When journalist Gary Webb dug up the story that the CIA was involved in the crack trade in order to finance Central American contras, he did more than just shake up politics — he ruined his career. After running his story in The San Jose Mercury back in 1996, Webb pissed off some pretty scary dudes in Washington. Initially, his bravery and reporting was hailed for his revelation, but messing with those in power has a price: Webb was soon shunned, driven out of journalism, and died by his own hand in 2004.
Kill The Messenger, the film adaptation of Webb’s life, hits theaters this weekend, starring Jeremy Renner as Webb, and Gone Girl’s Rosemarie DeWitt as his conflicted wife, Susan. DeWitt broke out in TV’s Mad Men, followed by a run on The United States of Tara. The past few years have seen her emerging from bit parts and art house fair, and now totally breaking in to mainstream movies like last month’s Men, Women & Children, and next year’s Poltergeist remake. (Fortunately, that has recently completed shooting, but not without a dislocated shoulder, a baseball to the face, and a pneumonia plague all afflicting the poor actor.)
Did you follow Gary Webb’s work in San Jose Mercury News back in the nineties?
I didn’t know anything about the Gary Webb story. I knew about (Freeway) Ricky Ross, but once you start reading the script and you start connecting the dots you’re like “Wait, how do I not know this?” I remember reading about the Lewinsky and Clinton scandal and I was like “How did I not see something about a 400-page document that the CIA put out stating the Gary Webb story was true?” That’s a lot of what drew me to the movie.
Would you be able to forgive [his character] after his adulterous behavior?
The big takeaway is that you never know until you’re in something. It’s very easy to read the script and to judge. Kids, especially, change things. You realize you have a different set of priorities and you’re raising kids and hoping they turn out well and you feel like maybe they need their whole family. You realize it’s an individual decision and you realize life presents a lot of hard choices.
What does the film have to say about our news sources?
It definitely makes you wonder if you can trust the news. You wonder how many times reporters have come up to this precipice that Gary comes to in the movie and said, “I don’t know if you want to go in there. You have a career to think about, you have a family to think about, I don’t know if you want to take this one.” I wonder how many stories don’t get told—especially when big institutions are involved—and maybe people stay quiet to avoid becoming the focus of the story or having the media go after your personal life.
And what can you tell us about the Poltergeist remake?
With Sam Rockwell, there’s an anecdote every day. It was a little poltergeist-y, in fact! They talk about the curse. Sam got hit in the face with a baseball. I threw my shoulder out. I think we all almost came down with pneumonia. But if you really ask me how it was, it was such a blast! Kennedi Clements, who plays the young daughter, is genius. She’s seven years old. I think she’s the best actress in the movie, the one that says, ‘They’re here!’ The story of Poltergeist is a really good story. I feel like we all felt we were making a really great movie. The first one was so perfect that hopefully we do it justice. It’s not like a scene-by-scene remake, it’s a 2014 retelling of this child abduction story.
How’d you throw out your shoulder?
Carrying my littlest daughter and trying to dodge the corpses. I slipped in the mud and I didn’t want her to get hurt so I tried to protect her. A lot of weird, crazy moments, but we all made it out in tact.