’Charm­ing just up to a point’

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Chris Knight

Liam Nee­son has an un­usual re­ac­tion when he’s asked to star in a movie. His first thought is: Who would be bet­ter at this than me?

So when writer/ di­rec­tor Peter Lan­des­man ap­proached him to play the ti­tle role in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, he im­me­di­ately thought of Ed Har­ris.

“And then I might watch a cou­ple of Ed’s films. And I think: Ah, there’s some­thing there that I can use.” But would Har­ris have been a bet­ter Felt? “That would have been a good idea,” says Lan­des­man, rib­bing his star.

The two are speak­ing at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, where Mark Felt had its world pre­miere in Septem­ber. The film had been in the works for more than 10 years, ever since the for­mer FBI as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor pub­lished his 2006 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy A G- Man’s Life, shortly af­ter re­veal­ing he was the Wash­ing­ton Post’s “Deep Throat” source dur­ing the Water­gate scan­dal.

But the film’s re­lease could not have been more timely. In May, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump fired FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey over his in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion. Christo­pher Wray had been in com­mand of the bu­reau for lit­tle more than a month as the fes­ti­val opened. “It is a co­in­ci­dence, which is some­thing you have no con­trol over,” says Lan­des­man. “When Liam and I first sat down and talked about it ... Trump was the court jester of New York, which is where I grew up. I never imag­ined ...” he trails off.

But he says the themes of in­tegrity fight­ing cor­rup­tion are al­ways with us. “Hu­man be­hav­iour does not change. Those dy­nam­ics live in ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion, ev­ery govern­ment on the planet, within fam­i­lies, within Hol­ly­wood, within jour­nal­ism and news­pa­pers.” Even so, “the fact that we’re see­ing it now when this movie is com­ing out is su­per­nat­u­ral, I have to say.”

In ad­di­tion to scour­ing the films of Ed Har­ris, Nee­son watched Jimmy Stewart in 1959’s The FBI Story, and footage of Felt, who died in 2008.

“I was very taken with the fact that he was a debonair, charm­ing man,” says Nee­son.

“But charm­ing just up to a point. Sud­denly, a veil would come down and you couldn’t read him. And I found that fas­ci­nat­ing as an ac­tor. I thought: I look noth­ing like him, I will sound noth­ing like him, but I will try to give an essence of the man. And serve Peter’s script, which I loved.”

He was also re­lieved at the change in pace of play­ing a bu­reau­crat, given his re­cent run of ac­tion-hero roles in the likes of Taken, Run All Night, the up­com­ing Com­muter and more. “It was great to not have any fight re­hearsals,” he says with a grin.

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