7:00am PT by Chris Gardner
'Roe v. Wade' Filmmaker Nick Loeb Says Conservative Film Is "Not a Preachy, Pro-Life Religious Movie"
News broke over the weekend that Donald Trump will speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Sunday, an appearance that will mark the former president's first major outing since exiting the White House. It will surely bring an avalanche of media and attention on the conservative gathering, something that Nick Loeb is ready for.
The filmmaker is hosting the world premiere of his film, Roe v. Wade, on Friday at the CPAC host hotel, the Hyatt Regency Orlando, and he's selling tickets to funnel into marketing costs ahead of an April release on Amazon Prime, iTunes and PVOD. Loeb says he's aware of how unusual it is to premiere a film two months ahead of its release but so much of his journey on the project has been atypical, if not controversial.
The film, which Loeb co-wrote and co-directed with Cathy Allyn, has been the subject of many headlines over the past two years due to its largely conservative cast and the mystery surrounding the plot. The story follows the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman's right to abortion and Loeb stars in a lead role playing the real-life Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a prominent abortion doctor who had a change of heart later in his career. At Friday's premiere, Loeb will be joined by cast members including Jamie Kennedy, Joey Lawrence, Robert Davi, John Schneider, Wade Williams and Mindy Robinson with Jon Voight and Stacey Dash possibly on hand as well, pending final confirmations.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with the 45-year-old filmmaker by phone from New York to talk about the battle between liberals and conservatives, reports that his film is strictly pro-life and how personal experiences with abortion helped shape his stance on the subject.
How did alignment come about with CPAC and why did you decide to premiere your film there?
I think this film deserved to have a premiere and, obviously, with indie films, we don't have the money to buy advertisements. So, press is highly important to getting the word out. My preference would have been to do the premiere in New York, as I have a lot of media relationships around New York, but, unfortunately, all the theaters in New York and in L.A. are closed. Because the movie aligns with the conservative message, I reached out to CPAC to see if they would have any interest in holding it during the event because it's in Florida and they've got a giant space that will accommodate social distancing. The actual event space that will show the movie can hold 1,500 people with social distancing. That's huge, so I couldn't turn that down. If I went and had a premiere in Orlando without CPAC, there wouldn't be any press. It was a no-brainer for us.
Is Jon Voight giving a keynote or a speech at some point?
He's supposed to introduce it. John is older now, he's 82, and he's a little nervous about COVID. We may just introduce him via Zoom. We want to make sure that he's good. Some of the other actors are coming so I think it'll be good.
Is it specifically a pro-life film?
It's crazy you ask that. I think it's up to your perspective, right? What we tried to do is really just lay out the facts of how Roe v. Wade came to be and how it was decided. People can take one view or another. I've had a lot of people who think it's in the middle. We tell it from the pro-choice perspective because the story is told through the eyes of Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who was the biggest abortionist of all time. He did more than 70,000 abortions. Why some folks may think it's a conservative film or why it aligns with those views is because the protagonist actually converts. He starts off pro-choice and becomes pro-life through his journey. It's a true story.
We show a lot of the things that happened, how he [arrived at that decision], how the case was decided and it may be a negative reflection on the pro-choice side. But it's not a preachy, pro-life religious movie. I don't call it a faith-based movie, but we do uncover ... There are a lot of... parallels today, a lot of the same manipulation by the media. Even today, on both sides — you can use MSNBC and Fox as examples — both of these guys try to manipulate stuff. It's been going on forever.
One of the things [Dr. Bernard Nathanson] did to try to help his cause was sort of inflate the numbers about illegal abortion. He made up statistics that they would then leak to the media to help change public perception. That was a big part of getting Roe passed and pushing the abortion movement forward. That doesn't reflect great on the pro-choicers. But there are other characters who are generally trying to support abortion for serious issues. Betty Friedan [played by Lucy Davenport] really wants to save women and help women. This is really an important thing and we don't vilify her at all. We don't truly vilify anybody. We show it how it was. Jamie Kennedy plays Larry Lader, who really was in it for the money. He was making a ton of money referring girls to illegal abortion doctors. Then, the main character goes back and forth. He really wanted to save women who had to do illegal abortions because one of his first girlfriends had a botched abortion and he felt these girls shouldn't have to go to these horrible, illegal abortion doctors or down to Mexico.
But it also shows how dumb the pro-lifers were. The pro-lifers never took a lot of this seriously with the whole legal aspect of the case. What I tried to do in the movie as a director is really showcase both sides. There's such a big ensemble cast so, at least, there's a character that resembles everybody's point of view.
You play Dr. Bernard Nathanson. That is a big lift for you in terms of directing your first film and taking a lead role. Because of that, people are going to question your views on abortion. What is your stance?
I really wanted to play Bernard because he resembles a little bit of me in my life. I am not a doctor or an obstetrician but I started off in life as pro-choice. Although my family is conservative, I grew up in New York and my father was, I think, socially liberal and pro-choice, just like many people I grew up with. I followed suit. When you grow up, you're taught that there really isn't a baby in there. You are told that for the first five or six months, that it's really a clump of cells. There's no real baby. It's just a glob of goo. It wasn't until I got older that I had my own experiences with abortion and it had an emotional impact on me. Learning more about the science behind it and when a human being is actually created, I slowly started to change my views. I went on the same journey as Bernard and that's why I was really interested in playing this role.
When you say that you had your own experiences with abortion, does that mean you had a partner who had an abortion?
In my 20s, I had two actually. I had two partners who both had abortions and it really had an emotional impact on me. As I've gotten older, the more regret I have. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't have had them. It's very bizarre, I have to tell you this. Every year, I have a dream of my children at the age they would have been now. I don't know when it started — I think it was in my late 20s — I have dreams and it's always weighed on me emotionally.
I saw an interview during which you said that while many of your actors are well-known conservatives, not everyone is pro-life. It's a mix of beliefs and religions. Is that true?
The cast came to it with their own beliefs. At the end of the day, the people who did the movie, they are actors. Robert Davi will tell you, "I'm extremely pro-life, but I played a character that voted for abortion and I did the role because I was playing the character as an actor." We got actors interested in the movie not because it was about abortion, but because of the types of roles. Some actors are playing Supreme Court justices — those are historical icons. It was exciting for Jon to play Justice Warren Burger. It's so rare to really ever see the inner workings of the Supreme Court in a movie, witnessing the justices talking and hearing those conversations. The last Supreme Court movie I saw, it was The Post with Tom Hanks, you never meet the Supreme Court justices. They never talk. Especially with the polarization of Supreme Court nominees that we've had over the last several years, giving the public an inside look to how they could potentially interact with each other and make decisions is really interesting.
You said in 2018 that anyone who doesn't agree with the liberal stance in Hollywood or just anyone that doesn't agree with anyone else gets silenced. Do you think that has gotten worse?
Tremendously. Look what's happened in the last two months. Not just Hollywood, but I think there's a silencing all around. Here's what really upsets me, I have to tell you, most of my friends are liberals. I lived in L.A. and New York. The majority of my friends voted for Joe Biden. And guess what? They're still my friends. I still talk to them. I have no issues. I may not agree with someone's position on an issue or who they voted for, but I don't cut them off or silence them. I don't defriend them. That's not me. But I have found because of what I support, people have stopped talking to me because of who I may have voted for or who I may have supported or my positions on certain issues. I've never seen that in my life until now. We've always had intellectual discourse and we've always had intellectual debate. Even living in Hollywood, I was a big supporter of Bush and even worked on his campaign. People would constantly debate and argue with me because they didn't like my positions, but I wasn't silenced. We're approaching very dangerous times. America has always been a very interesting place. We always flip flop, right? We go extremely conservative for four years, then we flip extremely liberal for four years. The pendulum swings back and forth — that's what makes America so great. If we go too far to one side and when the other side gets to the power, it's going to go all the way back to the other side, even more aggressively.
It's a very dangerous thing not just in Hollywood but the social media companies today and who they're silencing, because all those people they're silencing will eventually one day come back in power and they may create regulation. At some point, when conservatives get back into power, you are going to see anti-trust filings against all the major tech companies and they're going to break them up because of how far they've gone in terms of controlling speech. I don't think that's healthy for anybody. We've built in freedom of speech in this country and freedom of the press. This is what's made us so great. We're going toward dangerous times now.
I saw that you're selling premiere tickets to help support the international rollout of the film. How many tickets are you going to sell? How will you use that money?
We've been selling premiere tickets to help with our marketing expenses. We want to buy ads and do social media. P&A, as you know, is very hard to come by, especially with no theatrical release. So, we did a lot of crowdfunding to raise money to make the movie. This is sort of a continuation of that, to get in some dollars for folks that want to help and support, so we can spend some money on marketing the movie.
What was the final budget?
I don't have the exact numbers, but it probably ran over eight and a half million dollars. It's relatively [low] for what we shot. Period pieces are very expensive. We had, I think, over 70 or 80 speaking roles and over 60 locations. We dressed all 60 locations to period and built a Supreme Court and shot exterior marches. So, for the production value, when people look at it, they will see that it looks like a $20 or $30 million movie. It doesn't feel like an indie movie. It feels like a big film.
You’ve acted for a number of years and this is your first time behind the camera. Do you have ambitions to direct again? What does the future of film hold for you?
No, I don't have any ambition to direct anymore. I really never saw myself as a director but I did enjoy the experience. There were multiple reasons Cathy and I co-directed this and also co-wrote the script. We spent a year doing research. I read over 40 books, court transcripts. Everything is documented. There's not one thing we made up. We dug really deep into the characters and I think it would be a challenge for a new director coming on board to go do all the research, not just read what's in the script. Because the material is so sensitive and so controversial, they really would have to understand the characters to try to avoid whatever criticism that we're going to get. It would almost be impossible to really understand the characters without doing the research. It made sense for Cathy and I to do it. That's reason number one. Number two, we wanted the film to be written and directed by a man and a woman in order to have the male and female perspective of emotion throughout this. And I think those were two of the reasons. Lastly, [the] future of film for me is that I really enjoyed the writing aspect. I've co-written another project which I'm working on getting made now as a writer and producer. There's a small role in it that I'd love to play. The future, for me, is acting and writing — that's what I truly enjoy.
What do you want people to take away from your film?
I want people to take away the truth. These are the facts of what happened. I want them to understand how Roe came to be. We had one actor — I'm not going to mention his name — who was pro-choice and he converted during the movie. He became pro-life when he learned more about the life of a baby. The case gets thrown around all the time without a full understanding of how it came to be and what happened. I really want people to understand, whether they're pro-choice or pro-life, that when a woman gets pregnant, there's a baby there. It's not a clump of cells or a gob of goo. There's a real living being that has a heartbeat in the first couple of weeks that you can hear. People should understand that so they don't take abortion so lightly. Our culture has come so far that a lot of people utilize it as birth control. There are even actresses in Hollywood who wear it as a badge of honor. Whether you believe in abortion or not, I don't think anybody should think of it as a badge of honor or as birth control. It is the ending of the life of a human being, no matter at what stage. That's something that needs to be taken with extreme seriousness, thoughtfulness and concern. Americans are a very sensitive society and we need to be sensitive about all issues, especially the life of a human being. I really want people to stop and think before they make decisions, whether it's the decision to have sex without birth control or to understand the consequences. Knowledge is power, right? When we have the knowledge, we can make better, more informed decisions in our lives.