Zero Dark Thirty reunites filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, who collaborated on the Best Picture winner The Hurt Locker. This time around, the duo chronicles the decade-long manhunt to find Osama Bin Laden, a manhunt which came to an end with the terrorist’s death on May 2nd, 2011. Though it begins its theatrical release this Friday, the movie has already won several prestigious awards including Best Film from Boston Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Board of Review.
Recently, Bigelow, Boal and Chastain attended a press day for the film in Los Angeles, where they spoke about making the film, how involved the Pentagon was, what kind of research went into it, how the film’s look and tone was created and much, much more.
Check it out below.
We Got This Covered: So much of this movie is based on facts but how much of Jessica Chastain’s character came from reality?
Mark Boal: All the characters in the movie are based on real people but I had to compress about ten years of research into about two hours. I took the information people gave me and had to reconstruct it to tell a story.
We Got This Covered: In doing a movie of a military sensitive nature, was there any concern for your own personal security in real life?
Mark Boal: No, not really. Knock on wood (laughs).
We Got This Covered: We understand that you worked with the Pentagon to make sure that no sensitive information was revealed. How involved were they in the making of this movie?
Kathryn Bigelow: Well, the DOD (Department of Defense) didn’t vet the screenplay. Had we gone down that road there would have been a lot more assets available to us, but I think it was a very smart decision on Mark’s part to work off his material and to not have that extra layer imposed on him.
We Got This Covered: What was the difficulty of making a movie about a story where so many people know most of the aspects about it?
Kathryn Bigelow: Well it certainly doesn’t lend itself to spoilers (laughs). What struck me about the screenplay was how inherently dramatic the story is, and it was a very riveting, galvanizing story that gave us a real glimpse of the intelligence hunt on the ground through the eyes of the characters that Jessica and Jason play and of what it would be like to hunt the world’s most dangerous man; the dedication, the courage, the sacrifice and the price that they pay personally. It was an inherently very dramatic piece and the fact that you knew the ending only amplified the drama.
We Got This Covered: Jessica, what kind of research did you do to try and make your character be as real as she can be?
Jessica Chastain: I had three months before we started shooting where I went to school for it I guess. I nicknamed Mark “the professor” and I would sit with him and go through the screenplay and ask a lot of questions about the character I was playing and about the CIA. Two books I read which were particularly helpful were “The Looming Towers” and Michael Scheuer’s book on Osama Bin Laden.
But because I was never able to meet the real woman my character’s based on because she’s an undercover agent, I had to use my imagination to fill in the blanks where the research couldn’t answer the questions. I tried to answer things like why she was recruited out of school. There’s a child’s drawing in Pakistan and other certain things which would be reminders of the life she was becoming a stranger to. I had to create on my own but still stay faithful to the woman I am portraying.
We Got This Covered: Did you talk to any CIA agents yourself?
Jessica Chastain: I talked to Mark Boal (laughs).
We Got This Covered: Kathryn, were you drawn to this movie because it had a strong female CIA agent at its center?
Kathryn Bigelow: If that character had been a man, I would have been very happy and eager to engage in that story as well. I think what was important to me was that this is a very strong character at the center of this hunt and that the movie doesn’t engage necessarily in gender politics about that character. She is not defined by a man or a love interest; she’s defined by her actions. I think that’s a character that’s very inspiring and is beautifully played by Jessica, so that was exciting to me. I will say I was surprised and thrilled that it was a woman and to find out that there were woman at the center of this hunt, but there were also a lot of men who worked very, very hard as well.
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