him specifically then and how do you see him now?

MS: I wasn't familiar with the body of his work and perhaps, I didn't know the depth of his talent. One of the high points for me in this job was getting to re-examine a career of somebody who I didn't really know too much and didn't realize what a big talent he was.

AKT: There's a great Fritz Lang movie he is in, called The Woman in the Window. Did you ever see that? He is not this gangster he often plays.

MS: Woman in the Window? Yeah. It's very very different from his other things.

AKT: And of course, in real life he had this fantastic art collection.

MS: I know, it's a really interesting life. He could be the subject of his own story as well.

AKT: In Trumbo, you have that great scene, the confrontation, where you explain that you only named names that were already named. And yet! What were your thoughts on that?

Trumbo posters at the Museum of Modern Art in New York
Trumbo posters at the Museum of Modern Art in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

MS: You know, we can only imagine the kind of situation that he was put in, having to do what he did.

AKT: He makes very clear the difference between a writer and an actor. A writer can hide behind another name, whereas an actor has …

MS: …no place to hide, yeah.

AKT: You have to show your face. Speaking of that. Your face has been everywhere this fall. You can currently also be seen in the Steve Jobs film. Are you enjoying yourself?

MS: It's really nice to have the films out for everyone to see. It's been an exciting couple of years with the work that has come my way and I'm really happy and grateful to have had the jobs I've had. It's fun to see them out and coming to life now.

AKT: After you have played someone, when you come across their face or name, such as Edward G. Robinson, for example, do you feel a special pang of recognition? As though you encounter a part of yourself? Villains become less villainous? Am I asking a convoluted question here?

MS: I am not exactly sure.

Michael Stuhlbarg is Edward G. Robinson in Trumbo
Michael Stuhlbarg is Edward G. Robinson in Trumbo

AKT: Do you have maybe more affinity for Robinson?

MS: Absolutely. Getting to live within his life for a while, gave me a great sense of empathy for what he was going through. I really enjoyed getting to play him. I felt like we had a lot of things in common, honestly.

AKT: What do you have in common?

MS: History in the theater, primarily. The sort of trials and tribulations he went through in terms of trying to get a job as a leading actor or being stereotyped in a particular way - these are the kinds of things that we all go through. The story is very universal that way - particularly for actors.

Coming up - On and off the red carpet with Bryan Cranston, Helen Mirren, Niki Trumbo, Mitzi Trumbo, producer Kevin Kelly Brown and an after party conversation with Trumbo director Jay Roach.

Trumbo opens in the US on November 6, screened at the London Film Festival last month and will open in the UK on February 5, 2016.

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