After winning widespread acclaim in ‘Breaking Bad’, Bryan Cranston is tackling one of Hollywood’s darkest eras, portraying radical screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a high profile victim of the blacklist era of the 1940s and 50s.
“Trumbo”, which had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, follows his journey from a life as one of the world’s best paid screenwriters to being decried as a traitor, jailed and forced to write classics like “Roman Holiday” in secret.
While the rabid fear that drove Hollywood studios to blacklist suspected communists may have passed, Cranston said Trumbo’s story still holds lessons in the debate about how to balance security with freedom. He said the issue of oversight of the U.S. National Security Agency is just one example.
“The message in “Trumbo” does have a tremendous relevance. It is a cautionary tale. At least that’s the way I saw it. It’s an attack on the first amendment,” he said in an interview.
The film started life in 2008 when “Trumbo” screenwriter John McNamara was looking for work at the end of a Hollywood writers’ strike. A friend spotted a biography of Trumbo on his bookshelf and suggested the story would make a great movie.
McNamara agreed, but argued no studio would want to make a period piece about a hero who was a communist. His friend helped convince him the story was simply too compelling, spurring him to spend years developing the project.
“It is the rarest of things, a true story with a happy ending,” said McNamara. “That was the reason I wanted to write the movie.”
After years of being forced to work under fake names, writing everything from low-budget horror movies to the Academy Award-winning script for “The Brave One”, Trumbo helped to break the blacklist.
The practice was widely seen to have ended in 1960, when director Otto Preminger revealed Trumbo wrote the screenplay “Exodus” and Kirk Douglas made public Trumbo’s work on “Spartacus”.
“Trumbo” director Jay Roach, who has made comedies like “Meet the Parents” as well as political stories like HBO’s “Game Change”, said the combination of Trumbo’s skill, character and unique experience drew him to the project.
“I just thought ‘I can’t believe this story hasn’t been told already.’ It’s such a powerful story,” Roach said.