'The Loudest Voice' Author on Writing Himself Into the Show

LOUDEST VOICE 105-Seth MacFarlane as Brian Lewis and Fran Kranz as Gabe Sherman-Publicity-H 2019
[This story contains spoilers for "2012," episode five of Showtime's The Loudest Voice.]

It's one thing for an author to help adapt his book for the screen. It's another for the author to be part of writing himself into the story — the position that The Loudest Voice co-executive producer Gabriel Sherman found himself in while working on the Showtime drama based on his years of reporting on Fox News mastermind Roger Ailes (Russell Crowe).

Sherman was a part of the show's development from the beginning, he told The Hollywood Reporter, and "we didn't want to do a conventional biopic, like a cradle-to-grave, by-the-numbers highlights of Ailes' life. So the moment we decided to focus on his time at Fox News, I knew I would be a character at some point, in some form."

Episode five of the series, "2012," largely focuses on Ailes' escalating harassment of Gretchen Carlson (Naomi Watts) but also introduces "Gabe," played by Fran Kranz, as a reporter working on a book about Ailes' life — specifically, The Loudest Voice in the Room, the book that would, in real life, become the basis for much of this show.

"It became inevitable that we were going to write about my book in some way, because Ailes' obsession with the idea that a journalist was gonna write a biography of him, and that he would be digging into his life and his secrets, was such a pivotal moment in Ailes' time at Fox that accelerated his downfall," Sherman said.

That didn't make it any less surreal for Sherman in the writers room, though. "We kind of had to have different ways of talking about it," he said. "Sometimes we would refer to my character as the journalist, but eventually we would just refer to him as 'Gabe.' So it became kind of this out-of-body experience where I was pitching stories and pitching ideas and talking about myself, but in the third person but kind of detached and looking out from the outside."

While in the writers room, Sherman said he would joke about wanting Armie Hammer to be cast as "Gabe," but that he was "thrilled" with Kranz (whose previous roles include DollhouseThe Cabin in the Woods and Homecoming). 

The two of them weren't able to connect before Kranz's first day of filming, because due to the complications of Crowe spending hours getting into prosthetics every day, the production schedule was reorganized and Kranz's scenes were moved forward: "Fran had to fly in at the last minute, and we didn't actually have a chance to meet, before shooting started up. He was just thrown into it."

However, Sherman and Kranz had lunch that day, and kept in touch via email for the rest of the shoot. "It was important to him that he wasn't doing an impersonation of me. He, as an actor, had to come up with his own ideas of what it was like to play a reporter," Sherman said. "When we had lunch, I imagine he was watching how I talk and my body language, but it wasn't like he was asking me specific things. He was trying to understand the world that I came from, so that he could embody that character."

As depicted in the episode, Ailes does his best to thwart "Gabe's" attempts to report on him via a number of duplicitous means, which Sherman said really captured Ailes' real-life paranoia over being investigated. "I got death threats. I was followed by a P.I. A lot of people had trouble imagining what that was like. So I think the show really captures the degree to which Ailes set out to destroy me and my book," he said.

But at the same time, Sherman noted, "Gabe" functions differently in the series from the role often occupied by journalists in films and TV shows. "I think one of the things the show does, that's kind of innovative and groundbreaking, is that it doesn't use the traditional journalists-as-hero device, you know, from All the President's Men, and Tom McCarthy's film Spotlight, which I love," he said. "What we wanted to do was actually show the flip side of that. What is it like for the people who are being reported on by journalists? I think what this show really captured is the way in which inside Fox News, I was perceived as this George Soros-bankrolled hatchet man that was trying to destroy Ailes."

The "Gabe" in the series might be too busy reporting on Ailes to imagine a future where his reporting would become fodder for a dramatic series. But Sherman said that it was something he thought about even as far back as 2012. "When I was reporting the book, I kept seeing in my mind that this could be a movie or TV series some day, because Ailes' life was stranger than fiction," he said. "I remember joking with my wife at the time that these characters were like our own private TV show. It was this whole fully developed world that I had thrust myself into, and I knew that there was enough there to turn into a drama. I'm just thrilled that Showtime actually was the one who ended up doing it."

The Loudest Voice airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Showtime.