"Lucky to Make a Western": 'THR Presents' Q&A With the 'News of the World' Team

"I just love listening to them, to be absolutely honest," said Paul Greengrass, the co-writer, with Luke Davies, and director of News of the World, as he and three of his key collaborators on the Western — film editor William Goldenberg, production designer David Crank and composer James Newton Howard — sat down for a THR Presents Q&A powered by Vision Media.

Greengrass, best known for three Bourne films and several others about terrorism, including 2006's United 93 (for which he received a best director Oscar nom), continued, "[Making movies] is a little like sports, I suppose. You have all these wonderful athletes — creative athletes, if I can put it that way — and they go out and they give their all. And you're on the sidelines, sort of willing them on. You shout and rage in the maelstrom of the game, if I can put it that way, if you're following the metaphor. And then, when it's all over, you're left — at least I am, always — with this sort of strange sense of deep, unbelievable admiration and gratitude for everything that these superlative creative people have done to make the film what the film is."

Greengrass signed on to direct News of the World after reading Paulette Jiles' 2016 novel of the same name and Davies' initial adaptation of it. It's not the sort of fast-paced story that he has brought to the big screen in the past, which is part of what appealed to him about. "You've always got to try new things and explore new genres," he said, noting, "I grew up with Westerns when I was a kid." It also offered him a long-awaited opportunity to reunite with the star of his 2013 film, Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks. "We'd talked a few times about different things, but this one just came together naturally and very quickly, actually."

But for News of the World — which tells the story of a Civil War veteran who now makes his living as a traveling news reader, and winds up caring for a lost young girl — to work, Greengrass faced one "big challenge," which was finding a 10- or 11-year-old actress who could "go head-to-head with Tom and carry half the film." He explains, "I thought it was going to be really hard, but it turned out to be really easy." His casting director sent him the German film System Crasher, which introduced him to Helena Zengel (who is now a best supporting actress Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild award nominee for News).

Crank was tasked with finding a fitting locale for the 53-day shoot, ultimately landing on a large ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, that he and his team were able to divide into three sets. His rationale? "It's next to Texas, so it doesn't look dissimilar, and it's not populated in the way that that part of Texas is now." Crank said he has always gravitated toward period pieces over contemporary stories. He finds them "a lot more fun" in part because "nobody can tell you you're wrong, in one sense, which is nice. And you get to learn about a whole new world that you're not part of, and that's the part that is interesting."

Goldenberg, an Oscar winner for 2012's Argo who had previously cut Greengrass' 2018 film 22 July, said that News was not only unlike that prior collaboration, in the sense that it features "a lot of nonverbal storytelling," but unlike any film he had ever worked on, in the sense that it was shot in sequence. "It was really great to shoot a movie in continuity so you could see where you were in the film every day — you could watch the film from beginning to where you were."

Part of what made Goldenberg excited to be part of the project was the knowledge that its score would be composed by Howard, who had scored the first film on which Goldenberg had an editing credit, Alive, 28 years ago. Howard, for his part, has previously written the music for numerous Westerns — among them Wyatt Earp, The Postman and Hidalgo — but said there are no rules for doing so. "I rely on my filmmakers to help me," he elaborated. "Paul said two things I'll never forget. He said, 'I'm gonna ask you to write so little you may think you're going to write nothing at all in places,' and the other one that got my attention was when he said, 'You're not listening close enough'" when Howard was being overly tough on himself.

"We all felt that we were unbelievably lucky to make a Western," Greengrass emphasized. "It will remain in my memory, and probably everybody's, as a very happy experience."

This THR Presents has been brought to you by Universal, and is powered by Vision Media; additional Q&As and other supplementary content can be viewed in THR’s new public hub at THRPresents.HollywoodReporter.com.