“I may have been the only person I know of who was simultaneously breast-feeding and learning how to pack a weapon,” said Naomi Watts, the star of Fair Game. The political drama about the Bush administration’s betrayal of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson, directed by The Bourne Identity’s Doug Liman, is the only American film in this year’s Cannes competition.
The breast-feeding wasn’t for the role – she had a baby in December, 2008, and two weeks later was sent the Fair Game script by her friend, Jez Butterworth. Shortly afterward, Liman contacted her and told her to go to CIA boot camp for a couple of days, including interrogation sessions in which she was hooded, hand-cuffed and kicked about.
“They kicked my shins and knocked me down and I said, ‘Ow!’ ” Watts said. “But they said, ‘No. You don’t say ow until you actually have to go to the hospital.’ ”
Sean Penn plays her husband, Joe Wilson, a former ambassador, who was the real target of the leak after he disputed Bush administration assertions about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction in The New York Times. (The movie’s title comes from a quote from senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, that Wilson’s wife was “fair game.”)
The Wilsons were both in Cannes to promote another film, the anti-nuke documentary Countdown to Zero, in which Plame Wilson appears as an expert, but Liman said that the festival administration preferred that the press conference for Fair Game focus only on people directly involved in making the film.
Also absent was Penn, busy in Washington speaking to a Senate committee on Haiti. Liman gave Penn a big endorsement.
“I think he’s the best actor alive. Watching him hang out with Joe Wilson was like watching some horror movie. It was as if he slowly sucked Joe Wilson’s personality into his own.”
Fair Game was written by the team of Jez and John-Henry Butterworth. Liman, who said he was attracted to the story because his father, Arthur L. Liman, was the U.S. Senate’s chief counsel for the Iran-Contra hearings. He has tried to make films with a political message before without success: “ The Bourne Identity was supposed to be about Iran-Contra, with Chris Cooper as the Oliver North character, but nobody got it. When I started [the television series] The O.C. I thought it would be a teen movie about issues, like illegal immigration, but Fox-TV said, ‘Oh no it won’t.’ ”
Liman insisted the movie isn’t about advocacy: “This isn’t one of those films you see like The Cove, where you instantly want to send a text message to give $10 to save the dolphins.”
Nor is it an indictment of the media’s gullibility: “I’m a realist and I understand how we got into a position where the press parroted what the White House told them to say because that’s how you got access to the White House.”