“This is a story we have heard, but it’s time to revisit it again, and the culture’s ready to revisit it again, and we have this new Pope, and there’s a space open for this to really resonate in the world.”
Spotlight has been something of a dark horse this awards season. Telling the harrowing true story of the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered a culture of systemic abuse within the Catholic Church, it’s upset many an Oscar pundit’s predictions.
In Claridges Hotel last week, stars Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo, along with director Tom McCarthy, sat down to discuss the drama in more depth.
“From our first sit-down, I think it’s important to note that there was no source material per se on the investigation,” McCarthy explained, of the lengthy and detailed writing process, “We had to conduct our own series of interviews and research to try to unearth this investigation that occurred twelve years prior, for the most part.
“But it was incredibly exciting, I will say. It was such an exciting process, and I don’t know if it’s because we were looking at it through the lens of this particular film, but our research very quickly did feel like an investigation, it did feel like reporting. We felt like very amateur journalists trying to do our job, and do it well.”
For Keaton however, experiencing something of a career resurgence following a hugely acclaimed turn in Alejandro González Iñárritu Best Picture-winning Birdman, the chance to star in a feature with something to say was too much to turn down.
“It sounds odd to say, or maybe a little off-centre at first, but I’m blessed, or fortunate, or grateful to be able to tell a story like this,” Keaton admitted, humbled by the experience, “Because who wants to deal with this subject matter every day? But you are, you’re in a position to do what you do for a living, someone gives you a cheque – a very small one – and say something, about something that will change and help people’s lives. It was, all-in-all, just a really great and really satisfying experience.”
Mark Ruffalo, meanwhile, has spent the majority of his past few years as the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s green goliath himself, The Hulk. Despite taking time out for other dramas, like Keaton, the chance to create a movie with something to say clearly enthused the socially-minded actor:
“Listen, I’m in the entertainment business, and we get to make different kinds of movies. Some are just purely for entertainment, and then sometimes you make a movie that pushes the culture to a particular place. That sort of happens from the culture as well. I read the script and I immediately felt ‘This is a story we have heard, but it’s time to revisit it again, and the culture’s ready to revisit it again, and we have this new Pope, and there’s a space open for this to really resonate in the world’.
“And it’s in those moments in which film is used as a tool to teach, I think, and to coalesce ideas. And, to reflect on what Michael said, it’s just a great honour to be in the right place at the right time, and to be able to be part of that dialogue. It doesn’t happen often in a career. It doesn’t even happen that often in filmmaking; where you can really influence the conversation, and push an issue in one direction or another. And this just happened to be one of those moments.”
Spotlight also made waves for its fearless depictions of the frailties and misdoings of the Catholic Church, something Michael Keaton in particular seemed to wrestle with internally. Describing how the scenes dealing with faith, and the removal of that faith when confronted with an ugly truth, affected him the most: “My mom was about as devout a Catholic as there is, you know, and I was an altar boy. And I think of what that would have done to her. That’s big. It’s one thing to [uncover abuse like this], but to crush someone’s faith, that’s a whole different level.”
“I haven’t been a good Catholic since I was an altar boy,” Keaton continued, “I don’t know what I am now. You’re a good Catholic if you’re a good Catholic. But I will defend people, as much as I hate what’s happened in the world based on what is organised religion, people’s alleged faith in things… I’m a big defender of faith. I wish I had faith, I’m very envious. But I’m totally cool with my place in the world, of my vision of what people call ‘God’.
“I’m not trying to beat up the Catholic Church, I still drop in, light a candle for my mom, meditate in a Catholic Church. It’s familiar territory, its kinda home-field. That’s about as far as it goes for me. But I’m not gonna go and beat it up. I’m gonna beat up the institution.”
Spotlight is in cinemas tomorrow, Friday the 29th January, rated 15.