by director Doug Liman
Had you been living on Charleston Terrace Drive in Washington, D.C. in 2003, you might not have noticed your neighborsretired ambassador Joe Wilson and his pretty blonde trophy wife, Valerie Plame, and their adorable five-year-old twins, Trevor and Samantha. Not until you opened the The Washington Post on July 14 and read that she was actually a covert operative for the CIA.
As her cover unraveled, it came out that the business trips that her friends thought she was taking as an investment banker were actually top secret missions to track and sabotage nuclear weapons bound for places like Iran and North Korea.
I was aware of this story when it was breaking in 2003, but like most of you, I had things in my own life to worry about and I quickly forgot about Valerie Plame. After all, I was in the middle of putting together Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and you can imagine the problems I was running into there (Valerie Plame taught me how to keep a secret so I’m going to leave it at that).
Years later, Jez Butterworth, who is one of Britain’s top playwrights, and whose most recent play, Jerusalem, was the absolute biggest biggest hit on the West End this year (with tickets selling on eBay for over $1,000) called me up to say he and his brother had written a screenplay about Valerie Plame.
And so the film that will be the most politically important of my career had its origins in character and story. Joe and Val were like real-life versions of John and Jane Smith and her secret missions were like real life versions of Jason Bourne (or more like Chris Cooper who is pursuing Jason Bourne).
I wasn’t the only person to immediately fall in love with the script. Not since Swingers have my first choice actors said yes. I think you will agree with me that Naomi Watts rises brilliantly to the challenge of portraying Valerie Plame, one of the strongest female roles in recent memory. Spy by day, mother and wife at night. And Sean Penn, who has the burden of expectation, delivers yet another Oscar worthy performance.
I’ve always been interested in the real side of spy stories. Ever since my father moved to Washington, D.C. to run the investigation into the Iran Contra Affair and his investigation was penetrated by an Israeli spy (a story that has never been told), I have been fascinated by the reality of spies. I tried to bring that reality to the The Bourne Identity. But the moment I picked up Jez and John Henry’s script I realized I had been missing all along the most interesting aspect of spycraft. You have to lie to your spouse and your friends. The toll that takes.
I have always sought as a filmmaker to tell my stories in the first person, not as a narrator looking down from above. Because Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame bravely allowed me into their lives, I have been able to craft my most personal film yet.