Jay Roach may be known best for his comedic exploits, as the director of the Austin Powers franchise, but his most recent effort, Bombshell, took a deep look at a massive scandal that plagued Fox News. Specifically, the sexual harassment scandal that led former CEO Roger Ailes to resign in disgrace from the media giant. Roach worked closely with star and producer Charlize Theron to bring this story to the big screen.
Bombshell is based on the real scandal and offers a revealing look inside the most powerful and controversial media empire of all time. It tells the story of the women who brought down the infamous man who created Fox News. The movie boasts an A-list cast, led by Charlize Theron as Megyn Kelly, with Nicole Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Margot Robbie as Kayla, a fictitious character who is used to showcase what women endured under Ailes’ rule at the network.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with director Jay Roach in honor of Bombshell making its way to Digital HD and Blu-ray. The movie is available now to rent or purchase. We discussed the challenges in adapting the story into a movie, what makes Charlize Theron so great and much more.
We’re here to talk about Bombshell. This is obviously dealing with some pretty delicate subject matter. It was real people. It was a real, systematic problem. But obviously, it’s something that deserved exposure. Cinema is a great way to accomplish that. What were the challenges that you faced in trying to find a balance between bringing this story to life but also having to craft the narrative feature that audiences could enjoy?
Jay Roach: Charles Randolph’s script. I thought it was already very compelling even on the page because of the predicament these women found themselves in, these kind of egocentric, cultlike bosses who sort of project onto women what they expect from them and what they feel entitled to. And in this situation, because it was Fox News, the women found an ability to come back at such a powerful person in an environment where being a feminist is not necessarily smiled upon in a situation like that. I thought what these women did and how they came up against such a powerful man is dramatic. Because of the personalities, I thought it would also be entertaining because they were very lively, strong women who were willing to go at it and they were just really interesting people. In a certain way, the least likely people to want to do this and that seemed already very, very interesting and compelling to me. I thought I could hopefully translate that, reinterpret that for an audience and through good casting, which is always my first priority, make it seem like something you would want to check out.
You mentioned casting and Charlize Theron plays Megyn Kelly in this and she’s incredible, as she always is. She’s been at the top of the A-list for what? The better part of two decades now. After working with her in this capacity, what is it that sets her apart? What makes her so good?
Jay Roach: They were all incredible. Nicole and Margot and the whole list, John Lithgow. It’s an incredibly deep cast. The thing about Charlize is that she’s also coming at it as a producer and a storyteller along with us. So she was on the set every day, whether she was acting that day or not. In a story like this, especially a story about women’s empowerment, It wasn’t going to work unless we got incredibly strong and brilliant collaborators. Charlize was at the top of that list as number one on the call list, but also our primary producer. Her instincts about what would work and what we should think harder about, if it wasn’t going to work out and just keep pushing us to all throw-in at the highest level. She seems to inspire that without at all vocalizing it or demanding it from all the other cast that well. They see what she’s up to, they see how hard she’s going at it and they step up, and then she wants to step up for them. She feels a tremendous obligation to be her best with such high caliber fellow actors. That spirit was something I certainly try to, as a director, convey on set but Charlize was radiating it. like a beacon so that there’s an extra benefit you get from working with her.
Sticking with the cast, when I saw it, the thing that shocked me the most was just constantly, you have these beloved character actors or A-listers just showing up out of nowhere. You had Richard Kind is Rudy Giuliani. You had Alanna Ubach as Jeanine Pirro. It was amazing. How hard was that all to pull together with an ensemble like that?
Jay Roach: When the script is really good, and when you have Charlize on board, and it’s a story that everybody realizes is important, if it’s told right and might contribute to a conversation we all absolutely need to have. It was surprising. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I should say, that so many people would step forward, not for a lot of money, not for necessarily a lot of screen time and wanna just be part of it. We had an incredible casting director, Allison Jones. and she and her whole team just kept throwing great ideas at us. Charlize and I, especially just would call them up and have really good long talks where we would explain what we thought mattered about it. Very often people agreed and tried to work it into their schedule. Some of their schedules are really challenging. Kate McKinnon was doing SNL, Mark Duplass was always busy. All of them are all very busy people. That was the tricky part, in such a tight schedule. But when there is a willingness like that, it wasn’t as hard as it might look to get everybody to jump in.
You mention, you have Kate McKinnon in this, you have Margot Robbie in this, and they play huge roles. But you did, narratively speaking, lean on some invented characters. They’re characters that were invented for the story. What went into the decision to lean so heavily on invented characters versus just sticking to the people that were actually involved?
Jay Roach: Margot’s character is the best example of that. Obviously Charlize is playing Megyn and Nicole is playing Gretchen Carlson. Margot’s character is kind of a composite of multiple women who were still working at Fox late into Roger Ailes’ career who either didn’t come forward to make a claim or did come forward but had their stories suppressed. Those people, some of whom we talked to, some of them talked to other people whose reporting we took from they didn’t have a voice without such character because we couldn’t name them. We couldn’t portray them as who they actually were. Yet, we thought it was imperative that they get a voice in our movie. And so Charles made this call in the script, and when we thought about that having Margot take the role, she absorbs as many of the stories that she could. In a way, her character is the soul at stake, if you will, in the whole film. The identity at stake. You’re worried as a young woman who doesn’t have the power of Megyn Kelly or Gretchen Carlson, how is she going to be affected by this sort of soul-crushing pressure that Roger Ailes is putting on her? Where is she going to end up by the end, and that’s the kind of predicament so many of the young women that we talked to found themselves in. We just wanted to give them a voice, and the only way to do that was through a character that represented them the way Charles had Kayla represent those voices through Margot,
One interesting thing when this movie was coming out, Charlize did one of those Actors on Actors for Variety, and she was talking about how you guys were initially working on a TV project. What was that? And is that going to happen?
Jay Roach: I don’t know. We didn’t want to hold it up once this got going. We tried for a while to get it going. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that It was a very cool story about a community counselor type person in his own world. I can’t really reveal too much because I don’t want to steal the thunder from the people who took it, but we let them go and do it. I’m always looking for things to do with Charlize. On that one, she wasn’t going to act in it, she was just producing. But I hope we’ll find more things. We’ve been actually already trading ideas about new things to do. So we will always be looking. I feel very fortunate to have gotten to work with this whole cast. And I would work with any of them again, and I will be looking for ways to do that.
Bombshell is available now on Digital HD and Blu-ray/DVD from Lionsgate.