'Spotlight' Stars Reveal In-Depth Research to Play Investigative Reporters

AP
Liev Schreiber, Brian d'Arcy James, Mark Ruffalo, Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup and Michael Keaton at Tuesday night's 'Spotlight' premiere.

The film, about the Boston Globe's Pulitzer prize-winning team that exposed a massive cover-up of child abuse by priests throughout the Boston Archdiocese, features Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Stanley Tucci and others.

In the new movie Spotlight, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo and Brian d'Arcy James play three members of the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" investigative team, which in 2001 uncovered numerous instances of child abuse by Catholic priests and a cover-up within the Boston Archdiocese. And as they prepared to portray reporters searching for answers, the actors investigated the journalists.

Ruffalo told The Hollywood Reporter at Tuesday night's New York premiere that he "spent a lot of time with the real journalist" he portrays, Michael Rezendes.

"I had meals with him. I talked with him for hours. I sat next to him at work," Ruffalo said. "I watched him work the phones. I watched him write his stories. I talked to him about his life and his family. I had him give me tours of Boston. As much as I could soak him up seemed to be the most important part."

James, meanwhile, spent time with his real-life counterpart, Matt Carroll, in New York.

"He was here so he made himself available to me, which I was very grateful for. I grilled him about his life and how he does his job," the actor told THR. "I think it was odd for him to be on the other side of receiving questions as opposed to asking them, so I was very aware of that and that was one more piece of information that I was able to absorb."

While McAdams wasn't at the movie's New York screening Tuesday night, the reporter she played, Sacha Pfeiffer, was, along with many other Globe staffers portrayed in the movie.

Pfeiffer told THR that she was impressed by how McAdams really did her homework.

"We spent hours together, eating dinner, taking walks, phone calls, email exchanges," Pfeiffer said of her work with McAdams. "She wanted to know, 'What did I wear in 2001 [when the investigation took place]? What did I eat? Did I eat dinner with my husband? Did I wear jewelry? How did I take notes? When did I type vs. write in a notebook?' and then they tried to replicate all of that. It was quite amazing to watch."

The actors' detailed approach reflects the film's commitment to authenticity, which co-writer Josh Singer said he and co-writer Tom McCarthy, who also directed the film, stressed from the start.

"What we were really trying to do was capture how it happened as accurately as possible," Singer said, explaining that they tried to closely adhere to the truth. "You know, look, it's a movie, so there's that context. But I think because of the subject matter and because of what we feel about the subject matter and about journalism, frankly, we really wanted to not put any bells and whistles on this and not give it the standard Hollywood treatment, if you will. I mean early on we talked about: We don't have two protagonists here, we have six. Do you collapse characters? No, we're not going to do that. It's a complicated story. Are we going to try to reduce it and simplify it for the audience? No, we're going to go through all of the twists and turns, so I think trying to present it as it happened in actuality was incredibly important."

The Globe team, rounded out by Walter "Robby" Robinson (Michael Keaton), Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber) and Ben Bradlee Jr. (John Slattery) aren't the only real-life people portrayed in the film. The star-studded ensemble also features Stanley Tucci and Billy Crudup as lawyers Mitchell Garabedian and Eric MacLeish. While Tucci said he wasn't able to meet Garabedian, he was still able to study up on the attorney through various documents and videos.

"I never met with Mitchell but I was able to look at video of him on the Internet, press conferences he had done with the victims and organizations that helped the victims and read transcripts and things like that," Tucci said, adding that he was impressed with "the fact that [Garabedian] never gave up. The fact that he still hasn't given up. I mean that's incredible."

Even victim Phil Saviano, who's worked to help others who were abused and was a key part of The Globe's investigation, worked with the actor who played him, Neal Huff, to craft an accurate portrayal.

"It was really a collaboration, truly, because I was sort of letting him into my life story and my emotional experiences," Saviano said. "And I was so happy that this was the guy that they cast for the part because I feel like he gets me. He gets the issue. He understands why it's so important and we developed the sort of rapport where I could talk to him about things that I might not be willing to talk to other people about to help him better understand my character." Huff explained that he and Saviano "talked throughout filming."

Despite all of the intense work by the cast, producers Michael Sugar and Steve Golin from Anonymous Content told THR that getting the funding and cast for the film were the biggest challenges of the project.

"Getting the actors together to commit and getting the budget in the right place and getting the movie greenlit was a pretty big struggle, but ultimately Participant, Jonathan King and Jeff Skoll stepped up and got the movie made," Golin said.

Sugar added: "When you're building an ensemble and this movie was always an ensemble movie, getting the right chemistry between the actors at the right moment is the big challenge."

The film's credits touch on other church molestation scandals uncovered elsewhere in the wake of The Globe's investigation, but Saviano hopes that the movie will educate and inspire people.

"Neal, as my character, makes a point of how the victims are not just boys, they're not just altar boys, there are a lot of women victims. So part of the film is educating the general public about some of the misconceptions that are out there. And the other thing is just to let people know the vast extent of the problem," Saviano said. "We hope that it will inspire other survivors who have not yet found the courage to come forward to tell somebody, whether it's their therapist or a parent. It really helps to talk about it and get it out in the open. So there's a lot of good that can come from this."

Open Road releases Spotlight in New York and L.A. on Nov. 6.

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