The stakes of the Hurt-Paulson confab were high, and each man was sizing up the other. Hurt didn’t want to be rolled, and Paulson didn’t want his image debased.
“It’s obviously frightening for people to be portrayed,” Hurt said. It was also evident that the former Cabinet officer, who had written his own account of the crisis, had a message to impart: “He has a theme — a passionate theme — about quality, excellence. I think he cares about the country.”
Hurt said he enjoyed the back-and-forth and found Paulson to be fully prepared for this and subsequent sessions. (Paulson declined to be interviewed for this article, but a spokeswoman confirmed that the meetings took place.)
The actor pointedly asked the ex-Cabinet secretary how he could have served as the Bush administration’s financial overseer after having made enormous sums as CEO of an investment bank that had no small role in the 2008 credit crisis that nearly drove the economy into financial Armageddon. But they also found common ground: Both men, as it turns out, enjoy birding.
Though reporters and authors and even Paulson have already chronicled the capital infusion that saved the equity markets, this TV movie will give five million viewers (if opening-night numbers for similar projects are a guide) a backdoor look at the days not too long ago when huge banks were being bought and sold in hasty, government-coaxed deals.
For many Americans, Andrew Ross Sorkin’s nonfiction bestseller “Too Big to Fail” was too big to read, which means, if you’re a newsmaker trying to influence history, it’s worth remembering that history is not only being written, it’s also being produced.
And as the Washington verite genre grows — with everything from “Charlie Wilson’s War” to “Frost/Nixon” to “Fair Game” to HBO’s “The Special Relationship” — political players are using their media savvy to advance their version of events while the facts are being reassembled.
In “Too Big to Fail,” the spinning took place everywhere. Over lunch. In car trips between appointments. Even by trading drafts of scripts. Each time was an opportunity, however small, to refashion history.
Paulson even invited Hurt to vacation with him over three days on a coastal Georgia island. Paulson’s wife, Wendy, led Hurt on a 5 a.m. kayak trip, and the actor noted that had he been late, the strong-willed spouse — played by Kathy Baker in the movie — would have left him behind. Paulson pointed out hawks, egrets and spoonbills, as well as snakes and alligators. Paulson caught and released snapper in a creek and then regaled his guest with natural-history insights over dinner in a rustic lodge.
All the while, Hurt kept up his questioning about regulators and profiteers, divining what Paulson learned on the Dartmouth gridiron and in the political arena. And they even acknowledged that Paulson’s legacy could be shaped by the collaboration’s outcome. “As my son says, ‘Let the haters hate,’ ” Hurt said. “I didn’t feel manipulated. I analyzed his life against my criteria. My notions of value can be pretty strict.”