Based on the autobiography of real-life undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, Fair Game tells the story of how her career was destroyed and marriage strained to the limits when her covert identity was exposed by a politically motivated press leak.
Naomi Watts stars a Valerie Plame, and Sean Penn portrays her husband Joe Wilson. Watts was born in England, but moved to Australia when she was 14. She made her U.S. debut in David Lynch’s controversial Mulholland Drive, going on to star in Eastern Promises, The international, The Ring, The Painted Veil and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in 21 Grams, which also starred Sean Penn.
Married to actor Leiv Schrieber, they have two children.
Can you talk about getting under the skin of someone who is alive, how much did you take advantage of speaking with her?
I think when you play someone who is a living person it definitely ups the ante and the pressure is tenfold. Everyone in America is familiar with this story.
I felt an extra amount of pressure that I wanted to tell it as truthfully as I could and the fact that Valerie was not only alive but very involved closely (with the production), she was acting as one of our CIA consultants, she was on the set frequently being our b.s. barometer, and saying this is how this scene would work, or you wouldn’t address someone like that. She was very hands on.
What did you want to know from her?
I decided to really focus on getting into her mindset. I wanted to know all about her personal life, how she juggled being a wife, a mother and a career woman operating in a man’s world. I wanted to know what it was like keeping secrets from pretty much everyone she knew. I hunkered down and really spent time researching things like her speech, her family and her charm.
What was your impression of her?
It’s not every day as an actor that you meet a person like this. She’s someone who’s truly impressive to meet, so I was nervous. It felt like a big undertaking and because of her injustice, because of that level of betrayal, it was deeply important for me to somehow serve her story in the best possible way. Our relationship was formed in a very quick and small amount of time.
Basically, I had a baby on December 13th, I read the script on December 28th and we were filming in February. So it was so little time and so many facts. Obviously we knew this story but it was told through the media in a fragmented way, and then (I had to) let go of the facts and concentrate on the character, really learning her story.
Who was this woman and how did she deal with this betrayal? How did her marriage, her family function, how did her lifestyle change? Who did she become? It would be so easy to assume that any of us would either avoid the fight altogether or come undone, and she did neither.
What was it like working with director Doug Liman on this film?
Doug has a passion that is blinding. I knew he had the courage to tell this story. The things that he did to tell this story were at times mad, like going to Iraq and doing all of the camera work himself. He would never accept no. This is a guy who’d rather be arrested than compromise his film.
Can you talk a little about Sean Penn playing Joe Wilson?
Sean actually went to Santa Fe and stayed with (Valerie and Joe) a couple of days. I couldn’t do that, I was nursing a child. That’s who he is. There’s nothing like acting in a scene with him. You feel like you are a Toyota that suddenly starts driving like a Porsche.
What is your hope for this movie?
I hope that Valerie and Joe’s story will move people. It’s a testament to them both that their marriage survived despite the level of scrutiny they were put under.