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Writing vs. Playing a Real Life

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Writing vs. Playing a Real Life


Writing vs. Playing a Real Life

Writing vs. Playing a Real Life

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A Mighty Heart tells the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Pakistan in 2002. Writer and actor Dan Futterman, who plays Daniel Pearl in the film, talks Linda Wertheimer about the difference between portraying a real person as an actor, and writing a script about a one.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

We're going to meet John Doe - again. But first, this weekend, the movie "A Mighty Heart" opens across the country. It's the story of Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal reporter who was kidnapped and eventually brutally murdered in Pakistan in 2002. The horrifying video of his beheading by Muslim extremists was distributed worldwide. Daniel Pearl's wife, Mariane, was pregnant with their first child when he was murdered. She wrote a book about her husband, their relationship, and his death, and that book is the basis for "A Mighty Heart."

The movie stars Angelina Jolie as Mariane Pearl and Dan Futterman as Daniel Pearl. Most of the movie takes place after Daniel is kidnapped, so their life together is shown in flashback - like this one, to their wedding day.

(Soundbite of movie "A Mighty Heart")

Mr. DAN FUTTERMAN (Actor): (As Daniel Pearl) You make me happy every time you smile. We're going to create a beautiful world together. (French Spoken)

WERTHEIMER: That was Daniel Futterman, of course. He also wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for the 2005 film "Capote." Mr. Futterman joins us from New York City. Thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. FUTTERMAN: Oh, thank you so much for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Tell me how you came to play Daniel Pearl.

Mr. FUTTERMAN: Well, I wish it was a more interesting story, though. It happened in the way that many actors get parts, which is you get sent a script and then you do a little bit of research. I read Mariane's book. And I heard Michael Winterbottom was coming to town, to Los Angeles, where I live now.

WERTHEIMER: The director?

Mr. FUTTERMAN: But you do have - the director. And we sat down and spoke. And Michael doesn't read people most of the time in order to get a role, at least in my level of acting, you have to read for it. But he just wants to talk to people. And so we spoke about the script a lot and a little bit about "Capote." And I think he liked the fact that I had written - just the fact that I had written but also that I had written about journalism, in a way - and that made him more comfortable with my playing Daniel Pearl.

WERTHEIMER: You know, one of the things that you always think about in looking at a movie that is about real events is how real is it. You know, to what extent did - has it been telescoped? Or have parts of it been manufactured?

Mr. FUTTERMAN: I know that it was very important to Michael Winterbottom, it was very important to Mariane Pearl, to John Orloff, the writer, that nothing was made up. And sure, things are cut out of the story. But he - and it's one of the reasons that you don't see any of Daniel Pearl in captivity because nobody knows exactly what happened during that time. And Michael didn't want to speculate.

WERTHEIMER: The other thing that's extraordinary about this movie and thinking about making this movie is that, obviously, since the world knows what happened to Daniel Pearl - I mean, I very much regret that I did see the video of his death and I'll never forget it - but how do you deal with that in the movie? I mean, that we already know the end and that we dread the end. I mean, I watched the - I watched the screening from the back row, just in case that video might come on again, which it didn't, I might say.

Mr. FUTTERMAN: It doesn't, and I think that's important for people listening to know. It's handled in a very delicate way. But you do have a sense of dread -that's true - that you know the end of the story and yet, he creates the feeling. I think a lot of the film plays, in some way, like a thriller because during these three or four weeks, there is this sense that they all - Mariane, as well as the Pakistani investigators, the American investigators, their very good friend Asra Nomani who's a colleague and a friend, an Indian journalist -they're all keep the hope alive that they might actually find him. And they have this feeling getting closer and closer, and then going down to the Byzantine trails, in terms of people and actual alleyways in Karachi. And - I mean, I saw the film for the first time just a few weeks ago, and I'm in it and know the ending, obviously, and yet had that sort of racing heart feeling of I hope they find him.

WERTHEIMER: Well, now, you wrote the film "Capote," which, of course, is about a real person. Philip Seymour Hoffman, in that movie, appeared to channel Truman Capote. I mean, did the one experience writing about real events and then playing a character in the midst of real events, did those two experiences affect each other when you got into it?

Mr. FUTTERMAN: I think you have a very different point of view when you're acting and when you're writing. I - as a writer, you really have a sort of bird's eye view and you've been with the story for many years, trying to shape it, and then you have this pleasure of seeing it being brought to life. I mean, in the case of Phil Hoffman - he's an old friend of mine and to see him give one of the astonishing performances of the last number of years was a real thrill.

As an actor, I felt much more that I had, particularly in this film, a really specific role to play, which was to create with Angie some sense of that deep love that Mariane and Danny shared, and they did in that sense of adventure that they have together, so you would understand what it was that she had lost.

WERTHEIMER: Thanks very much for speaking to us today.

Mr. FUTTERMAN: I really appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Dan Futterman plays Daniel Pearl in the new movie, "A Mighty Heart." He also wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay for 2005's "Capote." He spoke with us from New York.

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