Neeson and Landesman take new slant on scandal
Irish actor Liam Neeson and American writer/director Peter Landesman come from different worlds, but they are of like minds in how they wanted to tell the “Deep Throat” version of the Watergate story.
Neeson, 65, has been an actor for nearly four decades but his films have mostly been in the fantasy and adventure realms, rarely political ones.
Landesman, 52, is a journalist and filmmaker who made traumatic American history his cinematic specialty. Parkland, his 2013 debut, went into the Dallas hospital where JFK breathed his last breath. Concussion, released in 2015, starred Will Smith as the doctor who controversially found links between NFL players and chronic head injuries.
Now Neeson and Landesman have combined for Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, the story of the top FBI G-man (a short form of Government Man, often used as a term for government agents) who secretly helped journalists Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein expose the Richard Nixon White House during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.
Neeson plays Felt, alias Deep Throat, who kept his covert identity secret for decades, finally coming out of the shadows in 2005, three years before his death at age 95. Landesman wrote and directed the film, adapting Felt’s published memoirs. The film also covers his personal life, including a troubled marriage (Diane Lane plays his wife).
It seems you both wanted to show more of what happened inside FBI ranks rather than the clandestine parking garage meetings.
Landesman: It wasn’t avoidance. I was telling the story of Felt, through his prism and his subjectivity. And as seen through that window, I think the film represents its entirety. Woodward was just one of four reporters Felt was talking to; he was manipulating them all with different pieces of information. Lighting fuses and seeing which bomb goes off first. He was really
I think early on he was a pragmatist. I think as a human being, he was very private; the G-man’s G-man. Liam Neeson on Mark Felt
kind of a master puppeteer in that sense. And I was also interested in the complexity of his motivations as a man, as a husband and as a father.
Neeson: I thought it was lovely that Peter cast a young British actor (Julian Morris) as Bob Woodward. I love the fact he’s kind of young — he’s almost a kid. Bob Woodward was 29 when he met Felt, and I loved that fact that he’s just this little young kid eager for this news.
Do you think Felt was acting as an idealist or a pragmatist?
Neeson: I think early on he was a pragmatist. I think as a human being, he was very private, the G-man’s G-man. I also think he was hurt and outraged when he was overlooked for promotion when J. Edgar Hoover died, and they brought in a guy who was a submarine commander in the Second World War. That may have provoked him to start leaking stuff to Bob Woodward, but then when Felt saw the bigger picture of what was happening, the level of corruption and where it was going, he felt “I’ve got to see this through.” The future of the FBI — and possibly the future of the country — was at stake. And then he became heroic.
Landesman: I think Felt had an ideological belief system of the bureau as a kind of mythological defence, the last line of defence. He loved Elliot Ness and he loved that concept of himself as a G-man. So there is a kind of idealism there about good and evil, white hat and black hat, that ultimately with all the other motivations at the core was driving him.
Liam, what’s your ultimate take on the man behind the Deep Throat legend?
Neeson: He was quite remarkable by any standards. This whole personal side of his life with his wife — Bob Woodward, correct me if I’m wrong, knew nothing about that. He also knew nothing about Felt’s daughter running away and Felt trying to find her. Bob Woodward knew nothing about that. So Felt was able to compartmentalize his life — he was trained that way, too, of course. It’s why he was such a successful FBI agent, from the Second World War on.
Liam Neeson makes a rare visit to the political world by playing FBI agent Mark Felt, inset, in Mark Felt: The Man Who Took Down the White House.