Director Peter Landesman on Bringing "Deep Throat" to the Screen

by Brent Simon September 14, 2017
Directro Pter Landesman at Toronto 2017

Director Peter Landesman at the Toronto premiere of Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

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Most films take at least a couple years to go from idea to the big screen, so trying to plot a release of something that aligns almost perfectly with current headlines of the moment is typically a fool’s game. But with the slow-drip revelations of high-level corruption, obstruction, lying and possibly other criminal behavior from another American presidential administration seemingly leasing a long-term parking spot in the news, writer-director Peter Landesman’s new film arrives at a particularly ripe moment, which no doubt accounts for the project’s full, pointed title.

Mark Felt takes its name from the career Federal Bureau of Investigation agent who would become the anonymous source for Washington Post reporters Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein (immortalized as “Deep Throat” in 1976’s All the Presidents Men), and thus play an integral role in unraveling the criminal deceit and cover-up of President Richard Nixon.

“I wrote this eight or 10 years ago for somebody else,” says Landesman in a recent conversation at the Toronto International Film Festival. “Jay Roach was going to do it, and Tom Hanks was going to play Felt. I was just a screenwriter, I wasn’t directing then. And then I had a kind of cataclysmic split in my life and went from being a writer to a director very quickly. But I wasn’t ready for this movie because I didn’t know how to really handle it yet, so I made my first two (films), Parkland and Concussion.”

A scene from "Mark Felt"

Liam Neeson in a scene from Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House

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Helping Landesman get a handle on the material was his leading man, Liam Neeson, who found his character a fascinating bundle of contradictions. “Felt was able to compartmentalize his life,” shares Neeson. “I must say that was one of the things that attracted me to (the role) as an actor. How do you find out about someone like that? It started with the hair, strangely enough. And then the fact that in interviews I saw, you just couldn’t read him. He wasn’t a blank, but you just couldn’t read him. You could see a friendly face, but it was only friendly up to a point. It was very, very interesting to try and read that, and his grandson told me the same — he said Felt was very capable of emotion but, there was also a professional veil that could come down (where) you just couldn’t read him. So as an actor that’s fascinating to try and play that.”

“The relevance to (American President Donald) Trump today is a complete coincidence,” continues Landesman. “It’s supernatural, but I can’t take credit for it. As we were cutting it we realized we were making a movie that had incredible parallels (to today). But human behavior hasn’t really changed, right? There’s always corruption at the top and there’s always someone of integrity who’s willing to try and change things for the better. So it’s not like we’re creating a new dynamic — the David versus Goliath story is an enduring mythology for a reason.”

It’s for that reason that Mark Felt has a universal resonance, even for international audiences perhaps unfamiliar with its historical underpinnings.