British director John Madden’s political thriller “Miss Sloane” went on release in U.S. cinemas in November 25 via EuropaCorp after world premiering at the AFI fest. Starring Jessica Chastain as a ruthless political lobbyist fighting to get a gun-control bill through Congress, the pic has just launched internationally as the Dubai Film Festival’s opener. In Dubai, Madden spoke to Variety about the challenges of releasing this tense Washington-set thriller for American audiences in the Trump era. Excerpts.
There’ve been big changes in Washington since you made this movie. How do you think they will affect its release?
Miss Sloane was finished only six to eight weeks ago, in mid-October. I wanted to get the film out this year because I didn’t want us to get out-of-synch with the politics on the gun issue, which is part of what the film is. I thought that that [gun control] might become a very topical thing. It was certainly scheduled to, and then of course the whole political debate became something entirely different. No policy issues were really part of the discussion. But what was [part of it], was the political process itself. There is another perspective that we aren’t aware of which is that there are a lot of movies this year with women at their center. That’s a good development. One of the really good things about the script was that it has a woman at its centre who is not immediately sympathetic, not ingratiating. Not defined by anything a woman would normally be defined by in a movie.
Do you think it may already be out of date due to the reality of Donald Trump’s America?
My belief is that there is a very renewed and intense interest in all things political right now, because America just experienced a kind of earthquake, to use a term in the film, that was riveting and horrifying and extraordinary in every possible way. I think everybody is aware that we are at a very significant point globally. The film sort of collided with that circumstance. I put my foot on the accelerator because I thought the movie would benefit from being within that conversation, though I did not know what the result was going to be. At the time we thought we were going to have a woman president, which would have had a totally different relationship with the film. Now people may just be fed up with politics. We’ll see.
Is there any significance in the fact that it was selected to open the Dubai Film Festival?
I’m obviously very preoccupied with the fact that the film is coming out in a political environment that it reflects to some degree —not that it’s intended as a polemic on an issue. Increasingly, this is a sort of global environment. We are suddenly aware of so many things that seem to relate to one another. Recently Italy; the political cataclysm in my own country [Britain] six months ago, and the current situation in America. So coming here [in Dubai] you start to think: how does this relate to the rest of the world in general?
“Miss Sloane” is a largely European movie — producers, director, screenwriter — about quintessentially American topics that have not really been depicted in American cinema that much. How did “Miss Sloane” originate?
When I embarked on it, someone said to me: ‘an American director couldn’t direct this movie because they would immediately become a target.’ Gun control is such an incredibly contentious, divisive issue. My views come as no surprise; but it’s not my country. And it’s not my issue, though from a humanist standpoint I’m entitled to my view on it. Sometimes an outsider’s view can be valid.
Yes, but how did the movie originate?
I have to credit [first-time British screenwriter] Jonathan Perrera with this. He was living in South Korea where he’d gone to buy time for himself to learn how to become a screenwriter. He’d worked in a law firm. Jonathan saw a TV program about [convicted lobbyist] Jack Abramoff and thought: ‘I haven’t seen a movie about that world.’ Then he pondered various topics, and gun control was the one that jumped to the front of the cue. It came to me because FilmNation end up optioning it. I read it as a logline and jumped at it immediately, and then sent it to Jessica.
You worked with Jessica Chastain on ‘The Debt’, but this is different. It’s a tour-de-force performance with plenty of rapid-fire dialogue. How did you work with her for this complex role?
Jessica is one of a handful of actors who has the range of skills, the kind of contradictory qualities you need for a role like this. There is a whole counter-narrative in the film about what’s going on with that person and how does a human being get to be like that? I went for her and actually developed the whole script in that direction. Jessica has the smarts to be able to understand a role like this. She has the acting smarts to know the challenges it represents in terms of verbal dexterity, coloration, rhythm, all of the things that this movie needs.