In “The Contender,” Joan Allen’s character makes a heroic stand as a woman who in front of a national stage refuses to divulge past moments of her personal life. As much as she admires vice presidential nominee Laine Hanson, the actress admits she would have a difficult time withstanding the barrage that Gary Oldman’s conservative committee chairman unleashes.
“Though there a lot of political views that I share with Laine, I don’t think I could do what she does,” Allen once remarked. “I couldn’t handle that assault. That’s what makes acting so much fun. You couldn’t do that in real life.”
She compares working with “Contender” director Rod Lurie, a relative helming newcomer, to top-tier veterans Oliver Stone and Ang Lee.
Lurie, for his part, calls Allen “the actress who has given by far the best performances of the ’90s,” which might lead some to think of Meryl Streep. Not so, he says.
“I don’t compare her to another woman,” says the director, “I compare her to Gregory Peck. The point of comparison is the incontrovertible dignity she has. She also has Gregory Peck’s unshowy style.”
Lurie admits mentioning to Allen in passing Peck’s performance in “To Kill a Mockingbird” as something to think about for the role. He also gave her tapes of President Ford’s confirmation hearings and Congresswoman Blanche Lincoln as reference points. But the real focus for Lurie was setting Allen free to do her thing in a role he wrote specifically for the actress, nominated twice for supporting actress Oscars for “Nixon” (1995) and “The Crucible” (1996).
Says the director, “More than anything else, what you get with Joan is you give her a direction and leave her to find the mechanics.”