Streep: Hundred days ago.
Spielberg: Two hundred days ago.
Hornaday: Tell us a little bit—[LAUGHTER]—but who’s counting? Tell us a little bit, Steven, about the timeline for this. How it went down, why it went down that way.
Spielberg: Well, I was minding my own business, making a movie called Ready Player One, coming out March 30th, 2018 [LAUGHTER]. In a theater and drive-in near you. And I was absolutely, you know, just totally involved in that when I got a call from Stacey Snider and Amy Pascal, who suggested I read a script that Amy had found from a brand-new reader who had never sold anything before in her entire life, Liz Hannah, 31 years old. She had written a story about Katharine Graham, who she has always been quite admiring of. And I, you know, was reluctant to say I’d read the script, but, you know, they kind of—Stacey and Amy said, “But I think you’ll change your mind once you get to page 30.” And I did.
I started reading it, and by page 30, I started saying, “Okay, Ben Bradlee will be Tom Hanks [LAUGHTER] and Katharine Graham will be Meryl Streep.” I’ve always wanted to work with Meryl. This would be my fifth film with Tom. But I’ve never worked with Meryl, except she did 30 minutes with me playing the voice of the Blue Fairy on AI. But we never made a movie, a real movie together like this [LAUGHTER].
And it all started to come together because this could not have been a more relevant story for our time that really made me look back and say, “My god, how does history repeat itself?” And so, literally, I gave it at that point to Kristie Macosko, who has been in my life for 20 years, producing my films and just doing an exceptional job of co-running my company. And I gave it to her, and she said to me, “Look, if you really want to make this—and I think you should—I think this is really something you should do—you’re going to work harder than you’ve ever worked before, because to get this film out this year”—which is what I wanted to do—she said, “It’s going to have to be, put everything else aside, and you have to just jump into this, make a full commitment.”
Streep: You forgot the part about that you were all geared up and had—[OVERLAPPING]
Spielberg: To another movie, yes.
Streep: —sets built in Italy.
Streep: And the crew was there.
Spielberg: I had a crew in Italy. Kristie and Adam Sumner.
Spielberg: I buried the lead. [LAUGHTER] It’s true. I had a whole crew in Italy. Rick Carter, who then slid over to do The Post, was doing another movie that I was very desperate to do. I had not found the lead. The lead was—it was a problem casting the lead. All the scenes involve this lead. The lead was six years old. And I spent a year looking for a six-year-old boy that’d carry an entire movie. And so when I did decide this is what I need to do right now, I took one week to look at 3,000 audition tapes. I kid you not; I didn’t watch all three or four minutes of each tape, but I watched 3,000 tapes in about one week, and then called Amy Pascal back and said, “I’m in.”
Hornaday: So, clearly, you have this creative team that you’ve—part of the reason why you could put it together so quickly is that you do have this team of long-term collaborators.
Hornaday: But what element or elements had to be in place for you to be able to proceed on that accelerated schedule?
Spielberg: The main element that had to be in place was the availability of Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks. Otherwise I would not have made the film in 2017. And that was it.
Hornaday: So bring us—let’s talk to you. What were you—do you remember the day that the phone rang? Were you too involved in other endeavors at the time?
Streep: Well, Amy Pascal had passed me the script in advance of Steven—[OVERLAPPING]
Hornaday: You were being double-teamed?
Spielberg: I wouldn’t have told that.
Streep: Yeah. [LAUGHTER] So, we were all just—
Hornaday: Well played, madam.
Streep: —waiting with bated breath, yeah.
Hanks: I was sitting around. [LAUGHTER] It’s—really, here it is. Steven, Meryl. Dot dot dot. So I read it very, very quickly and I said, “Okay.” That was it. I just got—I’m really sad you couldn’t find that six-year-old kid [LAUGHTER]. Poor kid didn’t get cast.
Whitford: I was up for that, but—[LAUGHTER]
Hanks: Take off your glasses. Let’s take a looksee. Oh yeah. What it was about was just—it was a riot of—what’s the word I’m looking for? Authenticity and it needed to be made. And Steven, when I spoke to Steven, he said, “Well, here’s what—there’s a couple of things we want to find out.” The Pentagon Papers in Liz’s script was kind of like a placeholder for something important. And he wanted to know deeply what was in the Pentagon Papers [INDISCERNIBLE] as well as the nuts and bolts of all the legalese that went on, that Liz had in it. But then Josh Singer came on, who wrote Spotlight, and together, we got new pages every single day. And in fact, 200 days ago, when we came here, to talk to a lot of people who had worked with Ben, we got a nugget of detail that ended up being in the movie.
Hornaday: Tell me about that. You caught a glance at my notes, didn’t you? That was the impression I had from you. When you visited here, what is that? What’s the detail?
Hanks: Well, the one thing that’s in the old Post Building, this was not—this is the original Post Building, not the—
Spielberg: All the President’s Men.
Hanks: Not the All the President’s Men Post Building. We’re pretending that didn’t exist. We went back. And they said, you know, the presses were in the basement. And when they ran, you felt the entire building tremble and shake. And Ben Bagdikian is sitting at his typewriter, and sure enough, when the presses are rolling, that rolls along. That’s the type of immediacy. Along with all the stuff that we got from Mr. Daniel Ellsberg.
Hanks: There was no Daniel Ellsberg in the original screenplay. So he did an awful lot of searching and Josh and Liz did an awful lot of writing. We had some degree of new pages, more or less every single day.
Spielberg: Right through shooting.
Hanks: Right through shooting.
Spielberg: You know, it was very important that—I just wanted the audience to be clear on what the Pentagon Papers were all about, so I thought—when Tom and I met with Daniel Ellsberg and we had also, of course, all seen The Fog of War, about Robert McNamara, the film, and we had been—and Ken Burns is a friend of ours; he had given us a rough cut of his 10-hour PBS documentary on Vietnam.
Spielberg: So we had a lot of research just out of the gate. But I think the main thing I was concerned about was, everybody knows Watergate, but nobody knows the Pentagon Papers.
Spielberg: And nobody knows the fact that the Pentagon Papers was the precedent that allowed The Washington Post give them the courage in the victory of the publication of the Pentagon Papers, to even pursue through Woodward and Bernstein, the money trail leading up to Nixon’s impeachment and resignation. And so it was important for the audience to understand the significance and everything that Ellsberg told us—even, he said to us, he said, “You know, whenever I went into, as an observer, onto a combat patrol, I never had my own helmet; I would always borrow a helmet from one of the guys returning from patrol.” So we just worked that in. He gave us all this nuance. He told us—I said to him, “What was the moment that you decided to take these papers?” You know, flee with these papers. And he said, “It was the moment when I was asked by Robert McNamara after I’d been on a combat mission where lives were lost. I came back from this mission, and McNamara asked me if the war was any better or worse than it was last year. And I said, ‘I really think it’s just about the same.’ And McNamara flew out of his chair and started yelling at this Nixon appointee and said, ‘You see, we put 100,000 troops into the field.’” And Ellsberg says it’s no better; to me, that means it’s worse.
And then he comes off the airplane. Goes up to the press corps, at the foot of this Air Force plane, and when he’s asked that question, he says, “The war couldn’t be going better; we’re making tremendous progress in the field.” And that’s what snapped in Ellsberg. That had to go in the movie, to set it all up.
Hornaday: A decisive moment. Bob, tell us—one of the things I love about this film is the due that it pays to Ben Bagdikian.
Hornaday: Just a wonderful man. A towering figure in our profession. A real hero. And largely unsung.
Odenkirk: I’ve touched on a number of journalists who had said they were forced to read his book in college, but it’s a great one.
Hornaday: It’s definitive.
Odenkirk: But I read his autobiography, which I think is [OVERLAPPING] a lot more fun—
Odenkirk: —to read than his Media Monopoly book.
Hornaday: Fascinating life.
Odenkirk: Fascinating life and a real true believer in journalism, and it’s fun to play somebody who is so sure of himself.
Hornaday: Yes, that is. [LAUGHTER] And getting back to the elements that had to be in place. It’s an interesting ensemble picture. It’s almost two ensembles that are running parallel to one another and you’re part of the reporting team and the editing team.
Odenkirk: Yeah, what a great team it was, what a lot of fun we had. David Cross is in it too if anyone knew Mr. Show.
Hornaday: Bring the Mr. Show fans. Did you do that on purpose, Steven? Were you a Mr. Show fan?
Odenkirk: He doesn’t know.
Odenkirk: Don’t bother Uncle Steven with—[LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: No, I hear the kids really like it.
Odenkirk: The stuff we did at college. [LAUGHTER] Do we really need to tell him what went on at the frat house? But a great group. Carrie Coon and Tracy Letts and so many great people; Pat Healy. What can I say? It was a great time and I had a great part of a really good man.
Hornaday: Unfortunately, he left us several years ago.
Odenkirk: A year-and-a-half ago. It would have been nice to meet him. You can see him on YouTube.
Hornaday: True. Did you talk to family members?
Odenkirk: No, but I watched his interview and read his book.
Hornaday: This gets into something that I—Tom, you and I spoke about this when you did Captain Phillips, which is the added responsibility of playing people that are either still alive or do have family members who are quite concerned that their loved ones be fairly portrayed. Walk me through that. Do you have to kind of forget about that in order to do your job?
Odenkirk: I would have loved to have met somebody from the family. I maybe should have inquired about that. I feel like the way my part was written, I could play him assuredly and with clarity because he was the dogged reporter in this story and I loved putting that story on the screen and being a part of it. Journalism is so rundown by everyone; it seems, in the last 10, 15 years. It’s great to show a group of people who care about journalism and are working hard every day to do it right.
Hornaday: And Bradley, you’re one of the few people and maybe the only person in this movie who isn’t based on an actual person.
Whitford: But I did reach out to the family. [LAUGHTER] That’s the difference between Bob and me. [LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: Went that extra mile.
Whitford: You’re very considerate.
Hornaday: Tell us about Arthur Parsons.
Whitford: An amalgamation of legitimate business interests and a bunch of, I think, unconscious—I wouldn’t call it misogyny, but sexism. It’s very clear. I think I have a very defensible position of what Arthur does, which when Kay is facing this decision, she is putting at risk the entire enterprise and she is giving me the message that she is not sure she’s up to this. I think it’s very interesting in terms of feminism. This is not through a contemporary lens. This is something that reminded me very much of my mother, who is exactly her age, who was fighting to find her voice and had been trapped in a culture that did not respect it, but was also fighting herself and I think that’s a very interesting part of Kay’s struggle.
Hornaday: Definitely. I think it’s also interesting, given your own political and activist bona fides that you are kind of the bad guy in two big movies this year that are dealing with very relevant, timely topics that we want to get out.
Whitford: Yeah, I’m like a sin in morality plays. Like racism, sexism; [IN MOCK ANNOUNCER VOICE] Infidelity, Bradley Whitford. [LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: Was it kind of fun to kind of go against your own personal—
Whitford: Yes. It’s really fun. [LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: And Meryl, miraculously, this is your first movie with Steven Spielberg, which I think came as a huge shock to so many of us. Like, “Really? I can’t believe it.” What makes a Spielberg set unlike any other set?
Spielberg: I’m not going to look. I’ll look this way.
Streep: Yeah, just [SINGS] Fa-la-la-la. What surprised me was how collaborative, free, open. As someone who comes with this amount of veneration and a huge line of masterpieces in our culture, markers of decades of my life, I felt like this would be a machine, well oiled, exclusionary, a boy’s club. I thought, “That will help you. That will help you. That will be good.” [LAUGHTER] But I just wasn’t prepared for the openness of this director and everybody felt this; everybody in the cast, that this process was like playing jazz. You’re playing at a high level. You knew when your solo came in, but you can drop back, and you know that the whole thing is going to be hot and happening right there. It was really cool. I said to my husband, “I can’t wait to go to work in the morning”, and he said, “You don’t always say that.” [LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: Steven, was the quickened pace of the actual production a factor in that or is that just your way?
Spielberg: That’s sort of how I make movies. I have to keep myself seeing the movie and if I take too long with a shot or do too many takes in the shot, I kind of lose track of the story I’m telling because I’m just OCD, focusing in on one thing that I think I can get perfect by take 20. I really find that with most actors, if you have to go past five takes, it’s only because you’ve gotten new ideas based on the first four takes and then you do another five takes because it’s a whole new idea you’re embracing. But for the most part, I like shooting fast. Not just this film, but this film had a whole set of imperatives and one of the imperatives was getting this thing out now while the conversation was still ripe.
Whitford: I just want to say, it was an amazing to be in a movie with these three and I really do want to say this: they all, and Steven included—it was very refreshing the fear with which they approached their work. They’re really worried that they’re not going to get this right. There was no sense of entitlement or mastery and I’ve worked with this guy three times and he never thinks he knows what he’s doing. [LAUGHTER] But it was striking to me with Steven, and I think Steven is conscious of the value of really being in the moment in the shooting process. Not coming in with 30 storyboards, but really being innocent to the moment, which is what we’re trying to be and if your director is trying to be that, it turbocharges it.
Hornaday: I want to get more into Steven, your process. Tom, you’re dealing with a character who has been obviously, played by Jason Robards. Let’s just say it. There’s a movie called All the President’s Men that kind of hangs over this like a friendly ghost.
Whitford: He reached out to Robards relatives.
Hornaday: [LAUGHTER] As one does, right. But tell me about what you need to do to banish that or to embrace it.
Hanks: I was lucky in that I had met both of the guys. I met Ben Bradlee through Nora Ephron and Sally Quinn, so I’ve had cocktails with him and spoke to him and his book is written in the same voice and every interview he ever did sounds exactly like the Ben Bradlee I met. I also worked with Jason and I talked to him a little bit about that and they melded at this point in the Poynter Institute interview that Ben—when he was still Ben Bradlee. He was still running The Post at the time. They asked him about the celebrity and [IN BEN BRADLEE’S VOICE], “Well, you know, inevitably, I assume that you meet somebody for the first time and you’re trying to do your job and sooner or later, they all say, ‘Well, you don’t look anything like Jason Robards’.” [LAUGHTER]
So he was completely unaffected by that and even though Jason—Jason Robards is one of the reasons I’m an actor. I used to listen to his O’Neill monologues on the same CBS Record at Chabot Junior College when I was 19-years-old. If you went back and found that my name is on every entry from taking it out. But that is a very specific type of moment in Ben’s career and I was actually fueled by everything that I had read and seen about him and I did say, “Well, that’s a wonderful interpretation of Ben Bradlee but it’s Jason Robards at the end of it.” It’s the countenance that blends over, so I actually felt as though I was lucky that there had been this established version of that because I do not have the same countenance as Jason. I was going to find some other way into the character that had nothing to do with me doing an imitation of Jason or an imitation of Ben. It was a matter of finding some other way to walk into a room, barrel-chested, filled with a confidence that I do not have. [LAUGHTER]
Hornaday: There’s a wonderful moment where—because to a person, most journalists, with All of the President’s Men, their very favorite moment is when Ben Bradlee comes out of his office and just flacks that desk with the newspaper and there’s a moment like that in this movie. Was that your personal—
Hanks: That wasn’t about Jason. That’s what I got from everybody else. Yes, everybody had a Ben-ism, a Bradlee-ism, and they all croaked it at me. [LAUGHTER] Even women. Oh, Ben would come in and say, [IN BEN BRADLEE’S VOICE] “Oh, my God. The fun.” And that’s the way he approached his job and I think that’s the way he approached his job and I think that’s one of the ways that he had so much confidence and owned a room when he walked into it because he just wanted to have as much fun as that guy was having.
Spielberg: You have to also remember that Ben Bradlee was an ensign in World War II on the USS Phillip, which was a Fletcher-class destroyer and he saw a lot of action in the South Pacific and he had a lot of young men under him, he himself only 22-years-old. A lot of young swabbies serving under him and he had a lot of responsibility and Ben was my neighbor. Ben and Sally Quinn lived directly across the street from our house in the summers on Long Island. I didn’t spend a lot of time with Ben, but I had some good quality time with Ben. But then when Ben say Saving Private Ryan, he wanted to talk about what he did in World War II and that’s when he opened up to me about the war and he talked to me about his leadership skills were honed during the Pacific campaign and that’s what carried him right over to Newsweek Magazine and then right onto the floor of The Washington Post.
Hanks: The other thing that Meryl and I have talked a lot about was at that time, Ben was not necessarily competing with The New York Times. They were competing with The Washington Star, which was number one. Neither one of them wanted to run the second-place paper in what was sort of then considered a second-tier town like Washington, D.C. was. So when the Pentagon Papers came, this was this fabulous, deep throw into legitimacy that they had yet to have.
Hornaday: Steven, over the years, you and I have talked about—you’re doing these fascinating—Saving Private Ryan was your World War II, ‘40s movie and then I remember when we talked about Minority Report. That was kind of your noir period. That was kind of a post-war noir movie and this is a ‘70s movie. Again, with All of the President’s Men being kind of a benevolent spirit hanging over it. But tell me about how you approach the visual language of a ‘70s movie without putting quotes around it?
Spielberg: Sometimes, the best thing a director can do to be able to establish a visual language in telling the story outside of my own history; my own contemporary history. Like we call a “period piece”—is to know who the best people are to give the film the look. It’s not just that I know where to put the camera to make it look like a ‘70s movie. It’s through the wonderful taste and relationship of Meryl introducing me to Ann Roth, one of the greatest costume designers in history, who was able to create an entire color palette for the film and compel me to shoot wider. When I saw what she had done with all of the costumes, it got my camera back; not in, but back to create group shots of all the staff, the editors on the floor. When I had Rick Carter, who to a detail, recreated the circa-1971 Washington Post. Let’s call it the old building. But put on every single desk, even on the desks of extras who weren’t going to have any speaking line, the exact news of the day and the work of that day and if you just wanted to explore each desk, it made me almost want to take a camera and just shoot all of the desks, which, of course, would have been a little bit off the subject of the movie.
But when you have that kind of rare similitude, when you have that kind of inspiration and Janusz Kamiński with his amazing way he just uses light to capture a period. It’s not just the director that captures the period; it’s who the director surrounds him or herself with that actually captures the period and my team did that.
Hornaday: And Bob and I were talking earlier in the green room about just what a fun movie this is. This is an enormously entertaining, rousing, great, great example of moviemaking at its most sort of deeply entertaining and you have this talent for taking these gnarly, process-oriented stories and in viewing them—it’s like I remember for Captain Phillips, Tom, you said, “There’s interesting, but then there’s compelling.” How do you make an interesting story dramatically compelling and you said it was even infusing the set, like it was just fun and dynamic?
Odenkirk: We’ve done a number of interviews for this film and there’s a lot of talk about the relevance and the issues the film brings up or talks about. It’s about so much. It’s about government and secrets and it’s a history lesson and it’s about journalism and seeing people do it and it’s about a woman’s personal interior journey to own her power and then this also societal status journey. But really, I was thrilled, and we all were every day, at the way Steven made it a fun story to hear and to imagine. When I’d see him set up the shots, you’d picture it and you’d just think, “Oh, man. That’s going to be fun to watch.” And it puts dynamic throws relief onto aspects of the story that make it just a rip-roaring tale and I thought, “I just want to make sure people know that.” It’s just a really fun movie to watch and it’s kind of a—I want to say a classic kind of film and I only say that because we see a lot of cutting-edge films and we all talk about them and it seems to me that it’s like one way to make a cutting-edge film is to just make a lot of mistakes and leave them in. [LAUGHTER]
Odenkirk: But this is just really great storytelling and it’s fun to be a part of.
Whitford: I’ve said this to Steven; there is such tremendous virtue in Steven is an impatient showman and I mean this in the best way. Sort of what I was saying before, he’s insecure. I don’t want to serve the audience civic vegetables. I want to take them, and I want to take them emotionally and I want to give them characters. There’s a collision of showmanship with material that could otherwise be very preachy and dry.
Hanks: Yeah, Ann, in your review, if you could say “not civic vegetables.” [LAUGHTER]
Whitford: That would be great.
Hornaday: Exactly. It’s okay.
Hanks: I think that would help us all out.
Hornaday: Do you consider this, Steven, a third of a trilogy after Lincoln and Bridge of Spies?
Spielberg: No, I don’t. I don’t think it’s a trilogy. It certainly falls into a genre of the political thriller, but I don’t see it as a trilogy. This movie probably has more kinship to Lincoln.
Hornaday: It’s very processed. It’s about that—
Spielberg: It’s about making of the passing of the 13th Amendment a very important thing in terms of our history but it’s a very dry sort of a thing.
Hornaday: But again, given amazing—
Spielberg: Ratchet up the tension for that and ratcheting up the tension, of course, to the most important two decisions Katherine Graham had to make at the beginning of the real Katherine Graham story.
Hanks: This does take place over a week. The movie only lasts a week and what Liz Hannah wrote is, “This was the week Katherine Graham became Katherine Graham.” That alone is a fascinating, fascinating story to watch. Add the rest of it and you hit the trifecta. The Vietnam thing and the 1st Amendment thing; boom, you got it.
Hanks: That’s the big three right there.
Hornaday: That’s entertainment. And this also continues a fascination you’ve long had and as you have too, Tom, with fact-based drama and I’m going to revisit—being the film critic at The Washington Post, you have a special—I have a renewed appreciation for people. Most of my readers were either witness to the events of these movies, they are related to or know someone who was at, or they have been studying them for their entire career. My readership is fact-checkers and they get really bugged when things don’t comport with their idea of how things went down. So could you walk us through the most fruitful way to watch fact-based dramas and historical dramas.
Whitford: Drunk. [LAUGHTER]
Hanks: If the dramas would take out Chinese.
Spielberg: You should start by letting the experience wash over you because if you are vetting the experience as you’re having the experience, you’ll never have the experience. So I think first thing, you have to sit in the seat, be an audience and just let it happen and then you need to process it when it’s over. But I made this film for audiences to—this is a drama and it’s a very important drama in the sense of—I don’t like to use “important” because I don’t even call our stuff important but it’s important for an audience to understand that before they see the relevance or the ironies of history, that they sit down and understand that our intention was to do a character story about principally two people: Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee and all of the other people that affect their lives and whose lives they affect.
And that’s the first for me. That’s what my full focus was on. Liz Hannah, Josh Singer, we had a lot of help from The Washington Post. We had Don Graham. We had Lally Weymouth-Graham, we had the grandson Will. We had tremendous cooperation from Fred and everybody really wanted us to get it right, so they gave us all of the resources to get it right with and I think we took advantage of those resources. There will always be things that aren’t 100% accurate. Bradley Whitford isn’t accurate at all. He’s authentic as a character, but he’s an amalgamation of the resistance that Kate Graham had to face from the men; the professional men in life, not just on her board, but in her world, the naysayers and those that looked right through her because she was a woman to the man just on the other side of her and so he had the graceful and yet daunting task of being a symbol for the resistance in those days and not so much—sort of also today.
Hanks: There’s a good example of where a nonfiction entertainment can go awry in our very movie.
Spielberg: A lot of times we call these things “historical fiction.”
Hanks: Nonfiction entertainment is what I go for there. Really the same thing. There was a moment where Katherine, Ben Bradlee, and Fritz Beebe are waiting for a phone call from the Justice Department and they get a phone call and it’s from William Rehnquist. Now, if William Rehnquist hadn’t actually made that call and talked to us, having William Rehnquist be on the phone would have been a cheap shot. “He’s a guy. He worked. He could have made the phone call. He didn’t. But let’s put it in there because it will be an interesting editorial sort of decision in order just to spin the message to the choir a certain way.” If he didn’t make the phone call, in our book, you can’t have him on the phone, but he did make the phone call, so, therefore, it’s just that other level of authenticity that pays a certain kind of dividend for the audience, for your vast readership of fact-checkers and cranky people who—
Hornaday: Well, it must. Like I said, I also understand the disorientation that they must have experience watching an event that they’re so familiar with and take so dear to heart and then see them even slightly—it’s a strange experience so I’m trying to sort of be a helpful mediator in encouraging people to kind of, like you said, let it wash over you and have the emotional experience. I think primarily, movies are an emotional experience above everything else and then, if you’re compelled to, find out more and learn more about it.
Spielberg: Yeah, and talk about it be able to discuss it.
Streep: Right, a second-best draft of history.
Spielberg: Yeah, a second-best draft of history.
Hornaday: I do want to circle back—again, the impetus for acting so quickly and getting this into theaters this year was, I assume and I’ve read, feeling galvanized by current events and I was reading our own paper today, which I don’t know if you’ve all had a chance but there is an absolutely devastating, brilliant story by Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe, and Philip Rucker about President Trump’s Russia policy or lack thereof and I just want to read this quote: “Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy in support of his run for the White House. The result is without obvious parallel in US history; a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.”
And I can’t help but think of those Nixon tapes that play in your movie about that insecure, paranoid man desperately trying to suppress the truth and now, it’s as if the president is not suppressing the truth; it’s trying to say the truth doesn’t exist.
Whitford: The guy now makes Nixon seem like Albert Schweitzer. I’m not just trying to kiss your ass, but it is the 1st Amendment. It’s not the 7th, either. There’s a reason it’s number one. [APPLAUSE] I have never, in my life, experienced a strategic assault on the idea of truth and delegitimizing the press. Obviously, there’s conflict and there should be a conflict there. I actually think the movie hits a very interesting point about the danger of complicity in order to have access. It is a big criticism of the press and of The Post and of the relationship. This is an outrageous, I hope anomaly. I don’t know.
Hornaday: Is there any risk in making a movie in that context? As you very rightly point out, it’s about much more than—like you say, it is rousingly entertaining, and it is about a woman’s journey, but do you alienate your audience by making something so pointedly political?
Whitford: I don’t think it is partisan.
Odenkirk: How is this a partisan film?
Spielberg: It’s a patriotic film.
Odenkirk: I keep looking at what could be partisan about it. You’d have to really love Nixon to find it partisan. [LAUGHTER] I don’t know.
M: It’s a big demographic.
Odenkirk: I also think the issues of it just are things that we always have to think about, and to care about. The fact that they seem hot right now in so many ways, it doesn’t change the fact that these things matter forever in America, and certainly, when it comes to women in power, and power sharing among all people that, hopefully, will not matter as long. But still, for probably a couple hundred years.
Streep: No, I was just going to say, it’s not—I see it as an extremely patriotic film, because it isolates this one moment in time, where Nixon was defending only Nixon’s ability to defend a lie. He wasn’t really, at that point, complicit; it was about all the subsequent administrations after Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson. All of them—[OVERLAPPING]
Hornaday: It wasn’t about Nixon.
Streep: —perpetuating a lie about Vietnam, for which so many people continued to be fed into the furnace, for nothing but really, as it this brilliant scene with Matthew Rhys—have to bring him in just for a second.
Odenkirk: Yeah, Matthew is amazing, amazing.
Streep: He plays Daniel Ellsberg, and he said, “The reason the war was fought was 10% for the Vietnamese people, 20% to contain China, and then 70% to save face.” Over every one of these administrations suppressing, suppressing this information, and that was breathtaking. It was the fact that—and I remember it, because I was—it was the year I graduated from college, and it was when—it was the beginning of people thinking, God, they’re always lying to us.
Hornaday: Yes, even pre-Watergate, we tend to—we’re not here.
Streep: Wake up. I’m already awake. Yeah.
Hornaday: We do tend to trace the cynicism to Watergate, but you’re exactly—it was earlier.
Streep: And Watergate, we reference All the President’s Men but there was a woman at the center of that controversy, too, and she’s not in the movie that writes the history for so many kids who watch—who don’t read, and who watch movies to know what happened, back in the day. So, this is kind of—this is setting that—setting a correction in that history, as well.
Hornaday: Absolutely. It’s a stirring example of that, and that actually—well, you know, as I—full disclosure, Meryl and I actually met last week in New York, where we had a wonderful conversation with Amy Pascal and Kristie Macosko Krieger, who’s here, and the screenwriter Liz Hannah. And a wonderful conversation about how this movie morphed—its moment morphed. It might have started as a Trump-era movie; it’s not a Weinstein-era movie, in terms of a woman finding her voice.
Hanks: If you could mention that a long with the civic vegetables, we’d really appreciate it.
Hornaday: But here’s another quote from this very same story, and this is—
Streep: No women were harmed in the making of this film.
Hanks: That’s great. Here we go. There you go.
Hornaday: But here’s another quote from this story today, and it’s about the top Russia advisor Fiona Hill, in one of her first encounters with the president, in an oval office meeting in preparation for a call with Putin on Syria, this woman knows—I mean she’s an absolutely leading expert on Russia. Trump appeared to mistake Hill for a member of the clerical staff, handing her a memo he had marked up, and instructing her to rewrite it.
Whitford: Come on, give him a chance.
Spielberg: That’s going to be the quote coming out of this hour. The whole hour will come down to this.
Whitford: Vegetables, Weinstein, give him a chance.
Hornaday: But is this a sea change? Tell me how it feels from all of your perspectives, what—it feels seismic to me, but I’m not in your business. I’m observing it from afar.
Odenkirk: I’m a cynic. Don’t ask me. I’m not going to give you a happy answer. Carry on.
Hornaday: Well, Meryl, let’s continue our conversation. Just where is this leading? Do you feel optimistic that it might lead to some structural change in terms of—
Streep: I see it leading straight to a backlash. And then, a reckoning with that, and out of that will come something really good. But, I don’t think we move in an easy progress trajectory towards an enlightened future. I think we go two steps forward, one back, and we’re going to hit the wall on this one soon. But I really do think that young people read the events of these recent days differently than older people. And that’s the hope. Yesterday, we were at the competition—Buzzfeed—and they were all so young. They were really kids, but it was—that question came up, sort of in the same context, and they were—you could feel that they were very optimistic about the changes that will come, and I think they will. But I don’t think it’ll be easy. I don’t think it’ll be easy.
When Katherine Graham—so, in 1971, when the events of this movie took place, and she was the owner-publisher of The Washington Post, just the year before, 46 women at Newsweek, which The Post owned, sued The Post, and her, because—for discrimination, because there was one, I believe writer—
Streep: Nora Ephron who—she wasn’t the writer. It was someone—Liz Pier, who was the only person allowed to write who was female. Everybody else—Elizabeth Drew, Nora Ephron, Susan Brownmiller, were all allowed to get to researcher, and then somebody else put their name on the story. And Katherine Graham was on the management side of that battle, and she writes so eloquently in her book how slowly even she came. It’s your point about your mother, conquering the interior voice that tells you—that corroborates that you are less than, just slightly less intelligent, capable, qualified to have the job you’re in, to lead.
That’s the most sort of damaging part of this story that I’ve found in the original script, and that Steven retained in the film that we have, that tells a story of a political story, but one is an interior politics, and one is the politics writ large, and it’s just—it’s a great movie, because it stands up for both things.
Hornaday: And to the men on the panel, has this—I do feel that a new consciousness has been reached about sexism in a lot of industries, starting with the—this story did start with the entertainment industry. Has this led you to reframe your thinking, or reframe your priorities going forward, or your projects?
Spielberg: I think, for me, it’s a national reckoning that creates a great deal of accountability on the part of men, to be able to do some deep diving, and to see do we travel by a code of conduct? Is there a code of conduct in our lexicon of values? And I think it’s a question that’s easy to ask of yourself. And I think what it has done is it’s gotten a lot of men to, basically, first of all, search their memories, because are they the next ones to be called out on national television? Are they the next ones to have the whistle blown?
But also, just not in the media, not so much in show business, where we get the microphone, we get the camera a lot faster than any other, probably, field, except maybe news and sports, after that—and music. But what about the rank and file of this country? And if these women—these courageous women that are coming forward and unburdening themselves of 40, 50 years of truth that they’ve been withholding, because feeling—for all the reasons. The shame, and all kinds of reasons that they’re not coming out, but this kind of tsunami of truth and reckoning, if it filters down to Main St. and gets people—men, and women to various degrees, questioning their own values, and how have they behaved in any way, shape, or form, like those that are in the news right now. When that starts to ripple out, like throwing a rock into a pool of water, that’s where we’re going to see some real movement. Thank you, that’s our dog. That’s Leroy. Thank you, Leroy. I appreciate that.
Whitford: It’s weird, because talking about this, I feel a mixture of optimism and pessimism. Didn’t we think Anita Hill was a watershed moment? I think it’s one of the interesting things, and one of the powerful things about a film like this is that history is living now. History is not a dead thing, and I think that’s why films like this, which can attach heart and muscle and emotion to history, are very important. We have this arrogance that 5,000 years of socialization went out the window with the first Village People album. No. We’re stuck.
And we’re just climbing out of the muck, and we have to acknowledge that we have 200 years of this country ignored, basically, the talents of half the people. And that will only strengthen us. The hope I find is in the aspirations of—it sounds corny, but these founding documents, you’ve got to hold them to that, and this movie is about you don’t get a democracy; you’ve got to make it every day. You can’t sit back.
Hornady: But my question, I guess, put to you, or my challenge is very much like the scenes in The Post, where K. Graham is walking into an all-male board meeting, or an all-male—and she’s going to do the IPO through that sea of secretaries, how—what will it take for a man to get onto a movie set and say, “Where are the women? Why are there so many men around?”
Streep: To walk into a meeting at the highest level of leadership, and not be—feel it’s weird that you’re all men there, or that there are two women and nine men. That should feel sort of off. Something should feel off, because you’re not—if you’re running a company that serves the population at large, you’re serving—51% are women. And yeah, I think you’re right about that, but what was—
Hornaday: And then use your power to say that out loud, and say, “Hey. Where are the women? Where’s the woman cinematographer?”
Streep: But part of this whole conversation is that these are issues with which every woman is aware. We are all aware of it, and all men are not aware. So, this is—it’s hard to have the whole thing. It’s like, the movie is all white. It’s all white people. That’s just as weird, and sort of the whiteness of it is—and the fact of that phalanx of faces that is so not diverse, it feels weird to me, looking at it now. But that’s the way the world was. That’s the way it was. And we’re changing it. It’s really good. We’re changing it, but—
Spielberg; It never changes fast enough.
Streep: It’s up to the people who have the power to open the door.
Hornaday: To cede the power.
Streep: To see it—it’s like women have learned the language of men, have lived in the house of men, all their lives. We can speak it. You know how when you learn a language, you learn French, you learn Spanish, it doesn’t really—it isn’t your language until you dream in it. And the only way to dream in it is to speak it, and women speak men. But men don’t speak women. They don’t dream in it.
Whitford: I think what Meryl is trying to say—
Streep: Oh, god. I love him. I relied on him.
Spielberg: I have to explain one thing, getting back to the movie. Getting back to the movie, we would be ready for a very intense scene with Meryl. She was all prepared for it. The whole crew is quiet, and just before I say action, Bradley says something like that to Meryl.
Streep: A thorn in my side.
Hornaday: Well, and speaking of current events, in addition to that, what feels like an upheaval in the world of gender politics, your business—my business, too—we’re going through these technological upheavals. We’re going through an upheaval even today. You were joking about it in the green room, that this is a Fox movie that Fox is being purchased by Disney this very day, which I’m sure we’re all still processing. And I don’t expect you to talk about that in specific, but I do think it’s an example of a larger shift that’s engulfing the entertainment industry. I know that journalism is just as destabilized at this moment. And I’m coming at it from my reader’s point of view, which is they want more movies like this. What will it take to preserve a place in the ecology for this kind of film?
Streep: Well, they have to go the opening weekend. That is what will make the movie.
Hanks: They have to go to the movie. They have to go to the movie.
Streep: The opening weekend, because that is—the numbers crunch is gone, nobody went—you can’t wait two weeks.
Spielberg: You can’t wait two weeks. You have to distinguish between going to the movies, and going to the living room, because it’s two different worlds, completely. And god bless them, I love the fact that there are so many different places that young people and old people can get work. And that is, there are places where stories can be told, more today than ever before in the history of our medium, of our business. You’ve got Amazon, you’ve got Hulu, you’ve got Netflix, you’ve got all these different places where you can make—tell stories. Jeff, thank you, Jeff. Jeff is here.
Hornaday: I think the sooner we all just accept the fact that we’re all going to work for Jeff one day, the better off we’ll be.
Spielberg: We’re all working for Jeff right now. We love him.
Hanks: Those other whore’s outfits—and Amazon.
Streep: Heavy lies the head.
Spielberg: But therein lies the rub; it’s great to be able to tell stories. I like that there’s all these places, all these homes that are willing to accept good storytellers. But how will the movie theaters react when everybody decides to go to the movies at someone else’s living room, as opposed to out into the world, into a theater? And my only whole thing about this is—and I just feel very strongly that if we’re going to make a movie, we’ve got to call it a movie. And if we’re going to make a TV movie, we got to call it a TV movie. And one has an Emmy, and one has an Oscar. And you can’t parse that; you can’t spin that; you can’t fool us into thinking that a television movie is a theatrical motion picture release.
So, that is the only confusion that I feel is threatening, or putting a threat on movie going attendance in the future. Or starting now and going into the future.
Streep: Yeah, but kids are watching them here. They’re watching the movie here, and it doesn’t matter to them, because somehow, they haven’t gotten the habit of that other enveloping great experience.
Spielberg: That’s true, but when they’re watching one of my movies—because I don’t shoot a lot of close ups.
Spielberg: They have to go like this. They’re going to have to watch the whole thing like that, because I just don’t do this all the time.
Streep: Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.
Hornaday: Who among you has a streaming project? Anybody?
Hornaday: On a streaming site—Amazon, let’s just say.
Streep: I don’t know how to link.
Spielberg: Do I have streaming projects?
Hornaday: Yeah, are you working on a project—
Spielberg: There’s a huge project on Cortez and Montezuma for Amazon right now.
Hornaday: Well, of course. Because I’m wondering if that’s part of your creative life now, is making sure that you’re in that space?
Spielberg: Hey, give me 12 hours. I’m not going to ask an audience to go out to an arc light venue and see a 12-hour movie. I’m not Andy Warhol, but I want them to go—maybe not now. Maybe later.
Hanks: You are not sir, thank you.
Hornaday: I think we can stipulate that.
Spielberg: But I want to watch The Crown. I want to watch Game of Thrones. I want to watch Handmaid’s Tale. I want to see 12 hours, I want to see 20 hours of that. There’s places for the big kind of sagas, and then there’s places for the message, the drama, and the action of a film like The Post.
Hanks: I don’t know that a feature length film, which is three acts around what? Somewhere between 100—somewhere around 120 minutes in a movie. I don’t know that unless it is played as a theatrical release, I don’t know that any has touched the zeitgeist. I think streaming, there are stories that beg to have 10 hours or 12 hours, or three seasons, 30 episodes, three hours. I don’t know that there has been a movie that you could only see on your TV or on your watch that has captured the lightning in a bottle that certain films do.
I mean, if—I don’t know that if Get Out, for example, that features Bradley—
Hanks: Cooper here, had only been available on some of those other, lesser outlets, I don’t know that it would have had the social purchase that it does. There is something about not only the fact that it plays broad, and you have to make a decision to go and pay in order to sit in a communal room and watch it, which has a power all unto itself. If it didn’t have that, as well as all the attended attention that goes along with it, because of marketing and interviews and a press that covers big time movies, I don’t know if it would have entered into the national discussion as—
Streep: Maybe. Maybe it’s also size—sorry—matters.
Hanks: I think it does. Did I just say I think it does? What an idiot.
Streep: No, but I mean, the Greeks, they put the actors on kothornoi, those big shoes to make them bigger, and the bigger image does affect us in a different way than the one that’s this big, and you can pause, and take a phone call, and then go eat something. Rewind. Where were we? It has a different—
Spielberg: We’ve all experienced The Post playing in front of an audience. It is an audience participatory movie. The audience makes noise in the movie. They are part of the experience. You don’t get that when you’re watching it at home.
Hornaday: So, optimistic? Pessimistic? Quick poll.
Hornaday: About the future of this medium.
Whitford: Yeah, optimistic.
Odenkirk: I mean, I’ve been part of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul and I’m optimistic about features because I think this streaming thing came to everybody only—it’s a fairly recent phenomenon, and everyone got very excited, and I heard a lot of people describe it as, well, it’s a 10-hour movie. But it’s not a 10-hour movie. It’s a different experience, and we just don’t have the words or the—we haven’t dialed in how it’s different yet, as a group, but we will, and then we’ll start to see, oh, The Post; that’s a different experience. That’s not a short version of a 10-hour thing, and so it just—people need, I think, some—these massive changes that have happened in the last few years and everything seems to happen bigger and faster, it seems to me, or maybe I’m just getting older.
Odenkirk: It just—everyone needs time to sort out why that’s not quite the same thing as that other experience, and I still want to have that other experience.
Whitford: I think all of us are lucky and probably get screeners from the academy, and it’s almost like I’ve taken a sleeping pill. It bothers me. I put screeners on of these wonderful movies, and I’m at home with my dog, and I’m out. I would fall asleep halfway through the Zapruder film. I mean, there’s something about that experience that doesn’t—I can’t concentrate on movies, even though I feel lucky I have them. So, I hope that people don’t lose the theater going, communal experience.
Hornaday: You haven’t weighed in yet, Meryl. Optimistic? Pessimistic?
Streep: Oh, I am optimistic because I think you want to get out of your house. Sometimes, you want to get away from that little screen, which many people work on all day, and TV is about that much—and you’re still watching, and you want to—also that thing of feeling other people, even if they’re annoying, and especially if they’re annoying, there’s a moment in an annoying movie theater when everybody goes quiet, and everybody is watching the same thing. Then you know you have a movie.
Spielberg: Then you have something.
Hanks: And nobody wants to make their own greasy cheese nachos at home. You want to get up there, and say, “Give me a double slug of Coke and I’ll have the cheese nachos, and please tell me you have Red Vines and not Twizzlers. Twizzlers? All right, I’ll take the Twizzlers.”
Streep: Tom, tell that story about Katherine Graham, the night before—
Hanks: Oh, okay. I met Katherine Graham the last day she walked the earth. It was at the—I was invited, said, “Would you like to have lunch with Katherine Graham?” I said, “Sure.” I sat right next to her. At the end of lunch, we bid her goodbye. She took her golf cart back to the cabin she was staying in, where she passed away.
Streep: You were in Aspen or something?
Hanks: Yeah, we were in Sun Valley at that Herb Allen conference of bajillionaires. You were there.
Streep: That was such a cheap shot.
Hanks: That’s a cheap shop, cheap shop, but I ain’t taking it back. And we were talking about movies. It was a wonderful conversation, and I was waxing eloquent at what the future was going to be. And as a guy who tells stories, it’s going to be great, because we can have stories that will go on for 10 hours, or 13 hours, and even regular movies, people will watch them at home, and eventually, everybody will have a great TV, and everybody will have great speakers, and they’ll be able to choose anything they want to watch, anytime they want to watch. West Side Story, no. Lawrence of Arabia, no. Close Encounters, no. Oh, let’s watch this thing about cats falling off of—let’s watch that.
And I said, “And it’s going to be—that’s just the way the business is going to be.” And she said to me, she says, “Oh, but people will always want to go out to the movies.” And god bless her, I think it is that desire—
Hanks: Yes, even then, she was still writing her autobiography.
Hanks: It was a special day.
Hornaday: Well, that’s a lovely note to go out on. I’m afraid our time is up. Bradley, Bob, Tom, Meryl, Steven, thank you. Thank you all for spending the afternoon with us.
Spielberg: It was great, thank you.
Hornaday: Before we leave, one more word, sorry. Before we leave the stage, I’d like to remind our audience to stay seated, as Tom will be back on stage in just a minute, joined by my boss at The Post, Marty Baron. Thanks again.