'Bombshell' Director Jay Roach On Striving For Authenticity And Whether He'll Ever Return To 'Austin Powers' [Interview]

Traversing slapstick comedy, political satire, and political docudrama sharpshooting seamlessly, director Jay Roach's unorthodox  career trajectory serves as a testament to both his artistic range and tireless work ethic. Not associated with the end product of Zoo Radio, Roach considers Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery to be his first project at the helm. A cultural sensation, it launched one of the highest grossing comedy trilogies ever made. In fact, Austin Powers in Goldmember remains the fourth highest grossing spy film in cinema history behind Mission: Impossible II, The Borne Ultimatum, and Skyfall.The James Bond spoofs paved the way for Roach to align his directorial chops with subject matter that was closer to his heart. Recount, Game Change, and Trumbo allowed him to explore relevant current and historical political affairs, while The Campaign in 2012 bridged his background in comedy with his newfound aptitude for political perspicacity.Dissecting the Roger Ailes scandal of 2016, Roach's latest film, Bombshell, is an amalgamation of his most recent body of work. With help from Oscar-winning screenwriter Charles Randolph (The Big Short) and three impressive performances by Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, and Margot Robbie, Roach infuses a tragicomic, meta perspective into the narrative, crafting a biting critique about gender and power structure in the workplace and beyond.On the cusp of Bombshell's December 20 wide release, I sat down with Roach to discuss his career, the importance of authenticity in a story such as this, breaking the fourth wall, the progress of the #MeToo movement, the prospect of another Austin Powers film, and more.When you began making films, did you ever anticipate you'd dip your feet in so many genres? Not many filmmakers have the capacity to switch hats as often as you do in that regard.

When I started making comedies, that was a kind of accident. I was writing in sci-fi. I was writing family dramas. I was doing adaptations. And my real launch into comedy was through Austin Powers. Mike Myers and I used to talk about World War II history and became friends on very esoteric discussions. Then he let me read the script, I gave him notes, and then he offered me the job of directing it. And it was just so much fun. I got to meet so many incredible collaborators and work with so many people like that that I just kept doing it. It was unbelievably compelling. It was actually a very good career to have at that time – to be making comedies.

But when I got to do Recount in 2008, it was like coming back to what I was more interested in from a philosophical place; how we get along. How we don't get along. How we organize ourselves. What government tries to do. And these films have become a chance to go back to school because I had so much to learn about them, but also to therapeutically explore the issues, and ask the questions, and have really good discussions about it. This is one of the things I enjoy about what's going on right now is there's a story even beyond the story you get to tell; if you're telling a story that people want to talk about after you tell the story, that's a good sign.The woman of Bombshell paved the way for victims of abuse to come forward in their industry and beyond. How important was it for you to remain as fact-based as possible when telling their stories?It's really important to try to get it right. To try to be as authentic as you can possibly be. You can never really be accurate, as people like to come at you with, because you're taking a year-long story and squeezing it down to two hours. You have actors on sets, so you're always in the middle of interpreting something. But you have a tremendous obligation to try to get it right and be as authentic as you can because you're saying to the audience, "Hey. This is based on a true story." The way I come at this is to do deep-dive research on every possible available source, but also talk to people who were there. Ask them to tell the stories and just listen, and it's astonishing how much better the story gets and how much closer [it gets] to the truth of what really happened.Charles Randolph provides an excellent script, often breaking the fourth wall, similarly to what he did with The Big Short. Whereas that film breaks the fourth wall to build a charismatic, expositional connection with the audience, Bombshell uses that tool to establish a moral integrity with the audience. What were your initial conversations with Charles about regarding these scenes?We talked a lot about the tone, and how breaking the fourth wall affects tone, and how it has a fundamental impact on how the audience experiences the whole film. But there's so much emotion in this story. There used to be a little more of it in the script. Once we saw the performances of all of these incredible actors, it felt like much more of the story was coming through their incredible performances. It's incredible the bravery to take on a guy as powerful as Roger Ailes and the Murdochs. The predicament started to take hold more than the need to educate or preach some message. And so the story in itself was really compelling, and we trusted a little more that the themes and the morality of it or just trying to be part of the conversation would come out through performance and dramatization like a little more conventional drama.Speaking of dramatization, I found your use of the Fox logo juxtaposed with the innerworkings of the newsroom fascinating. It made the audience feel as though we weren't supposed to witness Kayla's (Robbie) breakdown in that scene.How did the Fox logo affect you in that regard?It felt almost like an ironic, propagandistic tool, particularly because she's talking about how her family lives and breathes Fox News during that scene.

That was always in the script. That idea that she's somehow upset Bill O'Reilly, who's her new boss, and that she might lose her job over it. And revealing to Kate McKinnon in a somewhat comic way that Fox is her life and it's her family's life – it reminded both Charles and me because I grew up in a pretty conservative family, and my family watches a lot of Fox News. So in a way, it's saying, "Listen. This is a story that's set in a place, especially for the more liberal viewers, that you might not feel like you're going to connect to." But what becomes universal about it is what these women are facing and how they're coping with it. And the Fox bug is almost representative of Roger Ailes' culty requirement that you honor the flag. In this case, the Fox logo. And she's very susceptible to that and very much a willing member of the cult.

But she also just wants to get a job and to be good, and she doesn't know that the system of loyalty that the logo represents, for her, is going to become much more than just loyalty to the ideas that Fox puts forward. It's going to be loyal to the man; that's the point of it is that he controlled these women as much as he could, but he didn't always succeed. And in this case, they end up bringing him down. But what he tried to get them to do is to conform in look, in message, and in some cases, favors to him. And she doesn't know anything about that. She just wants to wave the flag of Fox.And so you're right. It becomes a loaded symbol of something. And I don't think that applies to all viewers of Fox or all people who even worked at Fox. For Roger, it was a pledge of allegiance to Fox, and then that got perverted into being a pledge of allegiance by showing me sexual favors. Pure power is some about sex, but really is much more about power and the allegiance as indicated by the Fox bug. I've never seen it like that, so that's an interesting point.Speaking of Kate McKinnon, you've consistently used comedic actors and comedians for films that explore serious subject matter. As somebody with a background in comedy, do you find you're able to more readily leverage their comedic chops for dramatic effect, and vice versa?Yeah. There's always a danger when you're telling cautionary tales about something with such a strong moral component to it that you can become righteous, and precious, and self-serious. I don't think most of us communicate that way. Even if we are passionate about something, we usually find some dark humor in it. Some awareness of the absurdity, even the lunacy of what the situation you're trying to tell a story about is. And Fox had some very interesting complexities that the women we talked to joked about even though they were also talking about this serious sexual predation. They had a coping strategy that involved sometimes describing the place as this crazy place, and they were aware of the ironies [that] this is a news organization, and yet we're being told to wear shorter skirts. They would get at that insanity using humor and irony.

I always would prefer to cast somebody who also gets that, so that when there are moments that get at the absurdity thing, the actor gets the dark comedy of it. And this is [Kate Mckinnon]'s mastery of storytelling through satire and through dark comedy, so we've wanted her from the very beginning. We just couldn't tell if we could schedule around her Saturday Night Live thing. Turns out, Margot Robbie is also very funny, and we wanted the audience to fall in love with her so that when she's abused later, you would care so much more. And it was through their relationship, Kate and Margot, that all those early scenes describing what it means to work at Fox, Kate's teaching Margot how to survive the storytelling requirements of a Fox story, that you would somehow get this is serious, but also screwed up in a dark, weird, occasionally even darkly comic way. It's mixing the horrors and tragedy of it with something that seems more authentically ironic.

Humor is a great coping mechanism for many people experiencing suffering. It definitely came off as authentic.

When you go from those very light-touch, darkly satirical moments with Kate and Margot all the way to after Margot's been harassed by John Lithgow's character, Roger Ailes, and she has to explain the idea of being ashamed of what happened, even though she's the victim, to Kate, that is so devastating. You've experienced them as having that ironic awareness earlier, but now, it's all just horror. If you take the audience on a journey like that, it's more effective than starting with the get-go, "Hey. This is going to be serious. Pay attention."

Colleen Atwood, a four-time Oscar winner does an impeccable job at the costume design.

From all the Tim Burton stuff. Oh my god. She's great.

Gretchen (Kidman) has a wardrobe unique to her own. However, Kayla and Megyn (Theron) dress somewhat similarly, yet Kayla's wardrobe is decidedly darker-hued. What did you want to convey with the three leads' distinct choice of outfits?There were talks about what each woman represented, and there are three levels of power in the story. Megyn's got power and it's only growing. She's a superstar at the network. Gretchen has had power, but Roger's started to demean and diminish her because she's resisted his sexual advances. And then Margot's got no power. So she's not a superstar, but she admires Megyn so much, and she's stuck working for Gretchen. But she tries to be Megyn, and so her wardrobe is very often trying to model herself after this new rock star, Megyn. There's an interesting tension whenever Kayla's with Gretchen. You feel like she's just stepping through Gretchen to get to Megyn. And that's what makes it so devastating when Megyn finds out she's being harassed. They have that scene where Margot finds out she could've told her and warned her about it. So in a way, it's a loss of innocence at that moment. My hero didn't help me.And Megyn does step up eventually. You're absolutely right that she wasn't trying to emulate Gretchen's bright Fox colors. A lot of women on Fox wear those bright pastel colors. Megyn was a little more fashion-aware and more sophisticated in a certain way, and Margot's character wants to be that. Margot's character is so interesting because she's not the naive, fresh-off-the-boat hick from Florida. She's actually pretty sophisticated, but that's what makes it even more tragic that she thinks she sees it all coming, but she doesn't see Roger coming. She's so confident, and then Roger tries to humiliate her and crush her soul.Bombshell's subject matter is obviously incredibly topical. The fact that Fox paid Ailes and O'Reilly more than they did the victims that came forward is an example of how far we have to go, in some regards. And certain men involved in the #MeToo movement that this scandal prefaced are already making comebacks. How have you contextualized the progress since this important movement began?One of the context things that's really important to remember is this was a year before the Harvey Weinstein news broke that these women dared to step out and speak up and take this risk. And they paid a horrible price. Gretchen never worked in television broadcasting again. Rudi Bakhtiar, the woman who's thoughts you hear at the beginning, was a rising star. The future Christiane Amanpour, they thought. She never worked in broadcasting again. She didn't even report it herself. Her agent mentioned to somebody this guy hits on her in the middle of her contract. Fired. And so they suffered a horrible price, and they were given settlements, but you could argue not nearly enough for the end of their careers over this stuff. And it also was so tragic that the women were actually encouraged to attack each other and not talk to each other. So at the end of the film, there is a victory. These women took down one of the most powerful men in media ever. And with no real chance of success going in. So the underdog story part of it is really compelling. But we are very careful not to say "mission accomplished."

We show that there is a somewhat triumphant takedown, but there's also a clear instance in this story that at the end that the women didn't really bond very much over this in that particular organization, maybe because they didn't have the #MeToo thing yet to use as their commonality. There's so much more to talk about. Even just in the simple thing of men should give more accusers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe we can be a little less complicit by just trying to ignore like Rob Delaney's character does and stay out of it. It's pervasive to this day. We were just watching the Uber numbers. Oh my god. Women should be safe at work, on rides, and when they go work in a fast-food industry. When they work at a hotel. It seems like such an obvious thing, and it's something we should all have in common, but it becomes politicized. It becomes controversial. Some people don't want to think of themselves as feminists, but this is a fundamental thing we can pretty much all agree on. Women should be safe.

I think the world may just be ready for another Austin Powers movie. Have you put much into a sequel of late?Not more than I have for the past 17 years since the last one [laughter] because we've always hoped we would land on something that would earn a sequel. Mike's thought about it, and it's so much more up to him than it is up to me.What do you have in the pipeline that has you excited?We're working on a story about Kent State to maybe do as a limited series. It's a really powerful story. And even some other comedies too. We could all use a little comic relief right now.