Filmmakers Alex Gibney, Matt Tolmach and Frank Marshall had completed their Lance Armstrong comeback flick when doping allegations began rolling in against the famed cyclist again, and he finally admitted to cheating. As the seven-time Tour de France champion’s life narrative changed dramatically, so did the documentary. “The Road Back” became “The Armstrong Lie.”
The trio discussed the weight of that lie during the film’s Los Angeles premiere on Oct. 25 at the Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study.
“When you discover that something is not what it was represented as, there’s a sense of betrayal,” producer Tolmach said. “As filmmakers though, to be honest with you, we saw it as a fascinating opportunity and another layer to the story that was unraveling literally before us.”
Although it was difficult for them to fully accept the grim reality, director Gibney said it was both their responsibility and privilege as filmmakers to depict the truth, especially when Armstrong agreed to finally talk openly about the issue. “Imagine if Geroge Bush had come to you and said, ‘Guess what? Here’s how I did the dimpled chad in 2000 and I’m going to tell you all about it,’” Gibney said.
However, producer Marshall said he had a harder time facing the facts. “I was the worst,” he said. “I was the last to cave. And it was devastating. It really was because he was a good friend and I knew the family. I’ve known him for over 10 years now.” Marshall said he doesn’t consider Armstrong a friend anymore, but a distant acquaintance, while Tolmach said he hasn’t talked to the cyclist in a long time.
After confessing to doping in a televised interview with Oprah Winfrey, Armstrong agreed to sit down for two final interviews with Gibney in early 2013, the latter of which informed the new version of the doc. Gibney was finally chatting with the real Lance Armstrong — no makeup, no talking points.
Tolmach and Marshall were initially in talks to produce a feature based on Armstrong’s 2000 autobiography “It’s Not About the Bike.” The idea of the narrative was dropped when the athlete called the producers with news about his comeback tour. They approached Gibney to direct the film because of his lack of attachment to the subject matter and character.
“Frank and I had known Lance for quite a while and Alex was a newcomer to the world of cycling, but also to this man. I think he was able to approach it much more objectively and analytically than we had,” Tolmach said. “We were a bit lost in the story. And he provided, as he does, clarity and truth about what was really going on.”
Despite his lack of knowledge about cycling, which he made known to Armstrong, Gibney said he was drawn to the project because of the athlete’s unique personality.
“What attracted me about him was will — both the admirable side of it, the sense of this guy who comes back from near death to win the hardest sporting event in the world seven times, and then sort of the darker side of that, which is the guy who’ll do anything to win.”
The film hits select theaters in L.A., New York City and Austin on Nov. 8. Armstrong has not seen the movie yet and as far as the producers know, he doesn’t plan to watch it.