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‘Bombshell’ director Jay Roach watches Fox News — but not as a fan

“Bombshell” director Jay Roach.
“I don’t know why I chose to do so many films about people on the right,” says “Bombshell” director Jay Roach. “I come from a conservative family, people who watch Fox News and are fans.”
(Philip Cheung/For The Times)

Jay Roach, director of hit comedies (the “Austin Powers” films, “Meet the Parents”) and Emmy-winning political docudramas (“Recount” and “Game Change”), likes to spend months pondering the positives and negatives of a project. But when Charlize Theron sent him Charles Randolph’s script to “Bombshell,” he surprised himself.

“I said yes after about 5 seconds,” says Roach. “It was a very good decision. But impulsive.”

It’s not hard to see what Roach found appealing: The film, which focuses on Megyn Kelly (Charlize Theron), Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and the fall of Fox News CEO Roger Ailes (John Lithgow), takes on sexual harassment, workplace misogyny and the takedown of a media kingpin who felt the rules didn’t apply to him.

Recently, Roach could be found at Le Pain Quotidien in Brentwood, talking about the complexities of Roger Ailes and why he likes making newsy movies. “I’m perpetually anxious about what’s going on right now,” he says. “[My next film] would be about the whistleblower or [former ambassador to Ukraine] Marie Yovanovitch, if I could figure out how to do it. I think it’s my coping mechanism.”

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Megyn Kelly, Rudy Giuliani, legal pundit Jeanine Pirro. When it comes to casting, what’s more important? The resemblance to a real-life figure? Or an actor establishing the right vibe?

It always seems like it’s about the look. And the look is what gets talked about the most. But I think it is primarily about performance. It’s about a person’s ability to sort of just jump into someone else’s skin, letting a character take over. That sort of high-wire act that the actors are on. I call it “reverse body snatching.” And to be able to do that in an entertaining, compelling, suspenseful way? That’s just great acting.

John Lithgow wants to entertain, especially when the topic is relevant, as with playing Fox News chief Roger Ailes amid #MeToo accusations in ‘Bombshell.’

Talk about prosthetics. How much is too much?

It’s time-consuming to have prosthetic makeup put on every day. But Charlize said, “Because I really want to work on the accent, I want to look in the mirror and hear that accent coming out of a face that’s not mine.” Then it was, like, “Bingo.” We found this incredible makeup guy — Kazu Hiro. He went through a process of trying different levels of match. That’s an interesting question: How much match is too much? Sometimes you can go into a match-y zone. Then it’s just uncanny and weird.

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Despite its grim subject matter, “Bombshell” has laughs. Do they act as a stress reliever?

We knew that this is a super-serious subject. There was tremendous pressure not to get it wrong tonally. But there was also pressure to not be artificially serious. Artificial is if no one is joking. People joke through dark things.

Enter “SNL’s” Kate McKinnon.

I’ve never worked with Kate before, but I had an instinct she’d be amazing in this part. What I didn’t know was that Margot Robbie [who plays an amalgamation of several of Ailes’ real accusers] would be a good improviser. It was like they were playing tennis at the highest level. Kate would often drive the topic. But Margot was right there with her.

Talk about your attraction to characters with right-wing politics.

I don’t know why I chose to do so many films about people on the right. But I come from a conservative family, people who watch Fox News and are fans. I had family members say, “Now you don’t go messing with our Sarah,” when I started [“Game Change” about the 2008 presidential election campaign of John McCain]. I watch Fox News all the time. I don’t agree with 90% of it, but I watch it because I honestly want to understand what the world looks like from that point of view and, personally, so I can argue with my dad.

Did that offer a portal into the mind of Roger Ailes?

I understood that sense that America is a fragile, precious thing that’s always under attack from outside influences. My dad worked for Sandia Laboratories, which is affiliated with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos where they build bombs. He had top secret clearance. He was always worried in a bigger sense, a sort of patriotic paranoia. But he also had personal paranoia, about us being spied on. He’d constantly remind me, “You know, the Russians never invented anything in the nuclear weapons category. They only know what they know by stealing from us.”

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What stood out to you about how Ailes operated when alone with women?

There’s the creepy, seemingly minor detail that Roger always as a rule would ask women to stand up and give him a twirl. Women would warn each other. “Beware of the spin.” Next thing the woman would know, she’s over a line. Then he’d set the hook. He’d say, “Now we have a dark secret together. I won’t tell, if you won’t tell.” Then it just gets worse from there.

Has “Bombshell” gotten any interesting reactions from men who’ve seen it?

One of the things I was struck by is how many men have come up to us and said, “When I read about it, I thought, ‘What’s the big deal? So he said obnoxious, offensive things to her, made her stand up and show her legs. So what?” And then they see the scene [when Ailes harasses a young new Fox employee], and then it’s, like, “Oh, my God. I had no idea.”


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