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Within six months of each other, Hollywood will roll out two major Roger Ailes projects.
Showtime’s iteration, a limited series titled The Loudest Voice, spans two decades, beginning in the mid-1990s when Ailes (played by Russell Crowe, with the help of hours worth of prosthetics) hatched his plan to launch a conservative competitor to CNN and MSNBC. It carries through to the near-present, concluding with Ailes’ demise, which followed a mountain of sexual harassment allegations against him. Director Jay Roach’s still-untiled Ailes film, which rolls out in late December via Lionsgate and stars John Lithgow as the late Fox News founder, will focus strictly on that 2016 downfall.
Both feature a bevy of A-listers while taking aim with very different stories.The film centers on Megyn Kelly, who is played by producer-star Charlize Theron, and the band of women, including Gretchen Carlson (played by Nicole Kidman), who brought him down. Showtime’s version, which is based on journalist Gabriel Sherman’s 2014 book and debuts June 30, features no such sisterhood; in fact, its producers deemed Kelly so irrelevant to the story, she isn’t even a character in the show. Instead, its focus, as it relates to Ailes’ unraveling, hinges primarily on the claims of Carlson, who’s played by Naomi Watts.
“I’m not trying to trash-talk the movie, but it seems to be predicated on the idea that there was this coterie of women who brought down Roger Ailes, which is a lie,” says Loudest Voice showrunner Alex Metcalf. “There was Gretchen Carlson, and that was it. I’m sure the movie will be lovely, … [but] we are doing our best to reflect a reality.”
The differences between the two projects don’t stop there.
The movie, which is written by Charles Randolph in his Big Short style, is also chock-full of real-life anchor portrayals. An early version of the script, which carries the title The End of the Leg Man, includes a who’s who of Fox News personalities. Among them: Sean Hannity (Spencer Garrett), Bret Baier (Michael Buie), Jeanine Pirro (Alanna Ubach) and Martha MacCallum (Elisabeth Rohm), to name a few. Other A-listers abound, including Margot Robbie as a fictional Fox News producer and Allison Janney as lawyer Susan Estrich. With a few exceptions, including Glenn Beck (Josh McDermitt), Hannity (Patch Darragh) and Carlson, the TV version, produced by Blumhouse, steers clear.
“We didn’t want what happens with a lot of current-event shows, which is you have actors playing very well-known people and you're always like, ‘Oh, there's Julianne Moore playing Sarah Palin’ or ‘There's Alec Baldwin being Donald Trump,’” says Sherman, who’s a credited writer and producer and is depicted by an actor (Fran Kranz) in the show. (The Ailes chronicler is referenced in the film, too.)
Watts, for her part, has found the media attention surrounding her and pal Kidman’s casting in the same role a bit silly, and that was before Carlson praised her (“an incredibly talented actress”) in THR’s cover story — months after she blasted Kidman, claiming the movie project was “#FakeNews” and Kidman “looks nothing like me” in a much-covered Twitter post. “It makes sense that good actresses want to play good roles,” notes Watts, noting that she and Kidman have yet to discuss the parts at any length. “And to play a woman who’s gone through something as horrific as this to come out on top is quite liberating as an actor.”
The dueling projects come on the heels of a third, the documentary Divide and Conquer: The Roger Ailes Story, which bowed in December. That there would be this much interest in Ailes as a subject comes as little surprise to those involved. Metcalf suggests it’s his influence, which extends well beyond media, that makes him so compelling: “Without Roger Ailes,” he says, “there is definitely no Donald Trump.”
Producer Jason Blum attempts to take a step back, adding: “There is this collective scratching of the head on both sides of the aisle: How did [Trump] happen? And I think that's all of us wrestling with where we are today. And one of the ways that we, as people — not Republican or Democrat — wrestle with change is to make stories about it.”
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