NOTE | This interview was conducted four weeks after Islamic State beheaded US journalist James Foley in Syria and posted the video of the killing online.
USUALLY a war film is whizzing with bullets and lots of action, helicopters, bombs, but you've given us an alternative war story, with everything pared back, the action stripped out, leaving us with the bare bones of the emotional difficulty of trying to do a bloody hard job in a war zone.
Right. Yeah, that was the intention from the beginning by the director, Mark Jackson [also co-writer]. I don’t know if it grabbed me right away because I couldn’t really see it until we were shooting it, once we became more involved and I was lucky enough to hang out with a guy who had experience of this who was incredibly helpful.
What happens to the journalist who's the intermediary between the oppressed and us? Emotionally, where does that stuff go?
I got more and more swallowed up by it. It was a pretty heavy experience — and I was just making the movie [laughs]. I just can’t imagine it, I couldn’t begin to imagine what it’s like for real. Especially in the current situation right now. It's too much, much too much.
The writer and director are very spare with their facts. They don't give away much, never really giving us the full picture, just enough so we can travel with your character but not enough for us to understand what’s going on until perhaps three-quarters through. Then the full impact begins to hit, though for your character it hit well before the start.
When did the full impact start to hit for you? If you don’t mind me asking.
It's hard to pinpoint a particular moment but I think when you begin to relate to the young woman [Hafsia Herzi] who reminds your character of someone you'd helped previously in a warzone. Up to then you'd been very isolated.
Right. Yeah. No, that’s true and also I think when she's convinced she knew Hafsia’s brother and that she’d shot him and, oh, those images. Honestly, I’m so convinced it was the brother and she wasn't telling the truth about Libya. I really did feel that way. I don’t know if I chose to think that way but I was absolutely convinced that was the story [laughs].
Watch the trailer . . .
One of the great things about the film is that it shows the impact of the job on a journalist; someone who has to work hard in a difficult environment. Having seen the film you’re inclined to ask why would anyone put themselves through that?
Yeah, I don’t know the answer to that. You'd have a better idea because you’re a journalist. I can just suppose because it’s vital for these people to have a voice, and journalists are the only people who'll do it. And it’s a strange profession because it’s so noble, but people in this profession are basically just showing what’s happening to the oppressed.
I realise people in power are closed-mouthed about things and the oppressed are the ones who are begging for the truth to be told. But what happens to the person who's the intermediary, the conduit between the oppressed and us? Emotionally, where does that stuff go, you know?
Journalism is such a dangerous job. It’s so disgusting to me what’s happening in some places.
It has to go somewhere and a lot of journalists have problems dealing with it. We're renowned alcoholics.
Yeah, well, who isn’t! [laughs] But I know what you mean. It’s clear what’s happening, it’s such a dangerous f - - - ing job. People are just there, basically just transmitting information, supposedly in an objective way, you know. It’s so low, I feel, to just throw them into the arena, you know, to the lions. You know what I mean?
It’s so disgusting to me what’s happening in some places. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s like killing the — I don’t mean the innocent, not the weak, but like the opposite; the people who are just trying to provide a service to people. The cruelty is beyond comprehension, you know. And it’s a vital service. To answer your question, I think people do it because they have to.
Fact is if we don’t have a free press, we don’t have democracy.
No, no. That's right. There’s no chance of it. Which is exactly why journalists are being slaughtered because there are people who don’t want information to get out. But we have to. The thing is we’ll always fight. Well, journalists will never f - - - ing shut up, they'll always fight for freedom and they'll never shut it down. That’s want makes us safe. It’s like they’re f - - - ing with the wrong people! For exactly that reason, you know?
Yet here in the west people have a very low opinion of journalists.
It’s true. It’s absolutely true. I wonder why that is? It’s just shocking to me. Because I can’t think of another profession like it. I mean, especially war journalism; people willingly going in to serve and without any weapons! And being deployed like a soldier! Except you’re not fighting, you’re documenting. It’s so strange to me why that would be perceived as of little value.
Philip Seymour Hoffman and James Gandolfini were giants. And it was my privilege to work with them. Just giants.
You worked with Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Quartet (2012) and The Sopranos' James Gandolfini in last year's Enough Said. What was it like to work with these two giants of the screen, whom we lost way too early? [Gandolfini at 51, Hoffman at 46].
You know, they were giants. And it was my privilege . . . you know . . . I can’t say much more than that, I’m sorry . . . That’s all, just giants.
By the way, you were credited as producer on War Story. To what degree were you active as a producer and why did you commit so fully to this?
Oh, that’s right. I forgot was a producer on that. That’s the level I was involved in! [laughs] Oh, it was just one of those things where it was such a low-budget movie we kind of all threw whatever we could at it. That was the level at which we were all involved. ❏
■ War Story on IMDb.
■ Read Ian's other interviews and reviews:
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