You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Stephen Frears on Lance Armstrong, Doping and Why Theaters Trump Phones

Stephen Frears is a directing chameleon.

In a career that’s spanned more than three decades, the English filmmaker has moved effortlessly from drawing room intrigue in “Dangerous Liaisons” to working class gay romance in”My Beautiful Laundrette” to noirish double crosses in “The Grifters.” In “The Program,” a look at disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, he tackles the world of competitive sports, exposing a competitive mentality that warps moral compasses and encourages people to do anything to get an edge.

Frears spoke with Variety about Armstrong’s use of performance enhancing drugs, what excites him as a filmmaker, and why he has yet to join the streaming generation.

Were you a fan of cycling? Did you watch Armstrong win all those tournaments?

I knew absolutely nothing about cycling or about Lance Armstrong or about drugs and doping.

What did you learn about the sport?

They’re crazy people. Cyclists are insane. You’re going through the Alps, climbing up mountains. There’s this circus around them. They’re so tough. When they have a day off they go out and cycle 100 miles.

What was your lasting impression of Armstrong? Did you try to meet him before you filmed?

It was all about his ambition and his desire to win. His character was the problem. That was worse than the doping, his treatment of other people and the way he used them and didn’t care.

I didn’t see the need to have any contact with him. Everything about him is on the record. The facts are all there.

Do you understand the desire to dope? If you could take a drug that would make you better at filmmaking, wouldn’t you be tempted?

Luckily that doesn’t work in my profession. There aren’t drugs that will win me the Oscar.

In sports, the temptations must be enormous, because the rewards are so high. It must be irresistible. You have to win and they’re told this is how you win. When they stripped [Armstrong] of his titles, they couldn’t give them to anyone else because doping was so widespread. It was so bad that basically anybody who turned up at a race was doping.

Have they cleaned up cycling?

I imagine it has. I hope it has. The doping has shifted to tennis.

Have you heard from cyclists who have seen the film?

They’re extremely complimentary. They say we got it right, that’s what happened. That’s what’s important. They think we got it right.

From “The Grifters” to “The Queen” to “The Program,” you seem to love to mix it up in terms of genres. Is that part of a plan and does it make it difficult to get your films made?

Oh yes, it is. It’s Marvel movies that get the big audiences. That’s what you people want and that’s what the studios want.

But the idea of repeating myself is so depressing. I don’t have the patience to make the same film all the time.

Do you watch films on a phone or an iPad?

I only watch films in the cinema. I’m old fashioned. I’m a lost cause.

More Film

  • 'Shazam!' Review: Zachary Levi is Pure

    Film Review: 'Shazam!'

    In “Shazam!,” Zachary Levi brings off something so winning it’s irresistible. He plays a square-jawed, rippling-muscled man of might, with a cheesy Day-Glo lighting bolt affixed to his chest, who projects an insanely wholesome and old-fashioned idea of what a superhero can be. But he’s also playing a breathless teenage kid on the inside, and [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Showrunners, Screenwriters Back WGA in Agency Battle, Sides to Meet Again Tuesday

    More than 750 showrunners and screenwriters have backed the WGA’s battle against talent agencies taking packaging fees and other changes to the rules governing the business relationship between agents and writers. The letter of support issued Saturday is significant because of the immense clout showrunners and prominent screenwriters possess in Hollywood. Several showrunners had recently [...]

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • NF_D_JGN-D6-2160.cr2

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content