'Bombshell' Writer on Roger Ailes: "He Almost Wanted to Sexualize His Power"

Charles Randolph - Getty - H 2019
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Lionsgate Entertainment

"He needed the transactional quality of the relationship for his own sexual or psychological needs," says Charles? Randolph of the late Fox News chief, whose scandal is at the center of Lionsgate's film.

Charles Randolph began developing the idea for what would become the Jay Roach-directed Bombshell one month after Fox News CEO Roger Ailes resigned following allegations of workplace sexual harassment. Since then, the #MeToo movement launched a national discourse around sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace. Bombshell is being released into a very different world than the one in which Randolph wrote it.

The Oscar-winning writer behind The Big Short spoke to THR about whether #MeToo influenced the film, what he hopes male audiences take away from Bombshell and the bravery of 9 to 5.

You were doing rewrites as #MeToo gained traction. Did those stories impact your writing of Bombshell?

I was following it. They were of a slightly different quality in that they were stories of successful, often famous women dealing with individuals who themselves were relatively well known. They often had a non-organizational quality to them. They were generally stories of actors who were in the same industry but not in a particular hierarchy to it. Or there were people in an institution, like a Matt Lauer situation, where they are having a sexual relationship with someone or being harassed by someone who is not technically their boss but has a great deal of power in the institution. Whereas [Fox News] stories were ones where very clearly your boss is doing an on-the-table, overtly transactional quality. What I always found super interesting about Ailes is he needed the transactional quality of the relationship for his own sexual or psychological needs. He almost wanted to sexualize his power. So, I would say the #MeToo thing had less to do with the material and the ultimate story than changing the culture in which the film would be released. But it didn't change the film very much. In fact, probably not at all.

Sexual assault has been seen onscreen, but is there a film that accurately portrays sexual coercion in the workplace?

Yes! What's so wonderful about 9 to 5 is that it captures this thing that was so brave for the period, but no one talks about, which is that there is a difference between sexual harassment and gender harassment. Gender harassment is when the harasser is not trying to coerce someone into [something] sexual, but they are badgering her for her gender. That's a very prevalent form of workplace harassment that never gets portrayed in movies because it's just not as dramatic. It's a difference between Lily Tomlin and Dolly Parton, and it's an important difference. The Lily Tomlin form of harassment is in some ways even more devastating because it's something that you know you can never escape. It's, "I can't leave my gender." 9 to 5 has a fantastic subtlety in how it captures that distinction.

Have you had a standout reaction, whether it was from an individual or a collective audience?

We do have these experiences after screenings, when women over 45 come up with tears in their eyes and want to thank you and want to share some part of their experience. Sometimes these are things that are on paper relatively subtle but something these women have carried with them for 10, 15, 20, 30 or 40 years. That's been so remarkable — as a man, I can imagine other men quickly and easily dismissing this as, "Well, it's not that big of a deal, nothing really happened." But these women, even now at 65, are coming up with tears in their eyes, explaining how that moment undermined their confidence in the workplace and made them question everything they had achieved.

What are you hoping that male audiences take away from Bombshell?

This is the thing I keep saying to the press, so I should probably try to think of something new to say. But it's the truth, so I will say it: My only hope is that I can put a few men like myself in that room with Kayla [Margot Robbie's aspiring anchorwoman character] and Roger. Not only in that room but inside Kayla's head, inside her heart, so they can experience what that moment feels like and how: (A) it could be really complicated, but also (B) it can also be life-changing. As a man, it's hard to imagine why that's the case until you're actually experiencing it. Because these things do not happen to most men. The kind of harassment we suffer as men is often jokey, it has a completely different, low-stakes context. If we can put men in her perspective, in her heart and head in those moments, I feel like we've done such a great thing. Also, I think a second thing is to get men to see how it's not always about good people versus bad people. It's complicated. There are good people who make questionable decisions, and there are people whom you may not like who make good decisions.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.