×

Stephen Frears’ ‘Program’ Unveils Lance Armstrong as Complex Character

Director Stephen Frears sees his Lance Armstrong movie “The Program,” which world premieres on Sunday at the Toronto Film Festival, as a “crime story,” while Tim Bevan, one of the film’s producers, describes it as a kind of “gangster movie.”

In such a scenario, with Armstrong cast as the villain, there needs to be a hero, “someone to root for,” as Bevan puts it, and sports journalist David Walsh takes that role.

The movie, which uses Walsh’s book “Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong” as its source, follows Walsh’s pursuit of Armstrong (played by Ben Foster). Walsh (played by Chris O’Dowd) was for many years a lone voice in suggesting Armstrong was doping, and it became a battle of wills between the two. “It did become quite personal because we went back so far,” Walsh told Variety. “I’d interviewed him when he was a kid and I liked him.”

He said it was the self-deception of the public, the media, the sponsors and the sports authorities that was at fault. “You didn’t need to be a super-sleuth to realize this guy was doping,” he said. “It’s just that people didn’t want to see it.” No one wanted to ruin the fairy-tale about the guy who conquered cancer. “This was such a life-affirming story,” Walsh said.

For a while it was Walsh who was cast as the villain. “I was the guy on the outside, saying I don’t believe this. I was the pariah,” he said.

One concern for Bevan was that for Americans, Armstrong had been a hero, and a movie with an American villain as the central character may not be popular with U.S. audiences.

“I think we underestimated how slighted and let down Americans felt by Lance Armstrong, that he had been a real American icon and hero,” Bevan said.
Frears believes that the view of the U.S. public has changed and they’re now willing to accept the revised view of Armstrong as a flawed hero.

He said it’s too simplistic to see Armstrong as “bad.” “I probably, instinctively, find people quite ambiguous,” Frears said. “What’s interesting about Lance is how complex he is. Everybody would say he was very good company. They’d speak about the good side of him. So you immediately had a very complicated man.”

Bevan said that one of the things that drew him to the project was Armstrong, this “deeply flawed, interesting character.” “The portrait of Armstrong is multidimensional,” Walsh added.

Popular on Variety

More Film

  • Pawel Pawlikowski, during the ceremony award

    Pawel Pawlikowski on the Power of Making Movies With ‘Barbarians at the Gate’

    Academy Award winner Pawel Pawlikowski says he’s watching “with horror” as political developments increasingly divide countries across the globe, and admits that he’s reluctant to take a stab at documenting modern life after the success of his two critically acclaimed period dramas, foreign-language Oscar winner “Ida” and thrice-nominated “Cold War.” “I don’t have a hook [...]

  • Jessica Chastain Lupita Nyongo

    Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong'o Spy Thriller '355' Gets 2021 Release Date

    Universal Pictures has dated its spy thriller “355,” starring Jessica Chastain, Lupita Nyong’o, Diane Kruger and Fan Bingbing, for a Jan. 15, 2021, release. Simon Kinberg is set to direct from a script he co-wrote with Theresa Rebeck. The movie follows a group of spies from international agencies around the world. These women must bond [...]

  • Florenc Papas on Road Movies, Ancient

    ‘Open Door’ Helmer on Road Movies, Ancient Traditions, Social Pretensions

    Albanian director Florenc Papas, an alumnus of the Sarajevo Talents program, is in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival with his feature film debut, “Open Door.” The road movie follows two sisters, Rudina and the pregnant and unmarried Elma, who embarks on a journey to visit their strict and traditional father in the remote mountain [...]

  • Dronningen/Queen of HeartsDirected by MAY EL-TOUKHYNordisk

    'Queen of Hearts,' 'White, White Day' Among Nordic Council Film Prize Contenders

    HAUGESUND, Norway  —  Iceland’s “A White, White Day,” Denmark’s “Queen of Hearts” and Norway’s “Blind Spot” are among the five films that will compete for this year’s Nordic Council Film Prize, a prestigious film award aimed at promoting Nordic co-operation and environmental initiatives. Sweden’s “Reconstructing Utøya” and Finland’s “Aurora” help round out the list, which [...]

  • Actor Javier Bardem looking at chinstrap

    Javier Bardem on Toronto-Bound ‘Sanctuary,’ See Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    MADRID  — Just selected as a Special Event at September’s Toronto Film Festival, Alvaro Longoria’s “Sanctuary.” starring and produced by Javier Bardem, may need a new ending. On Aug. 19, Bardem, along with Greenpeace, addressed delegates at the United Nations in New York to urge governments to agree to a strong Global Ocean Treaty. Creating [...]

  • Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film

    Bosnia's Canton Sarajevo to Launch Film and TV Rebate Incentive

    Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Canton of Sarajevo is introducing a new €1 million ($1.1 million) film funding initiative next year aimed at promoting domestic and international film and television production in the region. The incentive is the first of its kind in the country. Government representatives of Sarajevo Canton, including Prime Minister Edin Forto and culture [...]

  • Antlers Trailer

    Guillermo Del Toro's 'Antlers' Starring Keri Russell Drops Chilling First Trailer

    Events take a dark turn for a small town school teacher, played by “The Americans'” Keri Russell, in the first teaser trailer for horror movie “Antlers,” produced by Guillermo del Toro. The footage, unveiled Tuesday, centers on a young boy (Jeremy T. Thomas) reading from a frightening short story he’s written as Russell listens. The [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content