Spielberg, Streep and Hanks discuss the timely drama ahead of its world premiere.
Once in a while, a Hollywood film has such close ties to the nation’s capital that the world premiere takes place here. “The Post” is one of them. The Steven Spielberg-directed, Academy Award-nominated historical thriller starring Meryl Streep as Katharine Graham and Tom Hanks as Ben Bradlee premiered at the Newseum in December. Prior to the star-studded, red carpet affair, Spielberg and cast members Streep, Hanks, Bradley Whitford and Bob Odenkirk joined a Washington Post Live gathering to speak about the film, which centers on the Post’s bold decision to release “The Pentagon Papers” in 1971. Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday led a discussion that touched on journalistic integrity, historical accuracy and the #MeToo movement.
It’s also no accident that a film about ethics in journalism was released at the same time as President Trump is taking aim at the media. In fact, the production process was accelerated for a timely release. “I like shooting fast but this film came with a set of imperatives and one of them was getting it out now while the conversation was still ripe,” Spielberg said.
For Streep, working with Spielberg was a dream come true.
“I told my husband, ‘I can’t wait to go to work in the morning’ and he said ‘you don’t always say that,’” she said with a laugh. Surprisingly, it was the first time the actress and the filmmaker had worked together. “I was surprised at how collaborative and free the process was with someone who comes with this amount of veneration,” Streep said. “I felt like this would be a machine, well-oiled, exclusionary, a boy’s club. I wasn’t prepared for the openness of this director.”
In addition, she quipped, “there were no females harmed in the making of this movie.”
Hornaday noted that “It may have started as a Trump-era movie, but it’s now a Weinstein-era movie in terms of the woman finding her voice.”
The film excels at its portrayal of Graham, the Post’s publisher, displaying her strength and self-doubt at a time when she makes the decision that would change the course of her life and of The Washington Post. It was “the week that Katharine Graham became Katharine Graham,” writer Liz Hannah has noted. It was also a time when women held much fewer positions of power than they do now. Graham’s decision-making was fraught with both internalized sexism and overt misogyny.
“Conquering the interior voice that corroborates that you are less than, just slightly less intelligent, capable, qualified to have the job you’re in, to lead, that’s the most damaging part,” Streep explained. “[The film] tells a political story but one is interior politics and one is the politics writ large and it’s a great movie because it stands up for both things.”
While the film brings up many relevant topics — government secrets and the history of journalism, to name two — the filmmakers’ character-driven approach gives it the emotional resonance of great drama.
“It’s important for an audience to understand that before they see the relevance or ironies of history, that they sit down and understand that our intention was to do a character story about principally two people — Katharine Graham and Ben Bradlee — and all the people that affect their lives and all the people they affect,” Spielberg said.
The full cooperation and help of the families, as well as friends and former colleagues, rendered the film true-to-life.
“Everyone had a Bradlee-ism,” said Hanks. Hanks was able to embody and bring his own take to the portrayal of the famed editor, from how he slammed his newspaper on his desk to the confident way he walked into a room.
For moviegoers, the film has a quality that everyone can appreciate: it’s fun to watch. It is entertainment, after all.
“Steven is an impatient showman and I mean this in the best way,” Whitford said. “It’s a collision of showmanship with material that could otherwise be very preachy and dry.”
This story ran in the February 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine.