WASHINGTON — Tony Gilroy, the screenwriter of the new political thriller “Beirut,” says that he originally completed the script in the early 1990s, thinking that production company Interscope would give it a green light.
Instead, “it just disappears and goes in a bin,” Gilroy tells Variety‘s “PopPolitics” on SiriusXM, before the company, searching for material that it already owned, finally revived it two decades later with Brad Anderson directing.
Jon Hamm plays Mason Skiles, a diplomat in 1972 Beirut, then a thriving, cosmopolitan center of the Middle East, whose life is upended when a group of terrorists kills his wife. Ten years later, having switched careers, he reluctantly returns to the city, torn apart by civil war. The CIA convinces him to help negotiate the release of one their agents, one of his former colleagues, who the Reagan administration fears will give up intelligence secrets.
Gilroy thinks that the politics were a bit too controversial at the time he wrote it.
“The PLO is corrupt. The Reagan White House is a hornet’s nest of bad ideas. And Israel doesn’t come across well at all. Israel is incredibly and aggressively waiting at the border waiting to invade, looking for an excuse,” Gilroy says. “Pick your poison. The unblinking candor with which the movie objectively observes those three factions made it untenable at the time.”
Gilroy wrote the ice skating movie “The Cutting Edge,” which was released in 1992, and it was during that time that one of that film’s producers, who had once worked for the CIA, got him interested in doing a movie about a negotiator. Gilroy said that he was especially interested in Thomas Friedman’s book, “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” and in particular was intrigued by the setting of much of the story in the winter of 1982, an especially explosive time in Lebanon.
“I am telling the film through the perspective of someone who loved the place very deeply,” Gilroy says of Hamm’s character. “Understood it. Planned on spending his life there, and has seen that paradise lost.”
“The loss of it, and the loss of what it was, is just staggering, because it was the most cosmopolitan, people came from all over the Middle East to be there. It was glamorous. It was chic. It was full of intrigue, and in the mid ’70s as the civil war broke out, it just descended into such a mess,” he says.
Gilroy said that he has never been to Beirut. It was too dangerous to go there at the time he wrote the script, and now the city’s revitalization has made many parts of it unrecognizeable. “You could never shoot the movie there,” he said. Instead, it was shot in Morocco.
“PopPolitics,” hosted by Variety’s Ted Johnson, airs from 2-3 p.m. ET/11 a.m.-noon PT on SiriusXM’s political channel POTUS. It also is available on demand.